Hands down toddler whining is one of the most annoying sounds PERIOD. Whining tends to peak between two to four years of age, which means as a toddler parent you are bound to hear it several times a day. Is there a solution for whining? Quite possibly and it doesn’t involve spending a fortune on noise-canceling headphones.
Why Do Children Whine?
All behavior is a form of communication. Children mostly whine to get our attention and to get something they want. Young children don’t have the manipulation... I mean negotiation skills of older kids so they rely on their sweet faces, pouts, embarrassing you in public, and their voice -including the tone of their voice. Whining is often characterized by a high-pitched, need-it-RIGHT NOW tone. Toddlers frequently use it because it’s very effective.
Cause and Effect
Two and three-year-olds have not developed reasoning skills but they understand patterns and cause and effect. For example, infant cries (cause) and they receive milk (effect). A toddler doesn’t want to sleep yet so they continue to cry and scream, and eventually, their parent might rush into the room and pick them up (effect). A three-year-old really wants a new Lego set (cause) and knows by continually whining in every single aisle of Target they will eventually wear down mom and get it (effect!). Children also know which parent and grandparent is more susceptible to whining.
How to stop Toddler Whining
Ignoring it is simply not going to work. One of the most effective ways to reduce whining is introducing replacement behaviors and positively (frequently at first) reinforcing it. A replacement behavior is what you want them to do instead of whining. If you want them to use their “big kid” or simply their “everyday voice” at the first decibel of a whine you prompt them to use their regular voice. If they continue to whine remind them again. This is KEY do not give them what they want until they switch their tone. Be consistent aka do not let them know they can break you! When they do use their regular tone praise them (i.e., high fives, hugs, compliments) and yes you can even consider buying that Lego toy. You want to teach the child that whining is not the only way to get something and your attention. If your child is whining because they are frustrated or uncomfortable, insert the emotional language (i.e., “I see that you are feeling frustrated…..”) but still prompt them to use their “voice”. Remember the more you give in to whining the more powerful tool it becomes to your child. Teach them a skill that is more appropriate and let’s face it, parents, a skill that is way less annoying.
Kat is a school psychologist with over a decade of experience working with toddlers to school-aged children. She is also a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator and has taught classes and workshops in increasing coping skills and self-regulation to children. She specializes in early intervention, Autism, and behavior management. She lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two young kids.