As a kid, I remember my parents — especially my mom — often telling me to "stop whining." To which my response was usually something along the lines of, "I'm not whining!" Now, as a parent, whining has taken on a whole new meaning, and I'm finding myself saying the same thing my parents told me. "Stop whining!" All kids whine, but how do you know if it's part of a bigger problem? And how do you make it stop? Turns out, there are some signs your kid's whining is a bigger issue, but there are also some tips to find peace at last.
A lot of kids don't realize that they are whining when they do it. I remember when I was a kid, there were times when I was told to "stop whining" when I genuinely didn't even realize I was whining. I was just feeling sad and talking, and simply trying to communicate a want or a need. Being dismissed and not listened to only made me feel more upset and, worse, unheard. But whining is hands down the most irritating noise and can make smoke come out of your ears in 0.02 seconds. Parents — and kids — need to find some relief. There is a great video on Parents website that talks about how to stop the whining once and for all, but first, let's see if the irritating behavior is part of a bigger issue. I checked in with a child development expert as well as my own personal experience of whine triggers for tips on how to help your kids.
1. They're Over The Age Of 7
I asked child development expert and author of the new book The Emotionally Healthy Child, Maureen Healy, when whining is appropriate. And when it's not, what can we parents do about it? Healy tells Romper in a phone interview that whining in children ages 0 to 4 years old is "developmentally appropriate and is expected." While the noise "is not pleasant," children under 4 years old lack the communication skills to be able to express themselves without becoming emotional when they're upset — which to us, sounds like whining.
Children 4 to 7 years old can begin learning communication skills and understand how to "let go" when it's time instead of persisting. The bright side, Healy says, is a child who demonstrates perseverance, which is a trait you can redirect in a way that can better serve them. But if your child still has a whining problem at the age of 7 or older, it's time to address some other issues before they begin to feel the social consequences of being labeled a whiner.
Often, the child has learned the behavior from a sibling, peer, or by reinforcement from an adult — yes, we as adults just want it to stop so we give in to find some relief. (We've all done it so don't feel bad.) But Healy says children who continue to whine do it because, historically, there has been a "pay off, they're getting something out of it." She continues, "kids are smart and they know whining works". Some children can be highly sensitive and feel things deeply. These children are quick to respond, which can trigger whining. If you suspect your child to have a highly sensitive issue, you can visit Healy's website for more information.
2. The Witching Hour
I call between the hours of 3:00 in the afternoon and 6:00 — or anytime before dinner — the witching hour. Kids are just cranky and sassy and whiney, am I right? I find this is usually because it's after school or camp and they've had a full day of stimulation, plus it's been a minute since they've had lunch — talk about hangry. Whining during the witching hour usually just means they're tired and hungry. Bring snacks with you to pick-up and find a quiet activity to do before dinner — this usually helps settle everyone down, in my experience. Remember, giving into whining can backfire and isn't helpful in the long run, so make sure when you offer them your attention, you're responding to an improved tone of voice.
3. Impending Illness
Sometimes kids whine when they're not feeling well. Heck, even as an adult, I whine when I'm not feeling well. Being sick is zero fun and the last thing you want to do is use your big girl or boy voice. If they're having a day where they are just cranky, whiney, and will just not quit, check them for a fever and ask if they're feeling OK, suggested What to Expect. There have been plenty of times when my son would have a rough day of crankiness and yes, unrelenting whining, and sure enough, boom, wakes up with a fever the next morning. Remember, sometimes kids don't know how to articulate how they're feeling so it's up to us to figure out what's going on, which can be tricky. But use your mommy-sense — that's what it's there for.
4. Home Life
Baby Center explained how, basically, whining is just a cry for attention. Kids are just looking for a response — any kind of response — good or bad. Notice what your child is whining about. Does it always happen revolving around a specific issue? Has the whining escalated after a certain event at home? Right now in my own home, we are dealing with having to pack up all our stuff to be temporarily relocated due to repairs that need to be done in our apartment. I've noticed that my son seems a little more sensitive and unsettled, which leads to whining. Our belongings are in boxes as we get ready to leave and it feels unsettling to me, so I can imagine it probably feels the same for him. Do your best to address the issue at home and see if this helps alleviate the whining issue.
5. When You're Just Too Busy
Have you been extra busy or stressed out lately? Kids notice when we're not paying attention to them even if we think we're doing a good job pretending. They can sense when we're not fully present and this can feel frustrating. When my schedule fills up and I'm unable to pick up my son from school or camp for a couple of days, he notices and sometimes it can stir up the whining voice. The solution for this is simple, but not always easy to do especially in our very busy lives. I find that when I unplug from my phone and let go of the 10 million things going on in my head and just connect with him to show I'm not distracted, this helps make him feel heard. He's more likely to use a big boy voice when expressing a desire, and the whining pretty much stops.
But it's also important to make sure that your child knows you are a busy person and that sometimes, they have to be able to cope with things going on around you without resorting to whining, noted Parents. It's a tough balance to strike, but it works and can lead to less frustration for everybody.
6. Their World
As parents, it's our job to understand what's happening in our children's world, which can be hard even with our best efforts. But notice if they're whining has gotten worse with a change at school or their status. Have they recently become a big sibling? If so, it's possible the change has gotten them feel a little uneasy. Try making them a part of that experience and give them jobs to do to take care of their new younger brother or sister. This can help make them feel important and purposeful. As Parents noted, whining is often a child just trying to communicate how they're feeling, and big changes in their world can definitely send them into overdrive.
While whining can be out-of-this-world annoying, it helps to realize that the behavior is just a way that kids express themselves when they're lacking other constructive tools. It's tempting to just give in to what they want so we can just make the noise stop, but remember you're only setting yourself up for more whining in the future. Try to pinpoint the underlying cause and respond when they've improved their tone of voice. As parents, it's our job to guide our kids and help them develop the skills they need to communicate effectively. It's rough out there, but stay strong.