Whining is both extremely effective at getting our attention AND getting on our nerves. It’s actually scientifically proven to be annoying, even across different cultures.

What should we do when kids are whining?

As with all things in peaceful parenting, we don’t want to just look at the behavior that’s on the surface. We want to try and figure out what’s driving that behavior and respond to what’s underneath the whining, not just the whining itself.

What NOT to do? 

I’ve heard a lot of well-meaning experts and well-meaning parents say that you should just ignore your child when they’re whining, because you don’t want to teach them that you’re going to respond to that annoying behavior. 

We never want to ignore our children or their behavior because all behavior is communication.

I’ve also heard people say to children when they whine “I can’t hear you when you’re talking like that.” Or “I can’t hear you when you’re using that voice.” (when you actually can hear them).

This response is not only condescending- it’s alienating. It sends a message that a child can’t exist in our presence unless they’re speaking in a way that we approve of.

What can we do instead? 

Our first step in peaceful parenting is always to regulate ourselves. 

Use our pause button, which is stop, drop, and breathe. Then try to find your compassion for your child in that moment. We have all felt this way before! How would we want someone to respond to us if we’re having a hard time?

Whining is the perfect time to remember our peaceful parenting mantra “They’re not giving me a hard time. They’re having a hard time”

So we stop whining by understanding what is causing your child to have a hard time. 

Kids whine because they need more connection.

Let’s say that you’re trying to make dinner and your child wants you to play with them and they’re whining, “Mommy or Daddy, please play with me!”

Their whining is a direct plea to pay attention to them. And whining is a really great way to get our attention because it is so annoying! 

What can we do? 

If we can, stop and give them five minutes of our connection.  

If we can’t, we can empathize: “Oh, you wish I could play with you. I hear you, sweetheart. You know, I can’t play with you right now. I’m making dinner.”  We can also try to find a small way to connect if we can’t give kids exactly what they’re looking for. 

Kids whine because their resources are low: tired, hungry, or bored! They can’t manage what we are asking of them.

What can we do? 

If possible, solve the problem of low resources. 

If it’s not possible, try to give kids more support if their resources are low. 

We can be more patient and find ways to better support our children through play, win/win solutions, or giving additional nurturing when we recognize that they don’t have the resources for whatever we want them to do. 

Kids whine because they need to cry, but can’t quite get to the tears.

What can we do? 

We can help our children through encouraging laughter and embracing tears.

Their “emotional backpack” might need emptying. (This metaphor was created by my mentor, Dr. Laura Markham.) 

When we have a full emotional backpack, we are carrying around tensions and stresses and big feelings in our bodies. Our backpacks get full when we haven’t had a chance to either process them in the moment or to process them later. Kids can whine sometimes when they have a full backpack and they just can’t quite get to the crying. 

Help your child move through the whining and get to the tears to help them process those feelings. 

Empathy is a great way to do that. Try to see what they are whining about from their perspective and let them know that you really get it, and be as soft as you can and as compassionate as you can.

Start with sentences like “This is so hard….” Or “You really wish….”

Empathy might help them get over the hump and actually get to the tears that are under the whining. 

Another way that we can help them empty their emotional backpack is through laughter. 

When your child is whining, try and find a way to make them laugh. A fun thing to do is to try and act like you’re also a whiny kid, getting them to laugh can help them process some of those feelings. Remember to be careful with this approach as we never want our kids to feel like we are making fun of them!

Kids whine because they feel powerless. 

What can we do? 

Give them a little bit more power, offer choices, and find a way to make them feel important! If you are at a grocery store with your child and they are whining about having to be there and wanting to go home, give them a job. Can they push the cart, hold the shopping list, grab the items, choose some things to buy?

No matter the reason, whining is ANNOYING! Find compassion for yourself and your child.

Whether it’s our children feeling like they need connection, their resources are low, they have a full backpack and they can’t get to crying, or they just feel powerless, try and remember that they are doing the best they can. 

As humans, we’re wired to be in close connection with a caregiver. If children are acting out of alignment with that and doing something annoying, like whining, there is something else going on.

We want to not only problem solve and try to figure out what’s underneath the whining and what kids need; we want to bring as much compassion to the situation as possible. 

It’s hard to be little or it’s hard to be 12 or it’s just hard to be human. We’re here to try and help support our kids and make them feel loved and understood. 

And don’t forget- Give yourself the compassion for how difficult it is for YOU! 

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