If whining gets under your skin… join the club. I’m a founding member. We’re in this together.

Why do our kids whine? Hear me out on a few ideas:

Kids whine because they’re feeling helpless. Whining is a sign of desire + powerlessness, and there’s not much harder than feeling those two things together. Confession: I whine under these conditions as well. I remember a few months ago when I showed up to a coffee shop a bit before opening; I was desperate for coffee but also cutting it close for work. The manager told me, “We’re not open” and I whined, “Pleeease?” I felt desperate and powerless.

Kids whine because they’re looking for connection. When whining, kids often feel alone and unseen. As parents, we must sometimes make decisions that we feel are right even in the face of our kid’s protest; but this doesn’t preclude us from understanding and connecting. Connect with humor (“The whines snuck in again!”), validation (“I know you want it so badly.”), permission (“You’re allowed to not like my decision.”), hugs (Play The Fill Up Game; see below for a link), and generosity (restate the request without requiring your child to do the same). You can also connect with the plight of being a child (“You wish you were an adult and could decide on screen time yourself.  I get that. Being a kid can be really hard.”)

Kids whine because they’re looking for a release. The other day at lunch, my son whined for a grilled cheese cut into pieces and a grilled cheese that was whole, warm water and cold water, apples no actually pears. I paused and thought, “Huh. My son is whining and being unreasonable as a way of saying to me, ‘Mommy, be firm, provide a sturdy container for me. I need a good cry.’” I stopped trying to make things better and just said, “These are our food choices today. Nothing feels good, huh? Nothing feels like you want it to.” He screamed and protested and cried. He needed it. Sometimes the best thing we can do as a parent is welcome the mess of our kids’ feelings.

Try This at Home:

Here is a list of response-to-whining ideas. Let me know what you try, what resonates, what doesn’t, and what your most difficult whining moments are.

Try responding to whining with:

  • Humor: “How did that whine get in here?” Go “throw” the whine out and say, “Whew! It is O-U-T, OUT! Ok, sorry, what did you ask for? Ice in your water? Sure I’ll grab you some.”

  • Restating a request in your own pleasant voice: “Dad, can you please grab me that book? Thank you so much.” Then go say in your “own” voice, “Oh sure sweetie, no problem.”

  • Permitting protest: “You’re allowed to not like my decision.”

  • “The Fill Up Game.”“Oh no! I think you’re not filled up with Mommy.” Fill your child up with successive hugs and then add one more to give “extra Mommy.” See what happens next.

  • Empathy: “I know. It’s tough to be a kid. You wish you could make all of your own choices. I get that.”

  • Allowing a good cry. Kids sometimes look for us to set a boundary so they can let out big feelings.