What's the Cure for Whining?

By — Hand in Hand
Updated on Mar 17, 2011

If we wanted to make a list of the things children do that irritate their parents, we'd find whining near the top! It's a behavior that every child tries sooner or later. Some children fall into whining and can’t seem to climb back out. By the time a parent decides to search for advice about handling whining, he is usually fed up.

When a child is whining, filling his request probably won't change his emotional climate for long. For a whining child, the inner weather is cloudy, with a storm on the horizon. Filling his request might gain a parent a few moments of peace, but the child’s overall mood sinks back into a tone of, “I am unhappy” soon again. Sending a child off to his room or punishing him for whining won’t improve the situation either. He might come back from punishment or time out a quieter person, but he won’t feel good inside. He will probably find ways to balk, to stir up difficulties with others, or to zone out. This persistent unhappiness is hard on parents. When we take the time and energy to try to “solve” a problem, we parents feel insulted when it doesn’t stay solved!

Whining is communication

We’d like to offer you a fresh way of looking at whining, and some interesting solutions to try! We start with the observation that, like every other behavior children have, whining is important communication. We parents wish the message would come in some other form--any other form! But whining is news from your child, hot off the press. The headline is, “I feel alone! I feel powerless!”

Usually, whining happens shortly after a child’s sense of connection to their parent or caregiver has broken. The ordinary things parents must do, like feeding little brother, cooking dinner, or talking to a friend on the phone, can eat away at a child's sense that he's connected and cared about. For small children in a big world, feeling disconnected gnaws at their spirits. They flash a signal for help, "I wannaaaa cooookkkiiieee!" It comes with a miserable expression and a body that can barely move.

Once a child feels disconnected, any small task can bring up jumbo-sized feelings of powerlessness. Having to get dressed when they want to stay in their pajamas, having to brush their teeth when they'd rather play with the cat, and having to say goodbye and go to school or day care can bring on whining.

A whining child has real needs

A whining child probably won’t be satisfied by the attempt you make to help, but he does have a real need. He needs you. Not just the things you do. He needs to feel connected to you. Only a sense of connection can mend that awful out-of-sorts feeling he has that's bothering him. Children are built to feel close to the people they're with--close to their parents, their caregivers, their grandmas and cousins and friends. When they can feel close and cherished, they behave with confidence. When they don't feel close to anyone, their behavior goes haywire immediately.

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