What to do if your child won't stop whining

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Whining is something that can't be avoided with children - and  learning how to deal with it properly is essential to preventing inconsiderate and problem behaviour.

By learning to understand why children whine, parents will be better able to actively listen to their child's needs while not encouraging negative behaviour and avoiding further conflict.

1. Give instructions that are direct and clear

Parents need to retain their in-charge position in the family by stating what is expected of the child. If this is considered fair and reasonable children will have less of a reason to whine.

It's important that parents should avoid using requests or questions when offering instruction as this gives the child a choice and places it on the child's terms. For example, instead of saying, "would you like to come to the table for dinner now?", try saying, "it is time to come to the table for dinner now, please – thank you". This is where a parent can be firm and rather than giving into their kid's commands such as 'just one more show' which presents the opportunity to whine.

2. Listen to what your child is saying

If your child begins to whine from a request, its important you try to understand why but explain to your child that you will listen to their request if it is in a calm tone - "I can listen to you when your voice is as calm as mine". This will create constructive communication and asserts that whining is not effective way to be heard.

Understanding the child's concerns will allow you to create a fair and reasonable response. However your child also needs to understand that while you will listen to them, your answer may not change and no is no.

3. Ensure that you stay calm


As a parent this is easier said than done, however, staying calm ensures that you are not encouraging their behaviour by replicating a yelling tone. Responding in an aggressive manner gives the child attention, which they can interpret as the opportunity to continue with their behaviour and gives the message that you can get what you want by being bigger and louder.

By keeping a calm tone, you won't encourage any further conflict and the situation will remain controlled.

4. Use planned ignoring.

This is a give and take of your attention, where you pay attention to appropriate/kind behaviour and ignore inconsiderate behaviour. If your child persists in whining, make a clear statement that you cannot talk to them if they are whining, and walk away if it continues. This shows your child that they cannot get your attention through this form of communication. The more parents focus and acknowledge considerate behaviour, the less children will seek attention from negative behaviour. This will help to create self-regulation, as they will know what is expected of them.

Ensuring that you have clear and straightforward communication with your children will help to alleviate the whining. However, if your child persists in whining, remember the mainstays: stay calm, listen and communicate what you believe is a fair and reasonable. By ensuring that you acknowledge your child's good behaviour and give less attention if they are behaving inconsiderately, you will be showing them how to correctly communicate.

Dr Anna Cohen a Clinical Child Psychologist at Sydney-based Kids & Co.