How Do I Teach My Child Not To Whine?

My daughter is 8 years old and when things don’t go her way she starts to whine and cry.

MOLLY: This question came from a reader based in Southern California, and she also mentioned that she has two kids and there’s quite a bit of sibling rivalry.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): I think that anytime you set limits with your child that child will push against the limits pretty hard, especially at the beginning, and whine a lot. If you end up giving into your kid when she acts inappropriately, she will recognize that this whining technique works. That will set the stage for her to do it over and over again and her behavior will end up driving her parents crazy.

Here’s what parents need to remember early on: don’t give in to whining or manipulative tears. Instead, give her an option. “If you can ask me nicely without whining, then we can talk about this and figure this problem out. But if you’re going to continue to whine or cry, nothing is going to happen.”

Now, kids will test you over and over about limits until they see that you really mean it. It’s very important that once you set the stage for the child about not whining, you stick to it without any exceptions.

MOLLY: What do you do about the crying?

MOM: If she cries because she’s not getting her own way, then the parents should tell her that she needs to go to her room to cry. If she refuses to go to her room then the parent can go into mom and dad’s own room or somewhere else away from her until she’s finished. The parent should say to this child, “When you’re ready to talk to me about these issues without whining, I’m more than happy to discuss them with you and come to a solution, but I’m not going to do this while you’re whining.”

MOLLY: Some of the things we’ve use for not whining and crying have been sticker charts.

MOM: You can absolutely do that and it’s a very good thing. It’s always good to make things concrete for little kids because that’s how they think. So if this mom gets a sticker chart and mark it when the child doesn’t whine (making it a positive reward rather than a punitive record), she’ll want to point it out verbally to the child that she did a nice job and allow her to add a sticker to the chart. After she gets a certain amount of stickers, she’ll then get to pick out a new book or something… Some sort of recognition that she’s handling things well in a grown-up way. Kids really like that.

MOLLY: Another thing I’ve heard of doing is to have a calendar and mark one day of the week that the child can be alone with the mother. This child has a brother and the mom already recognizes that there’s a lot of jealousy and sibling rivalry, maybe time alone with mom would help her attitude?

MOM: That would be a great reward for this type of behavior change: the time alone with the parent. I think that’s a great idea. Parents should gear it towards whatever makes sense in their own family.

I do think it’s essential that this mom talk to her 8-year old about her feelings about her sibling. It’s very possible that the sibling rivalry issues are the source of the whining to begin with. If that is the case, working out those issues may eliminate the whining all together. It’s always very important to try to get to the root cause of a behavior. In the end, it will be easier to deal with if you understand where it is coming from.

MOLLY: What are the long-term effects if you don’t deal with this. I myself worry about my 6-year old’s whining in that she won’t be able to cope with interpersonal relationships as she gets older because it feels like she whines so much now that people won’t want to be around her if she’s a whiney adult.

MOM: What happens when children whine is that they feel basically helpless to express themselves adequately. They need to learn different techniques, but first you have to deal with the whining and then you move into what works better. What works better than whining is to talk about your feelings rather than to act them out by whining or crying.

If the kid continues to whine and the parents don’t set some limits and help change behaviors, the child will be a whiny kid throughout her life. Not many people outside her family will tolerate that. The kid will end up being an unhappy child and, unless things change, perhaps even an unhappy adult.

We’ve all run into whiney adults in our lives and basically we try to get away from them. Help her change this behavior now and everyone will be happier in the long run.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success dealing with your child’s whining and crying. Or Contact Us if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.

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