Discipline Dilemma: "The Whining Is Driving Me Crazy"

Whining may not change much as your child grows, but your response to it should. Tweak old discipline tactics to fit new circumstances.
Nov 06, 2012



Mother and daughter looking each other and complaining

Nov 06, 2012

Whether he's a toddler or a tween, your child has probably mastered the whiny wheedles guaranteed to set your teeth on edge. To fight back, stand strong and make no mean no.

3 to 5: Preschoolers aren't deliberately trying to bug you. That high-pitched wail is a normal step between crying and communicating well. "She's probably tired, frustrated, thirsty, bored, sad (or all of the above), and whining is the only way she knows to tell you," says Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. The good news: At this age, whining is one of the easiest discipline dilemmas to solve. The bad news: If you don't catch it now, whining can spiral into back-talk, arguments, and meltdowns.

First, label the behavior: "Uh-oh, is that a whine I hear?" Demonstrate a better alternative: "You can say, 'Juice, please' in a soft voice." Or "Stop! I won't listen to whining voice. Please use your nice voice."

6 to 10: The number-one reason kids whine at any age is to get your attention — and if he's still doing it now, he's learned that it works. Disasters arise when he wears you down so much you say, "Take a cookie — take a hundred cookies. Just leave me alone." Even worse: "How many times do I have to tell you to cut it out? When are you going to learn?" Kids are perfectly willing to settle for negative attention, so the more you keep telling him that he needs to stop whining, the more he'll continue to do it. "Reprimanding a whiner can actually reinforce it," says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of No More Misbehavin'. Better: set a non-negotiable, zero-tolerance policy. "If you whine, the answer is an automatic no." If whining breaks out in public, hold your ground as long as you can, then exit as gracefully as possible. That may mean an abrupt change of plans — but if you don't follow through, your child will learn that if he keeps it up, eventually you'll cave in.

11 to 14: Peers are driving behavior and if hers are all Club Penguin members with ten virtual toys apiece, she'll assume she deserves the same privilege. Acknowledge her feelings, but stick to your values. "I know you want to play online with your friends, but we don't believe it's smart to pay real money for virtual toys. That's our rule." If the nagging continues, try the broken record tactic: If your 12 year old pleads that she's the only one not allowed to attend an unchaperoned party, you say: "The subject is closed." If she responds, "But you never let me do anything," you say, "The subject is closed." At such times it is also perfectly OK to add, "Because I said so."

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