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10 Ways to React to Your Toddler's Whining


Whining is a tough stage to deal with. All young children do it, and it drives most of us crazy. It's easy to default to frustration, sarcasm, punishment or anger--but none of these really help anyone. So we've got some more constructive ideas to help get you and your kiddo through the next whine-fest intact.

1. Take a Deep Breath

a woman taking a big breath at the beach

Whining is hard to listen to, especially when it seems like your child has lost his regular voice. Try to remember that he's whining because he needs help and he doesn't know how to ask for it yet. Take a deep breath and give yourself a few seconds before you do anything—that way you won't react in a way that leaves everyone feeling upset.

2. Ignore It

a woman underneath the bed covers

If you've figured out that your kiddo isn't in any pain or dire need and is only whining because she wants crackers 10 minutes before you're about to serve dinner, ignore it. Don't respond to the whining at all. If she asks a question or says something in a non-whining voice, give her a big, positive reaction to reinforce that you love to engage her when she's not whining—but until the whining stops, ignore, ignore, ignore!

3. Say, "I Can't Understand You When You Sound Like That"

a woman looking clueless

If you calmly let your child know that you can't understand him when he's whining, it may help him learn to speak in a clear manner to get what he needs. Try explaining to your little guy that it's difficult to understand his whining voice but you'll be happy to help him when he's calm. It will take some time and reinforcement, but redirecting him to speak clearly will help you both in the long run.

4. Ask Questions to Understand the Situation

a mom talking with her young son

Taking the time to ask questions can help you get to the source of the whining. Sometimes children whine because they feel that they aren't being understood or given the attention they need. By putting your focus on your child and asking probing questions you can solve the problem together—which is a great way to strengthen communication skills and get rid of the whining.

5. Distract and Redirect

a mom doing a puzzle with her child

Has she been whining for 10 minutes because she wants to go to the park, even though it's raining and you've already said "No" 100 times? Instead of responding again, try taking out a board game and setting it up without asking her if she wants to play. When she becomes interested in the game, praise her enthusiastically for being flexible. The change of subject will get her mind off the park and the praise will reinforce good decision-making.

6. Tell a Joke

a chicken crossing the road

Humor is often an easy way to defuse a situation. If your child starts whining, whip out an old Knock-Knock joke, or ask him if he knows why the chicken crossed the road. No matter how much you want to, avoid making snarky jokes at your child's expense, though. Aim for something ridiculous or goofy to get your little one smiling again.

7. Offer a Snack

a bowl of fruit

Being hungry can lead to cranky feelings, and cranky feelings can lead to whining. When he starts to whine, don't ask him if he's hungry; just get him a little snack. A box of raisins, some carrots and hummus, or cheese and crackers can go a long way toward making the whines disappear.

8. Insist on a Nap

a young girl taking a nap

Sadly, we don't mean for yourself, though it would be nice. Sometimes your little girl won't recognize the fact that she's overtired and in need of some extra sleep. When the whining starts to get out of control it's time for her to reset. A nice nap should fix a behavior glitch and give everyone a fresh start.

9. Model Good Behavior

a mom doing yoga with her young daughter

Remember that your kids watch everything that you do as an example of how things ought to be done. Do you whine? We all do on occasion, so be conscientious of those times when you do whine a bit. Stop yourself and say, "That didn't sound very nice, let me try again." It's helpful for your little one to see and hear that whining is a problem that is easy to fix.

10. Walk Away

a young child looking very upset

If all else fails, walk away. It's OK to tell your child that you'll be back when she's ready to speak nicely. Once you know your little one is safe, lock the bathroom door or hide under the covers for a couple of minutes—whatever you need to grab a piece of sanity while she gets herself together. If it seems that everyone has calmed down, try asking her what she was so upset about and what a better strategy would have been. It won't fix the whining now, but it can help future episodes.

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