Q. It seems like my kids are always whining: they badger me incessantly until I give in to whatever they want. I try redirection and even saying “No,” but it doesn’t stop. Why do my kids whine and how can I get them to stop?
A. Kids probably start to whine subconsciously after giving up crying to have their needs met, followed by throwing tantrums to have their wants met. Fortunately, most parents have realized the importance of ignoring tantrums, but somehow kids discover whining. Since it tends to work, kids keep whining. I’ve even known adults who still use whining because it works.
The easiest way to get a child to stop is to announce that you’ll not pay attention to what he wants as long as he is whining. Explain that as soon as he starts to talk in a normal voice, you’ll listen, but not necessarily do what he wants. Some parents give the child a time-out to think about using a normal voice. You may need to model what that “normal” voice sounds like, as many children don’t realize the difference in their tone unless it’s portrayed by someone else, and even then they can be surprised at how they sound.
As you continue to point out when a child is whining, that child will begin to recognize when he’s starting to whine, and before long will be able to stop the behavior. You could also use positive reinforcement when he asks for something in a regular voice: “I like to listen to you when you use a normal voice to ask me for something.”
One acceptable way for kids to have their needs met is to negotiate for what they want, offering to do extra chores or follow rules in exchange. Parents can model negotiation, e.g. negotiate with your spouse when it’s appropriate. Whatever you do, don’t give in to whining unless you want to experience more of it.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.
Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!