Why Do Kids Whine?
“But Mo-o-om, I don’t want to!” We’ve all had days when that’s the general reaction when you ask your child to do something. And those days are certainly difficult for everyone involved. Parents are left frustrated, and kids aren’t really enjoying the all-day whining, either. So, what’s a parent to do?
Understanding why your child is whining is the first step in addressing this behavior. Rather than just writing off whining as one of those inevitable annoyances of parenthood, try to troubleshoot it. When you investigate the reasons that kids whine, you’re better equipped to help kids stay calm.
Follow this guide to learn more about whining and how to combat it for a happier family life.
Table of Contents
Reasons Why Kids Whine
As you well know, every child is different, which means every child also whines for different reasons. While there isn’t a single defining reason why kids whine, different situations, behaviors, and environments can trigger whiny behavior. Discover these reasons why kids may whine.
They Need to Calm Down
Young children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, have trouble managing their emotions. Kids who have big feelings––and all kids have these feelings sometimes––don’t always know how to control them.
When they feel a surge of emotions coming on, kids can respond in a few ways. They might act on those emotions, resulting in a tantrum or misbehavior. Or, they might start whining. In this situation, your child’s whines are actually a plea for help.
The whining indicates that your child knows that they’re about to lose control––but they don’t want to. So, it’s your job as Mom or Dad to reign in those big feelings. Reassuring words and comfort can help settle those emotions and, in turn, temper the whining.
They’re Trying to Communicate
When my son was a young toddler, he’d walk into our pantry, point at all of the food, and say “That!” to pick out a snack. To him, “that” represented whatever food he wanted because he didn’t have the communication skills yet to express precisely what he wanted. While it was certainly an exercise in patience, it was also a gentle reminder that communication is tough for toddlers.
Sometimes, we forget that learning to effectively communicate is a big undertaking for little kids, and their communication skills develop gradually over time. For some kids, they whine when they’re struggling to communicate effectively with you. Perhaps your child is whining about having to get in the car to go somewhere––but the bigger problem is that they don’t like the shoes they’re wearing, but they don’t know how to tell you.
Small problem? Sure––but not necessarily for a 3-year-old. Whining, in this instance, is your child’s way of redirecting their concerns because they just don’t have the words to tell you what’s wrong. So, if the reasons for whining seem off, then they probably are, and you need to discover the root of the problem to ward off more whining.
Let’s face it––we all get a little cranky when we’re tired. When your child is exhausted, several negative behaviors can develop. Whining is common in tired youngsters, and it’s often a signal that it’s time for naptime or bedtime.
If you’re trying to find a cause of all the whining, pay attention to the time of day. Does the whining always happen around the same time? If it does, exhaustion might be to blame. Your child’s energy levels are dipping––and their patience and contentment are dropping right along with it. Perhaps your preschooler is especially whiny on the way home from daycare every day or your 2nd-grader is always cranky after school pickup. These consistently whiny moments are triggered by exhaustion, which calls for some rest.
Hunger can be another trigger for whining in some kids. Again, tracking your kid’s whining, either by noting it in a journal or just making a mental note of it, can help you find a pattern and, in turn, the cause. If your child is too young to verbalize their hunger, they might just start whining when they are hungry. In this case, preempting this hunger with a snack or meal can eliminate the behavior.
If your once-happy child is now a whining mess every day, reflect on what’s been going on in your lives. Is your child adjusting to a big change, like moving to a big kid bed, switching daycare rooms, or adjusting to a new school? Older kids might be struggling with a subject in school or having problems with a friend. When their lives feel overwhelming, kids may resort to whining as a way to cope. In some ways, whining triggered by life changes is a cry for help. Your child needs your guidance to cope with the changes and adapt.
They’re Sensitive or Strong Willed
Some children are simply prone to more whining than others. Personality certainly plays a role in how often and when children whine. Typically, kids who are more sensitive are more prone to whining. Sensitive kids might take longer to adapt to change, and whining might ensue as they struggle with this change. Strong-willed kids want everything to go their way, and when it doesn’t, they just might whine. Understanding that whining just might be a part of your child’s personality may help you cope with it.
They’re Craving Attention
Your child isn’t attention starved, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t feel that way from time to time. If you have multiple kids like me, you’re always striking a balance, trying to keep everyone engaged, active, and content in age-appropriate activities. Often, you might feel like you’re being stretched too thin. Your kids might pick up on that too.
When your child starts to whine, consider how much attention they’ve received. If you’re wrapping up a board game with your preschooler because it’s time to help your older child with homework, the youngster might start whining because they don’t want that one-on-one time to end. Minimize the whining by keeping your child engaged, perhaps setting up a craft for them to do while the older child works on homework.
How to Manage Whining
Since whining has several triggers, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to stop it. Instead, there are a variety of solutions, which you can tailor based on your child’s age, your unique situation, and your child’s response. Here are a few strategies to use when you just can’t take the whining anymore:
Say “Yes” To Reasonable Requests
If your child wants a plate of cookies before dinner, that’s going to be a hard “no” every time. However, if your whining child makes a reasonable request, like a second helping of a healthy snack, you can simplify life by just saying “yes.” Stave off whining by saying “yes” when it’s appropriate to let your child feel like they have some control.
Talk Openly About Feelings
Help your child communicate how they’re feeling. Doing so doesn’t just allow them to express their frustration, which may be the cause of the whining. It also lets them know that you see that they’re struggling and understand their needs. Eventually, your child will improve communication skills and be able to express these feelings without whining.
Redirect and Distract
Once you’re able to identify situations or times of day that trigger whining, you can keep your youngster content by redirecting and distracting them when you expect whining to occur. For example, perhaps your child always whines when they’re told to clean up their toys before dinner. Instead of just asking them to clean up, offer a new activity to distract them: “Let’s clean up our toys so that you can pick out your dinner plate and help me set the table.”
Kids thrive when they’re being praised, but we all too often forget to note the good behaviors they do. Instead, we tend to dwell on the problems. If whining is a consistent behavior that your child is struggling with, be sure to make note of situations where they don’t whine. Celebrate successes to encourage good behavior. If your child responds well to a behavior chart, you can even track success on a chart as they work toward a prize.
If you can put a halt to whining, you’ll have a more pleasant kid––and a happier Mom and Dad, too. When the constant whining is negatively impacting family life, it’s time for a change. Know your kid’s triggers, understand how to avoid them, and learn how to discourage whining for happier days ahead.