WHIIIIIIIIIINING!!! What is a Parent to Do?

Living with children who whine

Can make a parent want to resign.

This is not what I had in mind

When the parenting contract was signed!


Many parents have experienced the not-so-pleasant moments of co-existing with a child who has a tendency to whine….

That sound of the long drawn out vowels (“whIIII…?”), the look of desperation, the insatiable need to continue the drone (“I cAAAAAAn’t stop!”)

Whether it is multiple times a day or an infrequent occurrence, whining can trigger the following feelings in a parent:
whining ch

  • annoyance
  • anxiety
  • craziness
  • confusion
  • frustration
  • helplessness
  • irritation
  • uncertainty
  • all of the above

A common parental response to a child who is whining is to ask “WHY? Why are you doing this?” Or the same parent might question herself, “Why me? What have I done to cause this?” Let’s explore some possible causes for whining and some strategies for dealing with it.




Some children are more emotionally sensitive. They feel things strongly.

  • Because children lack the emotional and social maturity to express themselves effectively, they may whine when they reach their limit.

  • Some children are more intense temperamentally. These children tend to share their feelings in more dramatic ways that can include whining.

Age and Stage

Certain ages can be more difficult for children.

  • From eighteen months through six years, children experience periods of disequilibrium every six months, typically on the half-years.

  • From seven through sixteen, this period occurs every other year; seven, nine, eleven and thirteen are ages typically filled with ups and downs. During these times, kids are experiencing a greater amount of growth and change. These changes can trigger times of irritability, moodiness, stress, and, yes, whining.

Time of Day

Most people have certain times of the day when they feel at their best.

  • Some are “morning people”; others are at their best closer to the end of the day.

  • Young children tend to fade by late afternoon. After a whole day of “holding it together” at school or daycare, they arrive home tired and needy. Home is the safe place to “let it out.” For some kids, this includes whining.


Kids feel it.

  • The fast pace of life, little time to talk, hurrying to get to the next event, barely keeping up with what “must” be accomplished…it all takes a toll.

  • Because many children don’t yet have the vocabulary to say, “I need…” or “Please give me…,” their needs and desires may be hidden in what we hear as whining.

Parent’s Reactions

Whining may be a behavior a child has learned as an effective way to get his needs met.

  • Sometimes a parent may wait to respond until a child whines. A child may ask for help in a clear, non-whiny way several times, only to be ignored by the parent who is otherwise occupied by a thought or task.

  • Finally, the child whines, the parent hears, and the accompanying response is unhealthy for both.

  • Thus the parent may be unintentionally teaching the child to whine in order to receive attention.

Knowing possible causes can give you clues as to the source of whining and what you can do about it. This greater understanding may help you to be more patient with your children. Let’s turn to some specific tools you might apply in those moments of whining.


Tools for Parents

Observe. See if there is a pattern.

no whiningDoes whining occur more frequently at certain times of day?

  • Just waking up?
  • Mealtime?
  • Getting ready to leave the house?
  • Bedtime?

Take notes or write a “W” and the time of day on your calendar. Perhaps you will discover that whining is tied to a specific time or event.



Once you have determined a pattern or difficult time of day, take action!

Anticipate what your child may need.

If a child needs some “down time” upon arriving home, do your best to make the opportunity to sit together for ten minutes. Have a light snack, read a short book, listen to music or talk with one another.


Attempt to uncover the feeling underneath the whining. Sometimes a child is tired, hungry, bored, worried or feeling alone. Put this into words and reflect it back to the child.  

The following responses model healthier ways of communicating and let the child feel heard and loved.

“You sound tired.”
“I wonder if you are hungry.”
“You aren’t sure what to do.”
“You need my attention.”



Let your child know that hearing her speak in that particular tone of voice is unpleasant. Then show her how you would like to hear her talk:

“Sara, that tone of voice makes me feel irritable. It hurts my ears. I would like you to tell me like this, ‘Mommy, I need help with my pajamas.’”


Be creative/Use humor.

For example, A mother I know whose four-year-old daughter had a tendency to whine late in the day decided to change the mood. Mom told her daughter to put her face into Mom’s belly button and whine into her tummy!

The four- year-old thought this sounded so silly, she whined as loudly as she could into her mom’s tummy. Laughter soon enveloped them in a cozy cocoon of connection!


Living with children who whine

Hardly ever feels just fine.

With knowledge and skills, you’ll find

You can respond without losing your mind!
(I hope!!)


(P.S. Why did I haffff to write this article? No one will read it aneeeeway. This is suuuuuuch a whiny topic…)

By Pam Nicholson, MSW, Certified Parenting Educator



For more information about whining, check out the following book. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

  Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish    

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