Playful Parenting Tip: A Fine Whine

November 20th, 2012 by Dionna | 2 Comments
Posted in Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting

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Whining: A Child’s Most Annoying Form of Communication

Did you know research has finally confirmed that whining is the worst sound in the world?1 It’s true! While it’s nice to have scientific proof, parents could have saved the researchers a lot of time and money, because we know that persistent whining can put even the most patient of us on edge.

As annoying as it is to listen to, whining has a very simple purpose: communication. Children whine to communicate, and they are often trying to tell us that they need some connection time. Whining can also signal that a child has a strong emotion to express, but she is feeling too inhibited or uncomfortable to get it out.

Parents have two basic choices when faced with a whining child. Our first choice is to react negatively to the whining; but punishing or shaming children for trying to communicate with us (regardless of how annoying the form of communication) will backfire in the long run. Not only will it discourage our children from communicating with us honestly in the future, but shutting a child down will not resolve the underlying feelings, and they’ll only resurface again later.

Our second choice is to turn the whining into an opportunity to become closer. Whether your child is whining to connect or as a signal that there is another emotion under the surface, reacting to whining constructively is much more effective than reacting negatively.2 It’s hard to connect with a whining child, but the benefits will be almost immediate. And by focusing on connection, you’ll be building a strong foundation of trust and openness

Play: A Child’s Main Form of Communication

How can parents possibly connect with a whining child? Through play. “Play is a children’s main way of communicating.”3 A child who is in need of connection or emotional release may simply need a gentle nudge from a playful parent. Here are a few ideas you can use to stop whining and start laughing and connecting.

  1. Change the Channel: Does your preschooler love to watch television? The next time you are at the end of your rope with a child who is whining for TV, pick up the remote control and say (in as playful a voice as you can muster), “I do not like this show, I’m changing the channel! Oh, look, it’s a nature show of a frog hopping across some lily pads.” Encourage your little one to act like the frog. Click the remote again and ask her what is on the next channel. Take turns coming up with “shows” she can act out. Not only will the whining stop, but you can marvel at how creative your child can be.
  2. Fill’er Up: Have you ever been met with a whiny voice in the morning? It is so hard to start the day with whines, but this is a fun way to get rid of them. Exclaim, “Oh my goodness! Some of mama’s love leaked out of you last night in your sleep. I need to repair the hole and fill you back up!” Grab your little one and put a hand gently over his mouth, saying “don’t talk – I think the love is leaking out of your mouth. We need to put more love back in. Here, I can blow some in your ear.” Hug him and blow gently toward his ear, but take care not to tickle more than he is comfortable with. Hopefully the whines will vanish, replaced with smiles, giggles, and a much happier morning.
  3. Catch the Whine: While it might not always be the best idea to draw attention to the whines themselves, sometimes a good game of chase provides littles with just the right amount of connection and physical activity to break out of a bad mood. When you hear the whining start, playfully say, “We have a no whining policy before dinnertime, I’m going to have to catch that whine and throw it out the door. You’d better run if you don’t want to go, too!” Then relish in the giggles as you chase your little one through the house. When you do catch her, give her big hugs and reassure her that you would never throw her out, you love her too much!

May your days be whine-free and full of connection!


This has been edited from an article previously published in Play Grow Learn.

2 Responses to:
"Playful Parenting Tip: A Fine Whine"

  1. Vidya Sury   vidyasury

    I love this. I’ve seen some parents allow their own frustration to rise as the child’s whining builds up and finally, both parent and child are unhappy. Worse still, some parents actually think beating the child can solve problems (gasp!)

    On the rare occasions I got worked up, my husband always diffused the situation with humorous distractions, much like the ways you described above. And what can be more delightful than a child’s laughter!

  2. Michelle

    Great article. I have 2 ways of dealing with my daughters whining and use them as I determine the situation warrants. If its because they want attention, I curiously get down to their level and say dramatically, “Wait a second! This is crazy!!! My little [daughters name] doesn’t whine! She’s usually full of giggles… Let me just clear that yucky whining up…” And start tickling or “kissy monster”-ing… Before I can even start they each sort of change their demeanor an it passes as quickly as it started. Otherwise, when its about to be a tantrum (doesn’t happen often) I stay calm and say “what dr we get when we whine?” They each know from experience that no matter the situation whining doesn’t get them what they want and they have learned appropriate ways to ask for what they want and/or to deal with not always getting what they want when they wanted (which I’ve walks them through te emotions and understanding and now they do on their own).

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