Dr. Jessica Michaelson, psychologist and early parenthood coach, says, “children tend to whine most between 2 ½ and 4 years old, when they have the language to communicate their needs, but it takes a lot of effort to hold down all the big feelings. So, when they’re tired, hungry, or overstimulated, they may whine to let us know, ‘I can’t act big anymore, please take care of me like I was a baby’”.
The short answer for why children whine? It works 🙃
Kids whine when they need or want something, and as adults, we are biologically hardwired to react to whining. Research suggests that we react more strongly to whining than we do to nearly any other sound, including crying and screaming.
Here are a few ways to redirect a whining child:
Refer to their strong voice
Try to use whining as an opportunity to teach your child a better way of asking for something. If your child is whining for your attention, try getting down on their level and saying “let’s practice asking again in your clear, strong voice”. This is something you’ll likely need to demonstrate, and they will need help identifying the difference.
Let them know you won’t respond to whining because you know they have that strong voice. You can also calmly say, “please try that again.” After some time, they should start to know what you mean.
If your child is whining for something specific that you don’t intend to give them, try to answer kindly but firmly and stick to your response even if they stop whining.
The truth is, kids often whine because they can’t get our attention, and they resort to what works best. Whining often happens when we’re on the phone, having an adult conversion, or trying to get something done. Whatever the reason for your child’s whining, tuning back in and making the effort to find out what it is can go a long way. Sometimes, they just need an acknowledgment that you’ve heard them.
Try to notice if there are patterns to your child’s whining. Are they doing it at certain times of day, when they’re overly hungry, or when they’re in a particular emotional state? Their whining may be a signal to you that maybe they just need a snack, or need an earlier bedtime because they didn’t have a great nap.
Remember that whining is normal and universal
Whining is extremely common. It may be hard to take comfort in this when it happens in public, but whining is not a reflection of the kind of parent you are or the kind of child you have. It’s a stage of child development, and if you work on it early on, it won’t last forever.
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