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You want a present, peaceful and playful family life? I'm here to help you make that a reality.

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The Only Kind Response to Whining

That high pitch, demanding voice is enough to drive many of us parents to distraction. Who doesn’t get triggered by whining? And the intense urge to just Shut. It. Down. sets in pretty quick. While none of us wants to be cried and whined at – we seem to have a stark double standard in the way we respond to tone of voice in babies children and in adults.

It goes something like this:

Babies are allowed to whine.

Kids are not allowed to whine.

Adults are allowed to whine.

When they’re babies, it’s usually fine for them to cry. Frustrating and exasperating, but rarely infuriating. But once they have some words, we expect them to use them always, regardless of their emotional and physical capacity to regulate at that particular moment. Once our kids are verbal, snapping things like “Stop whining!”, “Big girls don’t cry” or “I don’t respond to whining”, become our go to reactions.

But consider how we respond to adults who are deploying an unpleasant tone: our whiny best friend, for example, who’s just been dumped. Or our grouchy spouse after a long days work. Usually we instinctively understand that their tone is an indicator of their emotional state – and therefore deserving of empathy and kindness.

So here’s the thing,  whining is actually a red flag, an indicator if you will that something is amiss for your child. It’s often just one step before they tumble into full blown melt down (nothing wrong with that).

So here’s a little checklist to go through next time your child is whining, rather than fixating on the tone itself:

Is your child…

  • Hungry?
  • Thirsty?
  • Tired?
  • Needing the bathroom?
  • Physically uncomfortable (itchy socks? tight pants?)
  • Overstimulated?
  • Needing connection?
  • Needing attention?
  • Needing a change of pace (like slowing down)?
  • Responding to a stressful atmosphere (parents arguing? new baby?)?
  • Any to add?

I think it’s certainly important for us to help our children develop a respectful tone even when they’re in the throws of frustration or exhaustion, but it’s important to have realistic expectations about how long that takes to learn. Heck, most adults I know (myself included) haven’t quite mastered that level of self regulation yet.

As always, I would love to hear your approach to whining, whether or not it’s a trigger for you and how you handle it, in the comments below


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One Reply to “Stop Saying Stop Whining”

  1. Thank you for this video, lots of really helpful reminders. I’ve been separated since last summer and my daughter has just turned 3. My ex husband who spends a few hours with her every few days has been complaining that “I am raising a whiney child” as he claims she doesn’t “get away with” whining as much when she’s with him, and that he never gives her what she wants when she’s whining so she is forced to use a normal voice and he’d like me to stop “reinforcing this behaviour”.
    I’m totally with you on the empathic approach and feeling into our child’s whiney tone to see of there is a deeper need. I do however sometimes feel that there is a tendency to form a habit where she just uses whining when she asks for something when there doesn’t appear to be any underlying issue, and I often calmly ask her to make her request in a normal voice and she does so.
    Do you have any thoughts on this, the more everyday go-to whining?
    And do you think that it is damaging for her father to forbid her whining?
    Is it normal in your experience that children are more whiney with their mothers than they are with other caregivers?
    Thanks so much again, this is the first time I have discovered your work and I’m signing up!

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