How to Deal With Whining

By Nicole Gregory

The long, high-pitched sound of a whining toddler seems perfectly designed to pierce a parent’s brain. You just can’t ignore it—and that’s exactly why it’s the communication style of choice for little ones when they’re mad and frustrated with the adult world. For parents, it presents a complex challenge: how to respond to what the toddler really needs without allowing the whining.

What’s behind the whine?
Instead of reacting with annoyance to the whiner, consider what’s going on with him or her. “Take time to figure out the why of the whining,” says Claire Lerner of Zero to Three, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of infants and toddlers.

“The more you understand the underlying reason for the whining, the more effective your response will be.” Is your child tired or hungry? If this is the case, says Lerner, start by validating the child’s experience. “You can say something like, ‘I know you’re hungry and cranky. That’s okay, but I need you to use your big girl voice so I can understand you and help you.’”

Acknowledging a toddler’s frustrating situation engages her at a whole new level, and she will be more likely to stop whining if she feels that you understand. gettingalong

If she’s not hungry or tired, perhaps she just hasn’t had enough of your undivided attention, says Deborah Solomon, executive director of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) in Los Angeles. “Parents are overburdened, and these days we’re trotting kids from one activity to the next.

If a young child whines constantly, he might need you to stop what you’re doing and get down on the floor and play with him,” Solomon says. When parents are pulled in too many directions, children lose the calm, focused, one-on-one time with their mothers and fathers that they need. “You can’t underestimate the value of giving a child undivided attention. When we stop and give a child our undivided attention, the message we’re sending is ‘You are important to me. I care about you,’” says Solomon.

If you don’t have an hour each day to do this, aim for 20 minutes, she suggests. And turn off the computer, the TV and your cell phone during that time. “Lila whines a lot when we’re rushing around doing things but not really being together,” says Nicole Paterson of Los Angeles, talking about her 21⁄2-year-old daughter. “She just wants my attention. She doesn’t want me to be looking at my BlackBerry or talking on the phone. When I realize she’s been whining over a couple of days, I take it as a clue that I need to get down on my knees and talk with her— really be with her. And it works.”