6 Steps to Put an End to Whining

Daughter jumping and screaming on bed
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Whether your child whines, "That's not fair!" every time you say no, or whines about everything from the food you serve to the temperature in the car, whining is tough to listen to.

Whining is a fairly common behavior problem in children. From an early age, most kids recognize that whining can often be effective. It's a good way to annoy adults into submission.

That's why it's important to curb it as soon as possible. Without proper intervention, whining can get worse—and a whiny kid is likely to turn into a whiny adult. These steps can help you stop your child's whining.

1. Establish a Household Rule About Whining

Establish a household rule about whining, such as, “Ask nicely for something and accept the answer calmly.” This helps kids understand that their attempts to change your mind won’t be effective.

Make sure other caregivers are on the same page about your whining rules. If your spouse or a grandparent gives in to whining, it will undermine your efforts.

You may need to remind your child about the rule from time to time. "What's our rule about how we ask for something?" or "What's an appropriate way to respond when someone tells you no?" These responses help your child see that whining is a problem, not a tool for them to use.

2. Provide a Warning

Sometimes whining becomes a bad habit for kids, and they don’t realize they’re doing it. To bring their attention to it, provide one warning by saying, “No whining,” or, “Remember, we don’t whine at our house.”

This also clarifies for your child that begging, pleading and asking repeatedly all constitute whining behavior. A warning also gives your child a chance to have a "do-over," allowing them to behave in a more appropriate way.

3. Remain Calm and Don’t Give In

Listening to a child whine can be worse than nails on a chalkboard. However, it’s important for adults to remain calm. Take deep breaths, leave the room, or put on some music if it will help you keep your cool.

Whatever you do, don’t give in. If out of frustration you end up saying, “Fine, have another cookie!” you’ll have taught your child that whining is an effective way to get what they want.

Avoid providing any type of positive reinforcement that may encourage your child to whine in the future.

4. Ignore Whining

Attention in any form, even if it is negative attention, can encourage a behavior to continue. Ignoring attention-seeking behavior like whining is an effective form of behavior modification.

If your child begins whining when you tell them to pick up their toys, and you keep talking to them while he whines, you’re reinforcing the behavior. Giving your child attention encourages the whining to continue. Also, the longer they engage you in a conversation, the longer your child can delay picking up the toys.

Ignoring means that you’ll need to pretend as if you can’t hear the whining at all. Go about your normal business and try to tune out the whining.

Be prepared: Your child may begin to whine louder when they see that you aren’t responding.

Continue ignoring until the behavior stops. Eventually, your child will recognize that it isn’t working. Just make sure that you don’t give in at any point or you’ll have likely made the behavior worse.

5. Provide Positive Attention When the Behavior Stops

As soon as the whining stops, provide your child with positive attention. Praise your child by saying something such as, “I like the way you are playing quietly right now!”

Give lots of positive attention to the good behavior and it will encourage your child to seek attention in positive ways.

6. Prevent Whining in the Future

Give your child the skills they need to handle uncomfortable emotions like frustration, disappointment, and sadness without whining.

It's important to teach your child about feelings so they can recognize how they feel and learn how to deal with upsetting feelings.

For example, if your child is angry because you told them they can’t go outside to play, encourage them to deal with those angry feelings by doing something like coloring or doing jumping jacks. Coping skills will help your child deal with their feelings in a positive way.

Your child will also need problem-solving skills to deal with their feelings. If your child feels sad because it's raining and your trip to the beach got cancelled, help them find an indoor activity. Empowering your child to solve problems on their own will help them do so without whining.

A Word From Verywell

Whining is one of those developmentally appropriate and expected behaviors that most children engage in. This truth doesn't make listening to it any easier. Keep in mind, though, that just as you are entitled to your feelings, kids are entitled to theirs.

As parents, we spend a huge amount of time teaching, guiding, and correcting behaviors. But, it's just as important to connect with our children and determine the reason for the whining. Although their frustration is real, the parent-child connection will remain with them far longer than whether they got that cookie or not.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.