A child who's just beginning to talk often doesn't have the vocabulary to express his needs, but by adding a plaintive cry, he can communicate more effectively. By the age of 2 or 3, the master whiner will have perfected the pouting lip and cocker-spaniel eyes to go along with the voice. For most children, whining peaks around age 4, but those who find it to be an effective tool for getting what they want may take it with them to kindergarten and beyond.
Cynthia Whitham, MSW, author of Win the Whining War and Other Skirmishes: A Family Peace Plan (Perspective Publishing, 1991), says all kids test out whining at some point, just as they try out tantrums, name-calling, and other attention-getting behavior. But parents can often determine whether it becomes an occasional annoyance or an everyday habit. If adults respond to whining -- giving in or even by yelling -- it will lock in the behavior. Children do a lot of what they do to get attention, Whitham explains. If they can't get positive attention, they'll figure out how to get negative attention.
The best strategy, experts say, is to maintain a consistent policy on whining. Here are tactics you should employ regularly to ward off the whimpering:
1. Ignore it. As soon as your child starts using that high-pitched tone, break eye contact and turn away. If necessary, go into another room. Children who learn that whining doesn't get them anywhere tend to give it up quickly.
2. Model good communication. Tell your child what you want him to do instead of what you don't want him to do. For added impact, demonstrate the tone of voice you want him to use. And, don't whine yourself -- it will negate your efforts with your child.
3. Try positive reinforcement. If whining is a consistent problem, praise your child when she doesn't whine. Tell her how much you like her "big-girl" voice.
4. Anticipate needs. Children tend to whine when they're tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or bored. Try to avoid these situations by being prepared. When you go on a family outing, take snacks, toys, and a change of clothes. If your child consistently whines right before dinner, plan a light snack or an activity he enjoys.
5. Use discipline, if necessary. If whining escalates into a behavior problem -- your child refuses to get dressed, for example -- address the disobedience. Give a warning. If the warning fails, then some suitable consequence is in order.
6. Cut a little slack. Sometimes children have legitimate reasons for whining: They're tired after a long trip or they're sick. Be sympathetic. Your child may need a little extra comfort or to be soothed with a quiet game or song. Keep in mind that a whining child is trying to say something. Even as you tune out that irritating tone, listen to the words. You may not like the way your child is saying it, but he may be telling you something you need to hear.
The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.