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Escapes from Whine Country! Tips to Deal with Whiny Kids

“I neeeeeeed another brownie!”
“It hurts. I caaaaan’t have this seatbelt on!”
“Jordan took the red one! I waaaaant red!”

Ahhhhh. Classic rants of whine country. For many parents, these rants have become the whine of daily life, and it ain’t no Pinot Noir! Preschoolers are especially famous for whinery woes; and tweens? Well, I can confirm they are busted, too.

There’s hope on the horizon. Expert advice encourages us to be more proactive and intentional in our response to whining. Take it from this professional counsellor and mom of teens – their vintage whines will someday be a distant memory!

Whine sellers – A few years ago, Psychology Today highlighted an experiment at Clark University, which analyzed recordings of children’s whines. Doctoral student Rosemarie Sokol-Chang confirmed what every parent of a whiner already understands too well: whining is a heck of a lot more effective for capturing attention than a loud table saw.

Mom and writer for the Boston Globe, Joanna Weiss brilliantly expresses the effect of the aversive, part-cry, part-speech, part-nails-across-the-chalkboard song of the unhappy whiner:

“… there’s a certain noise that cuts me to the core, depletes my reservoir of patience, turns me temporarily into a meanie mom. I cannot handle the whine.”

Weiss is certainly not alone in her meanie mom-ness. “I find the trickiest part of this whining business is when we’re all exhausted,” says Adrian, a frustrated parent of three children under ten. “I mean, yes, I get the teachable moments thing, but when I’m tired, their voices sometimes kill me.”

Too much whine! (And not enough cheese.) – Just what compels our children to whine relentlessly about everything from fudgy brownies to seatbelts to the red crayon cousin Jordan is holding? Can’t you just hear the drawn out, “Mooooooommm”?

Whining happens when, among other things, kids feel sleepy, neglected, hungry, defiant, grumpy, uncomfortable or disconnected from you. Disconnected? Hello? Every parent knows the probability of a four-year-old’s whining goes through the ceiling when we get busy or tied up on the phone or computer.
The art of the fine whine works like magic! It stops us cold and gets our focus back on the whiner – no loud carpentry saw necessary.

Pretend there is no whine? – Should parents ignore the whine? There are plenty of moments when it may be sensible to do so. In psychotherapist and parenting expert Alyson Schafer’s off-beat humorous guide Honey I Wrecked the Kids she says, “Our task is to ignore the whining but not the child” and parents should “gently and calmly tell them that you don’t respond to whining.”

Mom Adrian adds, “Pretending not to be fazed and counting to three in my head are two of my personal tips with my whiners.”

Nanny Deb of Nanny 911 says of ignoring the whining, “I know this sounds nearly impossible… but you are doing this so your kids will start to use their words.” It’s the feelings behind the whine – not the tone – that should be acknowledged. “Tell children to use their words. If your child starts whining, say, ‘I don’t understand whining. I’m not going to listen to you until you say what you want.’”

Throw back more whine? – Is it a good idea to mimic the awful whine? No. In their commonsensical guide Whining: 3 Steps to Stop it Before the Tears and Tantrums Start, Ricker and Crowder say whining makes kids feel more powerful and though we’re often automatically tempted to whine right back, there are better alternatives.

For managing the misbehavior, they recommend first that parents establish consequences. “Consequences teach kids that whining doesn’t work,” and the book recommends consequences be logical and immediate. Parents are often pulled to shout back or say too much, which they shouldn’t do. Establishing consequences emphasizes parental action and requires some verbal restraint.

The second approach as suggested by the authors to stop whining in its tracks is to model assertive communication. This “encourages the substitution of calm, respectful dialogue that gives a child a mode of communication to replace whining.” Let’s be honest… for many of us, reacting to a grating whine with “respect” and “calm” won’t come naturally to our dialogue. The book reminds parents that “assertiveness teaches your child to communicate respectfully.”

Ricker and Crowder’s third suggestion is to provide your child an opportunity to contribute in order to learn empathy and responsibility. The reasoning goes when kids are allowed to contribute they will develop a sense of belonging and won’t need to act out.

“When your child whines, look at it as a golden opportunity for intervention, but only if you respond in a way that teaches the child how to behave.”

Michele Ranard, M.Ed., knows whine country. She once sprained her ankle and lay writhing in pain on the kitchen floor as her preschooler whined, ”I want a sandwich!” She has two teenagers, a Master’s in counselling and a blog at


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