Berkeley Parents Network >
Worries Big & Little >
My 14-month-old son has recently developed an irritating habit:
he whines. It drives me crazy and my brain sort of freezes up
while he's doing it. The advice in the archives on whining is
directed at verbal chldren who whine with words; my son just
grunts and points. He keeps it up until he is stopped, either by
getting what he wants or by parental intervention (distraction,
removal from the scene, whatever). His whining is usually clear
in intention (feed me more yogurt, hold me up so I can look at
the fruit bowl, let me touch the hot tea kettle) so it's not like
he needs to learn baby sign language. My question is about how
*I* should respond?
There are three types of situations. (1) Sometimes I am able and
willing to provide what he wants (e.g. yogurt I'm already in the
process of feeding him), but I am afraid that if I give him what
he has just whined for, he'll be learning that whining works.
How can I encourage him to ''ask'' politely? (2) On the other
hand, sometimes I'm *temporarily* unable to deliver (e.g. I can't
hold him up to the fruit bowl when I'm busy cooking); in this
case I want to respond to the whining right away, so he knows I'm
listening, but I don't want to say ''No!'' all the time because we
save that for more serious cases. Anyone have a good phrase to
explain this? He seems to keep on whining until I've been very
negative in my response, and I'd prefer to teach him more gently.
(3) Finally, when he whines for something he can never have, like
the tea kettle, a firm ''No!'' is very effective, although
sometimes it makes him sad. I'm pretty comfortable in this case,
I am only wondering about how to respond at the times when he has
expressed himself with this very irritating whining tone -- if he
''asks'' for something pleasantly, we have no problem
communicating. Thanks for all your help! I'm still getting used
to the fact that his ''needs'' and his ''wants'' are no longer one
and the same.
Whined At Mama
I could have written your post! My daughter was an incessant
whiner. It used to drive me crazy and also exhaust me. From
talking with other parents, I think this is pretty common.
However, some do it more than others. What I found with my
daughter was that as she got more verbal, the whining has been
subsiding. It may be that your son, when he doesn't get what
he wants, thinks he is not communicating effectively. Because
whining is the only way he knows how to communicate, he keeps
doing it. Things that helped for me, was to completely remove
my daughter from wherever we were, when at all possible. If
smaller distractions didn't help, often ones sometimes did. If
this wasn't manageable, and my husband was home, we would take
turns. This would at least give me a break if we had a bad day
of whining. The main thing, though, was practicing patience.
And there were days when that was painful. But my daughter is
now just turning 18 months and things are substantially
better. So improvements are not too far off.
On a related note, my husband and I took a discipline class for
0 to 5-year-olds at Habitot. The class intrigued me because
the description talked about why kids may or may not respond to
something due to their development, (rather than a
specific ''style'' or theory of parenting). We found the class
very helpful. The instructor, a specialist in child
psychology, was very practical and entertaining. We found the
class to be very helpful and interesting because it helped
explain some of our daughter's behaviors or reactions. I just
wanted to pass this along because I would recommend it to
anyone. (I don't work for them!) It was only an hour and half
and the highest cost was $25 a person. Habitot has a sliding
scale. If your interested, their classes are posted on their
We have a 17-month-old son, and though he is not ''pre-verbal''
anymore because he has started to use words (and predicatably,
has mastered some of the ones that relate to stuff he wants, like
''agua'') he still does the pointing and grunting (his is more like
a ''ah! ah!'' than a whine, though it gets more and more desperate
as he is not getting what he wants). And yes, I have the same
impulse as you - to not give into whining because I don't want
him to draw the conclusion that it works.
What I have learned is that sometimes he just wants to have his
needs/wants recognized (and actually having them met is less
important). So, I have found that sometimes just talking him
through it and redirecting him resolves the situation. For example:
him: ah!aha! (pointing to the scissors on the kitchen counter)
me: what do you want me to hand you, the scissors?
him: (smiling and nodding) ah! ah!
me: oh, no I can't do that, scissors are very dangerous for kids!
him: (more and more desparate) ah! ah!
me: do you know what scissors are for?
him: (seems to be intrigued by the fact that I have asked him a
question and we are in conversation) ah?
me: scissors are used to cut things, etc etc. I think there
might be a picture of some scissors in one of your books (there's
not). Do you want to go pick out a book to look at while I
Generally at that point, he is thrilled to be entrusted with a
task, runs off, and brings back a book, which I congratulate him
for. I have hidden the scissors, and when he comes back, I will
sit with him for maybe 30 seconds to start looking at the book
together until he is into it, then I go back to cooking. But I
keep talking to him. ''Whats on that page? Do you see a kitty?
What sound does the kitty make?''
Mind you, this whole time I have not stopped cooking, but have
made a lot of eye contact with him.
I don't know if that kind of thing will work for you or if you
have already tried it. My little guy seems to get engaged
through conversation and that at least lets him feel like he is
being heard and also helps to re-orient him away from a ''I need
that thing!'' mind-frame.
I think some of the advise for verbal kids applies to pre-verbal
kids as well, you have to give them the words they don't know
yet. so if they whine and you know what it's about you can
say ''use your words, water please'' and when they stop whining
and make an attempt, give him what he wants. tell him you don't
understand his whining (even if you do) this will get better as
his vocabulary expands but I still have to remind my 3 year old
to ask nicely without whining or bossing.
as for stuff that you can't get for him you can say ''I know you
want to look at the fruit bowl and I will help you after I....''
then you can try to redirect him to another activity. this way
you acknowledge his desire, express understanding, you don't
really say ''no'' just ''wait''
another thing I noticed helped with my son when he seemed to
want something he couldn't have was to give him the word for it.
it seemed like if he knew how to say it, his desire for it
wasn't so desperate - he had some control or something
My 14 month old daughter whines, constantly, from sun up to sun
down. She follows me around clamouring to be held or for
attention. My attention span for this is dwindling. Has anyone
found a good solution for similar behavior?
Sounds like she is using the most effective voice she has at
that age to let you know how much she loves being with you. Are
there ways you can include her in your activities? Using a sling
or backpack will allow her to be attached to you but still leave
you free to do most household work. Sometimes getting down to
her level and giving her lots of physical contact while modeling
a calm sweet non-whiny voice may help her feel acknowledged
while also showing her an alternative to whining.
Is your daughter talking (or signing) yet? My son's whining and
shrieking reached a peak around 12 months, and then diminished as
soon as he learned some words. I think kids around that age get
very frustrated because they can understand a lot of language but
they can't yet express themselves. So I predict that your daughter
will whine less once she learns (more) words. You can try teaching
her some simple signs (for example, the baby sign we used for
''more'' was an index finger tapping the other palm). In the
meantime, you have my sympathy; I know how a child's whining can
feel like it's drilling a hole in your head!
Young toddlers often whine because they don't yet have the
language skills to tell you what they want easily or quickly
enough, and because they tend to go through a clingy/separation
anxiety phase just as mom tends to think the newly walking,
talking kid ought to be able to self-entertain more.
Understanding this may help *you* face the whining more calmly.
Also, remember that the more time and undivided attention you
give your daughter (as exhausting as that can be), the less she
is likely to whine when your attention *is* divided.
The specific technique that worked for us to 'retrain' away from
whining goes like this: Crouch down to her level, make eye
contact and give her full attention. (This is not ''giving in''
to her whining unless and until you actually do whatever it is
she is whining for.) Figure out as best you can what she
actually wants. Then tell her you don't like the whining and
model what you want her to do. Say, ''Mommy doesn't like it when
you whine. If you would like me to pick you up, ask nicely.
Say, 'Mommy, up please.''' 99.9% of the time this will do the
trick -- she will repeat some variation of whatever you are
telling her to say and everyone's happy. Of course, if you
cannot pick her up just then, or you can't actually understand
what she wants, or she refuses to 'ask nicely', you'll have to
either distract her or find an acceptable alternative (''Mommy is
cooking dinner just now and can't pick you up. Would you like
to sit in your high chair so you can see what I am doing?'') but
in no event give her what she's whining for until she can calm
down and ask without whining. Also, do your best to give some
positive reinforcement every time she *does* ask for anything
without whining. (''Of course you may have some juice! Thank
you for asking nicely.'')
Best of luck!
Our daughter, going on three years old, has of late been more
sad or teary or whiney than usual. This is not an all-the-time
issue, but she is in some sort of bad mood far more often than
in the recent past. This has been occurring for maybe a week or
so. She is very difficult to console. Is this ''normal''? Do these
things pass? We feel very bad and frustrated about her
inconsolability. For background, she spends 2 or three days/week
at pre-school and 1 or 2 days/week at grandparents. This has
been her routine since September. There have been no major
changes in her day-to-day life, as far as we can tell. Thank
I'm not sure this will help but as the mother of a 2 yr 8 month
old I've found it's often not appropriate to attribute adult
motivations or explanations to such young kids behaviors. You
say this has been going on for just a week. Probably, this too
shall pass (like so many other things I'm sure you've
experienced!) Maybe a minor seeming event has occured, or maybe
she senses your concern and anxiety about her feelings. Maybe
you should not worry about this experience going away and just
be more affectionate or comforting than usual and help her
during this period.
I have fraternal twin girls about the same age as your
daughter. We have also gone through weeks that seem more
demanding than others - either tears and whiney, or extremely
willful, or especially destructive and antagonistic. I
attribute it to their growing and development phases. I'm a
stay-at-home mom although the girls go to preschool two mornings
a week and have a regular babsitter two mornings a week. So,
unless there was a specific incident at home or either care
situation that may have triggered this behavior, I wouldn't
attribute the behavior to something external. I try to deal
with these behaviors with more one-on-one attention or enlist
the help of one of our mom-friends - someone the girls (one or
both) enjoy spending time with. And sometimes I try to change
our routine a little and maybe go to a different park or some
other child-friendly place. Lastly, we have figured out that
one daughter gets especially difficult when she is constipated.
Best wishes to you.
I apologize if this advice seems too obvious, but it has been a
tremendous revelation to me. I was wondering why my 3-year-old
was whiney, why she was picking on her sister, why she was so sad
all the time. My friend told me that her mother (mother of six
and elementary school teacher) said, ``When young kids are out of
sorts and misbehaving, 99% of the time they are either tired, or
hungry, or both.'' At first I refused to believe it was so
simple (wasn't it sibling rivalry and not hunger or exhastion?
was I not giving them enought attention?), but I have really
become convinced. Whenever my now 4-year-old and 2-year-old pick
on each other I try to ask myself: Are they are tired or hungry?
THe answer is almost always, yes. WHen they whine and cry and
drive me crazy by hanging on me I ask myself, ``Are they are
tired and/or hungry?'' The amazing thing is how long it has
taken me to get used to asking myself that every time!
I watch a friends' daughters (also 4 and 2)once/week 10-2 and I
noticed that all the kids got really whiney and started to fight
at 11. At first I thought it was that they got tired of each
others' company after an hour, but it was strange that after
lunch they played happily until right about two when they
started fighting again. I decided to apply the tired/hungry
theory, and started giving them a snack at 11. What a
difference!! Now I know why daycares always serve two snacks a
day and have a nap time! When kids are tired or hungry they are
cranky, whiney, tearful and prone to fight. The two O'clock
blues were simply natural because it was naptime and lunch was
starting to wear off. Now we have a snack at 11, eat lunch at
12:30, run around like crazy outside and at 1:45 we have a small
snack and I read to them. They get along beautifully.
Perhaps a snack here and there and either a longer nap or an
earlier bedtime will solve all your troubles! I hope so!
Our son just turned two and has started to whine relentlessly. He also seems more
needy and clingy: wants to be carried more, etc. We think some of this has been
precipitated by a newcomer in day care who is a boy, 14 mos old and some of it
may be the ambivalence of becoming a 'big boy'. Any advice about how others
have handled this phase would be helpful. We try to ignore it or ask him to speak
so we can understand him, but it can be sooooo annoying.
Has anyone found a good strategy for nipping whining in the bud? My just
two year old has really gotten into a whiney phase -- it seems like half
the things that come out of his mouth are in a whiney tone, even
straightforward requests like "I want a drink of water" or "I want to go
outside." I feel like I spend half my day saying, "Can you ask me in a
regular tone of voice?" or "Go ahead, drink some water, no one's stopping
you" or, when it's been two hours of unceasing whine, "Stop that whining or I'm
going to lose my mind!" None of these seem particularly effective. Any
Our son began whining at around that age and we helped to nip it in the bud
by using some of the recommendations in Bill Sear's Discipline Book. It's
important to keep things positive with kids this age because it's so easy to get
into power struggles. One way is to kindly respond to whining with "Ouch!
That makes my ears hurt. Can you use a speaking voice?" Whining will
persist a while, but if you gently encourage the words and actively respond to
requests made in a speaking voice, it'll eventually subside. Helping the child
to put his feelings into words by encouraging a speaking voice can help stop
whining and help the child mature at the same time. The other thing is to
remember is that whining replaces crying as infants grow into toddlers.
Trying to understand the underlying upset, and responding to that, can help
If you will truly and thoroughly not tolerate it, it will simply stop. I would
say to a whining child that as long as he uses that tone, I will not relate to
him. And I wouldn't. It has worked with my boys, I hope it does with yours...
For the sake of my sanity I finally instituted a zero
tolerance policy. If you ask in a whining voice, you
can not have it for an hour, day, week..what ever you
think is appropriate. It works much better when you
consistently enforce it, which I am working on.
No amount of explanations of good tone of voice helped with my children
and their whining, but whining really bothers me. So I told them (they
are ten years apart and it worked both times) that my ears were
different and I could not hear whining it just sounded like a mouse
squeaking. When they would whine I'd hold up my hand and say "There's a
mouse in the house.. can you hear it and some comment about hoping it
wasn't after the cheese?" They would laugh and ask me in a normal tone
of voice. I never acknowledged that I heard or understood what they were
whining. It's kind of silly, but it worked. Good luck.
Don't fulfill their request until they have stated it in a non-whiny voice. I
have replied to my daughter in a whiny voice, and she thought that was
strange to come from a mom and instantly taught her what "whiny" means.
Then I repeated the reply in a regular voice. So I know, she can distinguish
the difference in tone of voice and what each is called. She learned really
fast what voice to use to have her needs met quickly. By the way, that's also
how we taught her to use the word "please."
Shouldn't take more than 3-5 attempts and three tantrums. Just be
consistent. You set the rules of how you want to be treated. You can also
walk away from a whiny voice in addition to not fulfilling the request,
stating that "your ears do not like whiny voices." Whinyness is a
short-lived problem unless you allow it to continue.
As difficult as it might feel when you hear that whiny voice, you might try
saying "it sound like you need a hug" and giving him one. I think I read
this in Positive Parenting A to Z (under whining), and it was pretty effective
when my son was going through a whiny stage. There were probably some
other ideas in there I can't recall as there are usually
a few ideas for each topic. It's a great book to have around when you need
some concrete ideas of what to do about whatever the current parenting
issues are. Good luck!
The only thing I've found effective at all for our 4-year old is simply
becoming "deaf." If she's whining, I can't "hear" her. Sometimes I do have
to remind her that I can't hear whining. But usually she remembers on her
own. I don't know if it will work for a 2 year old, but it's worth a shot.
this page was last updated: May 13, 2007
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are transitioning to a new website: BerkeleyParentsNetwork.org
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network