Michele Borba: How to Stop That Whining

by | Aug 6, 2009 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, Whining & Back Talk

Michele Borba

REALITY CHECK: The top reason kids whine is to get our attention. Whether they continue to use this irritating behavior is if we give in. Then they’ve learned it works! Beware: The average kid nags a parent nine times to get his way and the average kid wins by the ninth time because he wears the parent down. So don’t give in!

Whining-that pitiful, loud, grating sound-is one of the most irritating of kid behaviors. The pitch is an exasperating blend of crying and nagging that’s annoying as nails on a chalkboard. If that’s not enough, whiners have this amazing ability of stretching syllables so they almost slap you back in your face: “Pleeeeeeease” or “Daaaaad!” What’s more, whining can quickly turn into a full-blown, ugly tantrum.

Beware: Though whining usually peaks at around four years of age, it can continue well into the school years. There’s some good news though: whining is learned, so the behavior can be unlearned. And the sooner you start changing your kid’s behavior , the less likely it will become an annoying, troublesome habit.

Four Parenting Solutions to  Squelch Kid’s Whining

You can use the following four steps to guide you in eliminate whining and making over your kids’ behavior. Do NOT expect overnight success. Your goal is to gradually see a change in your kid’s behavior. To succeed your child will need to replace that grating, annoying sound with a nicer tone and realize once and for all you will not tolerate a whine.

Step 1. Establish a Zero Tolerance for Whining

Rest assured, all kids whine occasionally, but the surest way to turn this grating attention-getter into a full-fledged habit is to give in, and let your little nagger “win.” Take heed: once you back down and surrender, kids usually continue using the technique as a way to get what they want. Worse yet, if not stopped, whining often escalates to back talk, arguing, and tantrums. So the bottom line is: don’t let your kid think it works.

The best way to stop the behavior is to flat-out refuse to listen to nagging requests unless it’s spoken with a polite tone. At the first whimper of a whine firmly say: “Stop! I don’t listen to whining voices. Tell me what you want with a nice tone.”  Then walk away or turn around and ignore your kid. Turn back when the whining stops (even for a few seconds) and say: “I do listen to a nice voice. Can I help you now?” The trick is to not to look irritated or to react and to reinforce the “nice tone.”

Hint: If you are having trouble ignoring the behavior get a good set of ear plugs, plug in that ipod or walk calmly away. You will need to change your response to that whine as much as you need change your child’s whine.

Step 2. Demonstrate Appropriate Voice Tone

Choose a calm time to talk with your kid about why whining is unacceptable. A key point is to make sure he knows the difference between a “whining voice” and a normal speaking tone. You might say: “The tone of voice you used to try to get my attention is whining. I will only listen to polite voices.”

Next, show your child what a more acceptable voice sounds like. Please don’t assume he knows the correct way to get your attention. Whining may have become such a habit that he simply isn’t aware of his annoying tone. Take a moment to ensure your child knows what kind of a voice you expect. For example: “Here’s my whining voice: ‘I don’t wanna do this.’ Here’s my polite one: ‘Can you please help me?’ When you want something, make your voice sound like my polite voice. Now you try.” Be careful not to mimic your child: your goal is to be instructional so he understands your expectations without ridiculing.

Step 3. Lay Down Your Rules

Announce from now on, he should expect an automatic “no” any time he whines. Then just flatly refuse to listen to even the first note of a whine uttered from your kid’s lips.  Usually whining stops when kids realize it’s getting them nowhere, so your child has to realize that your rule is nonnegotiable. Pass on your plan to other caregivers so they are on board with you. 

Step 4. Set a Consequence If Whining Continues

You may be wondering: “What happens if my kid still whines?”  The answer is simple: you must set an immediate consequence so your kid knows you won’t tolerate it. And it’s the same for back talk, hitting, spitting, or arguing. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can wait until you’re home to correct your kid’s misbehavior.  Wherever the whining occurs, is where the consequence must be administered. That may mean the huge inconvenience of changing plans when your kid starts up his whining routine during a shopping outing. But if you really want to end the behavior, you’ll calmly say on the spot: “That’s whining, and you know the rule. We’re leaving now.”

Consequences stop bad behaviors, only if they’re used every time the behavior occurs. Take heed: if you don’t follow through, the whining usually increases. That’s because your child has learned you just might give in. You must also stay unemotional when administering consequences: no lecturing, displaying anger, or appearing irritated. Also, please remember to praise your kid when he uses the right voice tone. Breaking a habit takes time, so always encourage his good efforts. The key to changing this behavior is CONSISTENCY.

Above all: don’t give in to any behavior you feel is inappropriate.

This article is adapted from latest Michele Borba’s book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) available for order now:


Follow Michele Borba on twitter @micheleborba or on her daily blog at https://micheleborba.com