A whining kid is one of the most annoying sounds in the world. As parents we want to meet our kids’ needs. When our children whine, instinct kicks in: “she must need something, what can I do to provide it?” It is a carryover from responding to her cries as a baby. Only when babies cry it is because they can’t express their needs any other way.
The Root of the Problem
Kids whine because they have been conditioned to know that whining gets a response. The biggest help for parents in this is to recognize that their actions reinforce whining behavior in their kids.
Sometimes as parents we respond to whines just to get the kid to shut up -- a counterproductive tactic for the long term. This only encourages them to whine next time because they know it works. In the moment it often seems the quickest way to stop the annoying behavior, but responding only reinforces.
How to Stop the Cycle
If your child is old enough to understand, say 3 or older, explain to her that whining is no longer acceptable, that it won’t get her what she wants. Offer an alternative so she knows what to do instead. Tell her to ask nicely, say please, etc. Then when she whines, ignore her until she attempts to get your attention in a more positive way.
The most important part is to follow through after you have explained this to her. When she whines, you may remind her the first time not to whine, and if she stops, great. Now you can give her positive reinforcement for the good behavior. Note that positive reinforcement isn't necessarily giving her what she asked for in the first place. If she doesn’t stop or wines more, then ignore her. Walk out of the room if you have to.
Sometimes my daughter needs several reminders. She gets frustrated that whining isn’t getting her what she wants, and out of frustration she whines more. A reminder is often helpful, but don’t offer reminders too often because she will learn better if it occurs to her on her own to stop.
A Negative Response is Still a Response
Every time your child whines to get something don’t offer any sort of response, even negative. It can be just as bad to get upset when he whines as it is to give him what he wants. Even though it is not what he was asking for, his whining still gets him attention from you.
Sometimes, a negative response is in order: for example, if he is whining for a cupcake before dinner and will not stop, even when you are ignoring his bad behavior. In this situation, a timeout is probably the best consequence. Although it is a response, it is not something he wants. It is not a cupcake, and it is not attention from you.
Consistency Delivers Results
Stopping a child from whining is a habit changing process for both you and your child, and it may take awhile. I know I still find myself responding to whines. I think all kids whine from time to time. As kids get older they naturally whine less, especially if the habit is conditioned out of them. So stick with it, try to be consistent, and soon your child will be whining less and acting more mature than ever before.