We all know that toddlers know how to work their parents, and my little girls are no exception. They know exactly what tone of voice to use to get their point across. There’s the matter-of-fact tone that lets me know they're stuck on an idea and will not let it go. There's the wheedling, "I-haven’t-made-up-my-mind-so-maybe-you-can-persuade-me" tone. And then there's the tone that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up: the high-pitched whine. Lately, my kids have been using this tone more often, so I tried to stop them from whining for a week.
My 4-year-old has always been a great negotiator, but recently, she’s been whining a lot more, and my 2 1/2-year-old is also starting to master the art of complaining. I know they can’t help it, but I hate the sound of whining. I've been trying to figure out how to navigate this whole whining epidemic, so I started reaching ways to nip this bad habit in the bud.
At first, I was scared to go up against my girls, because I know from experience how hard it is to stop whining once it’s in full force. But according to Parents Magazine, whining occurs when children are trying to express themselves, but lack the vocabulary to describe what they want or how they feel.
The magazine also says that the best way to stop whining is to prevent it preemptively by giving praise when praise is due and teaching your kids how to ask for things nicely. I liked the idea of praising my girls when they asked for something in a non-whiny voice. I also liked the idea of thanking them for using their words to teach them the correct way to express themselves, instead of disciplining them when they used their whiny voices.
Days 1 & 2: Fake Tears
When I get home from work, dealing with constant complaining is the last thing I want to do. Sometimes, my girls are in good spirits and they just want to tell me about their day, but most of the time, the second I walk through the door they want to tattle on each other or ask for a snack. They want to get their way, and they want it now.
The first day of the experiment was definitely one of those days where nothing was making my girls happy. First, my youngest wanted applesauce, but instead of asking for it, she whined for it. Per the Parents Magazine recommendation, I pretended like her whining didn't bother me and kept my facial expression neutral.
“I can’t understand what you are saying when you’re asking me like that," I told her. “Can you please take a breath and ask me in your voice and not your crying voice?”
“I can’t understand what you are saying when you’re asking me like that," I told her. When she started crying and whining even more, I asked her: “Can you please take a breath and ask me in your voice and not your crying voice?”
My little girl took a breath and asked me for applesauce in her normal voice. "Thank you," I said, and I gave her the applesauce. A full-on meltdown was successfully avoided.
The whining continued at dinner, when both girls wanted more cheese. Instead of telling them to knock it off and stop whining, I ignored the whining and continued having a conversation with my husband to show them that it didn't bother me. That didn't work, so I turned to my daughters and said that if they wanted something, they needed to take a breath, stop “crying," and ask us politely for what they wanted so we could understand them. “OK,” my youngest said as she noisily inhaled, then exhaled. Then my older daughter turned on the charm and asked, “Can we have more cheese, please?"
Days 3 & 4: Pass the Whine
On the second day, my youngest was on a roll. My mom watches our daughters during the day, so she actually had to call me at work and put me on speaker phone so I could lecture my girls, who were behaving badly and were given time-outs.
“I don’t want to be in my room,” my youngest whined after about two minutes, her little voice rising in pitch.
Not giving into the whining was definitely key. I never wanted my girls to think that whining would get them what they wanted.
“Can you ask nicely if it’s time to come out?” I asked her. She asked her grandma if she could please come out, using her normal voice.
Not giving into the whining was definitely key. I never wanted my girls to think that whining would get them what they wanted. Later that evening, for instance, when my youngest complained about not being able to pick the movie we watched that night, I calmly asked her if she was crying because she wanted to see Angry Birds instead of Lego Girls.
When she said yes, I said, "I understand how disappointing it is when we don’t get to do something we want. But next time, it'll be your turn to pick the movie. Would you like to play by yourself instead?" Honestly, it didn’t stop her from crying, but talking to her calmly and giving her other options did lead to her calming down after a few minutes and playing in the play room instead.
Days 4 & 5: Staying Alert
There are specific times of the day when I anticipate whining: if the girls are hungry, for instance, or if we're visiting a store where I know they'll see something they want me to buy. School mornings are also tough, because my girls are not always morning people. I also seriously hate bedtime, because it’s difficult getting the girls to go to bed. While I completely understand that whining is typical toddler behavior, that does not make it any easier to deal with — especially at the end of the day, when I just want to go to sleep.
Instead of demanding they go to bed, as I normally do, I patiently explained, “I know you don’t want to go to bed yet, but it’s important to get plenty of rest so we have energy for tomorrow."
The second I told them it was time to brush their teeth, the whining began. Then they started negotiating for one more book, or one glass of water, or another hug. Since I knew that bedtime triggers whining, all I could really do was prepare for it and try to be as patient as possible.
Instead of demanding they go to bed, as I normally do, I patiently explained, “I know you don’t want to go to bed yet, but it’s important to get plenty of rest so we have energy for tomorrow." They did not go to bed right away, but they stopped whining and accepted that mom and dad were not going to cave.
Days 6 & 7: Laying The Praise On Thick
My 4-year-old loves praise more than her sister does, so I made sure to praise her whenever she used her real voice and not her whining voice. “Thank you for asking me in your own voice and not your whining voice,” I told her after she asked me for a cinnamon swirl cake at Starbucks, when I told her there was no way she was getting a cake pop.
“You’re welcome,” she said, munching on her treat.
When she whined about wanting PlayDoh, I asked her to take a breath and ask me again, which she did in her non-whiny voice.
I made sure to acknowledge her every time she stopped whining and thanked her for asking so nicely. Most of the time, it worked, but there were a few occasions when she was not having it.
“Yeah, but I really wanted three cookies and you didn’t let me,” she reminded me after I asked her to please stop complaining about not getting a third cookie after dinner, since two was enough. Instead of arguing with her, I just let it go. She wasn't using her whining voice, so I just rolled with it.
My youngest daughter, however, could seriously care less about praise. But I still tried praising her for reining in her whining. When she whined about wanting PlayDoh, I asked her to take a breath and ask me again, which she did in her non-whiny voice.
For the most part, these techniques worked incredibly well. After testing them out on my daughters, I realized that although my girls are toddlers who are learning to manage their many emotions, they also have some ability to control how much they whine, provided they get support and gentle reminders from an adult.
Helping them practice effective communication methods and demonstrating correct and incorrect methods of asking for what they wanted were very helpful. All they needed was a little nudge from me.
If I sensed my daughters were going to whine, I would ask them to tell or ask me in their normal voices so I could understand them, and they appeared to understand that. Helping them practice effective communication methods and demonstrating correct and incorrect methods of asking for what they wanted were very helpful. All they needed was a little nudge from me.
I’ll continue to reinforce the techniques that worked for my daughters during this experiment, such as talking to them about using their regular voices, praising them when they do not whine, and reminding them of the difference between whining and using their regular voice. I will also try my hardest to not let their whining affect me, which I know will be hard, but if it curbs the whining and teaches my girls that complaining will not get the response they want, then I’m all in.