“Yogurt! Want some yogurt!” my son whines desperately, his little body bouncing up and down for emphasis. It’s 7 a.m., and my patience is already wearing thin. Toddler whining pushes my buttons.

On one hand, I don’t want to give my child the impression that whining gets him what he wants. On the other hand, although he’s highly verbal, my little guy is not even 2. Does he really have the self-control to know how to ask politely? And if so, how do I teach him?

For help, I turned to parenting expert, Elizabeth Pantley, author of the No-Cry Discipline Solution. She says the trouble with teaching very young children to ask nicely is that toddler emotions really are as extreme as their little voices make them sound. “ Young children know what they want, but they haven’t learned the proper way to ask,” says Pantley. “Their emotions are at the surface, and they aren’t thinking of manners, but of their immediate needs.”

Tips to cope with toddler whining

That’s not to say that learning manners is beyond toddlers. It’s just going to take a lot of practice. In the meantime, the person that needs to remember their manners is me.

“Instead of saying, ‘Don’t whine!’ respond in this way: ‘It’s not good to yell. If you want something you can tell Mommy in your big boy voice,’” says Pantley. “Remember that you’re displaying your good manners as you correct him.”

Pantley cautions parents to avoid that old standby of politeness training like, “What do you say?” or “What’s the magic word?” in favor of suggesting another way of asking for what they want.

Another trick to avoiding toddler whining? Pay attention. Like tantrums, whining is often triggered by a bigger issue:

  • Tiredness,
  • Hunger,
  • Needing attention,
  • or over-stimulation.

“If you become very observant and learn how to identify your child’s emotional triggers before they are pressed, you may be able to prevent many situations of whining from even happening,” says Pantley.

In talking to Pantley about the situation, I realized the problem with whining isn’t just my son’s–it’s mine too. When he whines, it triggers my own fears about my parenting: That he’ll always whine or that he wouldn’t whine if I were a better mom.

Instead of seeing his whining as an indication of my own failure, Pantley says it’s an opportunity to teach manners and kindness, not only through words, but by example, too. “Kids don’t know these things by instinct,” she says. “We need to teach them, and in many repeated lessons. That’s how they learn!”

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