It is always best to start with empathy. “I can see that you are sad or upset about something, and I’d like to help, but I can’t understand you when you talk like that. Can you try again?” “Can I give you a hug or snuggle?”
When you are away from your home environment and dealing with a meltdown, redirection is a must-have tool for your toolbox. “Did you see the cat over there? What color is he?” “What toy would you like to play with when we get home?”
Redirection becomes increasingly ineffective as a child grows older, and beware overuse, as it does not impact the habit of whining.
3. Stay Calm
Negative attention is better than no attention, or so the child thinks! If your child is getting a reaction out of you, they understand that whining = attention, they will continue to do it.
Stay calm and cool, keep your voice gentle but firm, and keep your body language respectful and approachable. Get down at your child’s level and let them know that you would like to help them, but that you cannot hear them when they use that voice, and ask them if they would like to “try again”.
4. Ignore It
If your child continues to whine, let them know that you will come back in a few minutes and if they are ready then to use a soft and kind voice, you would love to help them. This is especially important if the whining is fueling your frustration. It’s OK for you to step into another room, collect your cool, then come back and check on your child.
5. Be Consistent
If your child sees that whining = gratification, even part of the time, they will continue to employ this as means of getting what they want. Make sure you and your partner are both on the same page. Decide together how you will approach the whining issue, and stick to it, even when you’re tired. Sometimes parents give in because it’s “easier”, but in the long run, consistency will bring reward. There may be a time you have to leave a cart full of groceries at the customer service counter while you take a whining child out to the car. Stick to it! Experts say it can take up to two months for new habits to form, and consistency is the key to success.
Anticipate situations that are conducive to whining. For example, before you visit the mall, let your child know, “Today, we are only looking at toys. We are not going to buy anything. If you see something you like, let me know and we can put it on your birthday list.” “We won’t be buying snacks today, so what snack would you like to bring with you from home?” “In five minutes, we are going to turn off the TV and we are all going to do a cleanup time. I wonder who can clean the fastest?” Communication and preparing your child ahead of time allows them the time to process rather than responding in the moment.
Be sure to recognize and appreciate when your child responds without whining! “I love how gentle and kind your voice was when you asked me that.” “Thank you for saying ‘OK’ so nicely when I said ‘No’. I really appreciate that!”