Help with Whining Please!!

Updated on June 14, 2011
C.K. asks from Knoxville, TN
24 answers

Hi Moms,
My son is 4 1/2 and whines, cries, and fusses at the slightest thing. We have tried time outs and spanking to some degree (I tend not to do this because I cannot do it effectively). I have also tried taking toys away when it seemed like a relevant consequence. We just don't know what to do to change this behavior and don't know what we are doing to cause it to continue. Not sure what else to tell you all. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks so much.

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So What Happened?

Hi ladies,
Just want to thank you all so much for taking the time to respond. I decided to try the approach of hearing exactly the opposite of what he was saying when he whines. I started on Sunday night and I can already see a difference. (BTW, I have previously tried the "I can't understand what you are saying" approach and, maybe I didn't stick with it long enough, but after I don't know how many times of getting the same whiney response back from him, I didn't think he was getting it.) Anyway, it only takes one approach that works to make a difference and this one is working. I have also started being more aware and praising him more when he talks to me without whining. I think that helps also.

I agree that it is worse when he is tired. He is on a schedule and there really isn't much else going on different with him.

I needed to check my patience level too. I was getting frustrated because I was just so tired of hearing him whine/fuss/cry and felt like nothing was working. So I had to look at myself also and how I was making the situation worse.

Thanks again!

Featured Answers


answers from Los Angeles on

Ah the whine...

Have you tried talking to him? When I was taking care of some kids, one was 5 and did this. One day I went up to him and whined about something and he asked what was wrong. I told him that is how he sounds and we both laughed. He never really did it again. The few times he did, I would just say 'wow, when you are ready to talk like a big boy, come back." or "do you hear daddy talking like that?" then I would mock what that would sound like haha. Just tell him he shouldn't talk like that. Kids are smarter than we all think =)

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Ignore any requests he makes while whining, crying or fussing. Tell him you can't hear him when he whines, and pretend not to. When he talks in a normal voice immediately acknowledge him. When he asks for things without whining praise him and tell him you're so happy you could understand him.

This worked well for my daughter.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

I tell my kids that I hear the opposite of what is said when it is whined about 1st. So if the whining is because they want milk, I "hear" that they want water, or not to drink at all.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Austin on

Whining makes my ears bleed.
It takes all of your strength to get him out of this bad habit.
We had a neighborhood full of little girls and the whining was a group effort.We were all on the same page.

Purchase some ear plugs and keep them all over the house in your handbag and in the car.

Do not EVER give into a whine. You are going to use these phrases over and over until the whining stops. "I do not understand whining." "I need to hear your regular voice." "You need to go to your room and look for your regular voice."

If it turns into a fit,insert earplugs, step over the child and ignore. If he chases or follows you while crying and whining, go to your own room and tell him "Mommy needs a time out." Shut the door and let him calm himself down.

Be sure before an outing or an activity to remind your child of the expected behaviors. "In 10 minutes it will be time for dinner. Put your toys back where they belong and then wash your hands. I will need your help after your hands have been washed."

If he begins to whine, "I do not hear whining, please use your regular voice." Thank you for cleaning up. I need you to be my big helper and put the forks on the table with the napkins. Wow, great job! Now please carry this glass of milk to your place.. etc..

Then reminder, "while we are eating dinner, remember no ugly faces, or yucky words,. We want to have a nice dinner all of us using our regular words." If it is a successful meal, compliment him. "I sure did enjoy having dinner with you. I liked how you used your regular voice. "

Going to the store.. Give him the heads up. "We are going to the grocery store, get a snack and juice box to take with us. Remember, we do not buy treats at the store." "We walk and use our inside voices at the store. I will need your help finding these things at the store." Then tell him the list.

"I need you to walk with me with one hand on the basket or to ride in the cart. No whining or crying or we will leave." And then do it. If he starts to whine at the store, remind him to take a breath and "use his regular voice". If he loses it, pick him up and take him to the car and leave.

Place ear plugs in your ears if you need to. Once he calms down, explain you are "disappointed because he was throwing a fit and you were not able to run your errands."

You must have consistency, reacting instead of being proactive never works with a child. Children crave and need schedules and to know the rules. It makes them feel safe. They are pleasers. So the more of the same attention, the better his behaviors. .

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

"I can't understand you when you are whining. Please use your normal voice." Repeat several thousand times as needed and ignore all the drama as best you can. Never give in to whining/fussing/tantrums unless it is stopped immediately and followed up with a polite request.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I know quite a large number of polite, well-behaved and patient kids who have never been spanked and receive 'negative' disciplines like time-outs and suspended privileges only rarely. I've come to the conclusion that spanking is probably never actually needed for kids to be happy and cooperative contributors to family life. With my grandson, now 5.5 years, I've used the brilliant techniques in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish.

By 4.5, kids already know that certain behaviors are not desirable or effective. By that age, they are also amazingly good problem-solvers. Sometime when he's not whining and in a pretty receptive mood, I'd be inclined to go on a walk or do some quiet side-by-side activity and talk this through. Ask leading questions, and leave lots of room for answers. Pay close attention to what he tells you, and draw him out. One possible dialog:

"So, sometimes we notice that you whine a lot. Can you tell me why you need to do that."
"Um, I don't know."
"Well, people don't whine when they feel happy."
"I'm not happy when I whine."
"Can you tell me what would make you happy?
"Um, I don't know."
"Are you sometimes just tired or hungry?"
"Ummmmm. I think so."
"Do you sometimes want more attention?"
"Oh. Yes. Sometimes you and Daddy are soooooo busy."
"I see. So, how do Daddy and I act when we hear you whining?"
"Um. You tell me to be quiet."
"Anything else?"
"Mmmmm, you punish me."
"Are those the things you hope to get by whining?"

"Okay, so sometimes when you whine you're hungry or tired. Sometimes you just want us to stop and give you some love. Whining doesn't get you those things. Right?"
"What do you think might work better? Let's make a list, okay?"

The child will be impressed that you care enough to write his ideas down, and will usually offer a few creative alternatives, including, of course, that you and Daddy drop everything and play or cuddle with him. You can offer a few good alternatives to the list, too. But at this stage, write down ALL suggestions respectfully.

Then go back through the list and weed out ideas that are unrealistic. But keep the ones that he generates that will give him alternatives to whining, and those that will get him some of what he needs in a timely manner. This is a two-way street. You can post your list on the wall, with a big star by the most positive ideas, and then simply direct him to it when he forgets (it takes at least two weeks of consistent effort to change a bad habit). I've known a few families who have had simply amazing results with this approach. Happier parents and happier kids!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Tucson on

duct tape? lol. i have this problem with my 8 year old. i tell her if she cant talk to me in a normal voice then dont talk to me. it works for my 4 year old also. they stop whining when i ignore it and its something they want. good luck

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

For whining the best thing we ever did was somewhat time consuming but completely worth it, and we started at 2. now, our oldest is 5, and we are having to revisit this idea. We get down on their level and talk calmly explaining that we just can't understand what they're saying. "I really want to understand you, so take a deep breath (and then I show the deep breath for our 2 year old), and say it again without whining." I make a really big deal when I notice a change, but if there's still a little whine in there, I excitedly say "Oh I can almost understand. Let's try one more time without whining at all, and I bet I can understand you." It may take 3 times, but it may take 10. They key is to stick with it, and they get so excited when you get excited about them asking without whining.

When our 5 year old cries at the littlest thing, we just tell him that he can sit by himself for a while until he's finished, and then we leave him alone. It's usually a way to get attention from us. If a toy breaks, we tell him that we don't cry over things because they're just things. Hope that helps a litte. Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I made my house a No Whine Zone. No one is allowed to whine, and that includes people of all ages and guests! When my son was young and started to whine I told him to go outside because there was no whining in the house. It's no fun to whine alone where no one can hear you, so he stopped whining pretty quick.

A friend of mine uses that I think is an excellent punishment for misbehavior, and I wish I'd known about it when my son was young. Her children are about 8 years younger than mine. When her children misbehaved they had to stand facing the wall (not in a corner, just at the wall and it was where she could see them) and hold their hands above their head, arms held straight, and not touching the wall. The younger they are the faster they start to bend their arms, but as long as the hands stayed above head level, it was fine. How long they had to do this depended on their age. It was never more than a few minutes, but felt like hours. She could always see them and if hands slipped too low she would say "hands up or time restarts!" Just the mention of standing with their arms raised was always enough to stop whatever they were doing.

I think the biggest key is to be consistent. No matter what is going on, when your son whines correct the behavior with whatever consequence y'all have decided on. If you are in a public place, the behavior must still be corrected. My friend has taken her children to the bathroom and had them stand facing the wall with arms raised. The consequence was always the same no matter where they were or what was going on. And while I thought my son was fairly well behaved, never giving me any big problems, her children have always been the most well behaved children I've ever met.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

When DS was/is whiny, we just have him repeat it in his 'regular' voice. Sometimes it took several repetitions until he got it right. Can you predict in any way when this will happen. DS is often whiny if he is hungry or has not gotten enough sleep (hmmm, me too). In these cases, I cut him a little more slack and get him a snack.

I don't think you can punish kids for crying. That is telling them it is not ok to be sad or angry. They have every right to have their feelings and do not necessarily have the impulse control to bottle them up (and is that really what we want to teach them to do?). When DS cries, I try to sympathize with him that he is upset, ask if he needs a hug or kiss and then address the actual issue. Showing him compassion when he is upset is NOT equivalent to 'giving in' to his crying. When he is done crying we can discuss the issue that set it off. I'm pretty sure that if DH hit me because I was crying over something that I would leave, not learn. So I try to treat DS like I would like to be treated, with respect.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

All good advice below (except maybe the hitting). One thing to add - we've found that extravagant praise when we got the behavior we wanted moved things in the right direction much faster. Make sure you notice and commend asking properly. The more energy you put into responding to any behavior, the more of that behavior you will see.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Calmly ask him to speak in a normal voice without the whining " SO THAT I can understand you". It may take him a few tries. With my daughter, if after about 3 times of saying "I can't understand you when you are whining, please use your regular voice" she didn't drop the whine, then I would just shake my head, say "I can't understand that", (calmly with NO DRAMA) and turn back to whatever I had been doing before the whiny conversation started.

It didn't take too many times.
Give them an opportunity to correct the behavior, then ignore it.
On the few occasions when I just couldn't take it another moment, I must admit that I "whined" right back at her. I felt like a bad mom, but she got the message!! I used it on a subsequent occasion or two, but tried to make it funny, not mocking, and she pretty much quit the whining after that.
Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

All we did was say to them, "Mommy/ Daddy won't talk to you until you use a big kid voice with no whining." If they kept doing it, we would tell them that we were walking away and when they were ready to come talk to us without whining they could come talk to us. It worked because they really hate for you to walk away when they want to tell you something.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

when my son whines, he is 4, I say, .... Say it without whining, or repeat it without whining and he usually does. If he is really whiny, it usually means he is exhausted or hungry. No spankings, etc. Kids whine, just ignore it, or correct it. Most kids whine... there is no reason to draw attention to it, just say... you are not going to get what you want with whining, try saying it again. ... remember, no whining and praise him when he doesn't whine. Say, that was so wonderful. Thank you for not whining. When my son starts to whine, I tell him that I can't hear him and to come back when he ready to talk properly or to take a deep breath and try again. I don't punish for whining except when he can't stop and then i sometimes take him to his room for a break until he can control himself and he usually let's me know when he is ready to come back downstairs. spanking doesn't do a thing this is this house. ... we do what Beth below does and it works great!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

He's old enough to understand a simple conversation about tone of voice. Sit down with him during a calm moment and tell him you want to talk to him about how people talk to each other. Using a neutral phrase (like "hand me the toy"), repeat it in different tones of voice and discuss how it changes the meaning. When you say it whiny, talk about how it hurts your ears, is hard to understand, and makes you feel like saying no. Then tell him that starting now, if he says anything in a whiny voice, the answer will be no. Then stick to it! You can give reminders, like "I'm sorry, I can't understand you." or "Come back and talk to me when you are ready to use a normal talking voice." The key is to stopping it is consistency. Do not give in when he is tired. "I'm sorry you're tired (or don't feel good, or whatever) but you still need to use a normal talking voice." Also, model the type of voice you want him to use - not too sweet, not pleading, etc. Just a normal, matter-of-fact tone. Good luck!

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answers from Chicago on

My 5 year old whines and then cries if she doesn't get the response she wants straight away,I particularly hate it in the car and have often resulted to yelling which is just a uncontrolled unproductive anger response. I usually try to acknowledge her and say she needs to stop , think and ask or say what she wants or needs in a calm voice so I can understand her. When she gets upset I actually hug her and give her time in, I have tried the time out for whining but it doesn't seem to do much except produce sulking and stubborn arm folding reactions which last longer than time in. My 3 year old is already learning to whine so I am trying to nip it in the bud everytime so I don't have the same issue with her or both at the same time! Ahhhhhhhhhh!I have tried taking away toys but I felt it was threatening and teaching her to do it to her friends so I actually reward good behaviour instead and I set myself reminders to try to do that daily. I do explain she cannot always have what she wants and she is a very lucky girl to get what she has as I have noticed she expects alot ( far more than I did when I was 5 so I may have over indulged her) The other thing I find is coming hand in hand with whining is interrupting adult conversations I again acknowledge her and I do remove her and time her out then if she keeps butting in when I am trying to talk or am on the phone.I think its all about learning the world doesn't resolve around them all the time and we all deserve respect and to be heard.

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answers from Springfield on

I try to always say, "I'm sorry, but I can't understand what you are saying. Could you please try again?" My son knows that I mean stop whining.

Lately I have been a bit stressed and haven't been as patient. Thank you for posting this. I think I needed to be reminded of how much easier my life is when I am more patient.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


There are several ways to "combat" whining....

"I'm sorry - I can't hear what you are trying to say through that whining"
"would you like some cheese with that whine?" (a little old for an almost 5 year old but he may get it)

IGNORE Him when he whines. Seriously - tell him if you want my attention - then you need to talk to me like a big boy.

My soon to be 9 year old is around kids in school whose parents allow them to talk like 5 year olds if not younger - when my son talks like that - I tell him - excuse me? I can't understand you when you talk like a baby.

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answers from Portland on

I suggest he's feeling insecure and needs more positive attention. Praise him frequently. He needs to hear more praise than criticism/correction.

He may also be tired or hungry when he acts this way. Does he have a schedule? This will help with tiired and hungry and also with helping him feel more secure.

Unless you save it for serious offenses and are able to do it without anger, spanking is counter productive. How would you feel if someone gave you a whack when they disagreed with you?

Try making the consequences related to the misbehavior and consistent. I suggest you're doing too many different ways of disciplining.

For whining, try telling him you can't hear him when he whines and to use his big boy voice. Then consistently do not respond in anyway except to say the above whenever he whines. Or once he's aware that you won't respond to whining, try completely ignoring him. One parenting technique for extinguishing behavior is to consistently completely ignore the behavior.

BTW, that is one possible reason for good behavior to lessen. It's possible that when we ignore the good behavior the child loses interest in being good.

When he cries, try to understand why he's crying and give him a hug or even just sit down and hold him. Once you've disciplined him and he's suffered the consequences DO give him a hug and reassure him that you love him.

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answers from Memphis on

First, you want to make sure that there isn't something physical going on. Some kids don't tolerate certain foods well, and/or will whine after eating them [many times, it's their favorite foods, unfortunately.] Think about what he's eating, think about how he's sleeping, and see if you can find some correlation between that and how much he whines. [There may be nothing, but you want to make sure that he's not having some sort of additive-induced attitude after eating something with red dye #40 or high-fructose corn syrup; and also that he's getting enough sleep.]

Second, whatever you're going to do, you've got to commit to it fully and be consistent, because doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, or doing this or that only sometimes and not every time is going to end up making your son confused and unsure of where the boundaries are, unsure what his behavior is supposed to be, and unsure what he may or may not do. Try to look at it from your child's perspective: if today he whines and gets spanked but tomorrow he whines and he doesn't get spanked, what will he think? what will he learn? - that he can whine on Tuesdays but not on Wednesdays? ;-)

Finally, I would recommend Lou Priolo's book "The Heart of Anger," because he has some really good suggestions on what to do. Unfortunately, most are geared more towards parents of children who are already unruly and/or acting out teenage or preteen rebellion, but you can take these principles and put them at your child's level and still use them.



answers from Louisville on

what worked with our girls was telling them we couldnt understand then when they were whining. and we wouldnt give then what they wanted until they used their big girl voices. it took about a week for them to get the hint but they got it...every once in a while we have to remind them but it was nothing like it was hope this helps!



answers from Lexington on

Ignore him when he whines and, as others have said, let him know that you'll listen when he speaks to you without whining and fussing. My fourth son was a whiner. He's 21 and it still creeps up now and then, but he catches himself. Help your son learn how to control his whining.



answers from Seattle on

Look through suggestions from other parents and/or books. I like the "Parenting with Love and Logic" series, but that might not be right for you. Choose a strategy that seems reasonable to you and be ultra-consistent with it for a week. If you have not seen significant improvement in a week, try something else. Keep trying until you find the strategy that is a match for your child and household. Just make sure you give each approach a solid week of ultra-consistent implementation before you reject it.

When you find the right strategy for your child and household, you should see significant improvement within one week. If *nothing* works, consider the possibility that there is something else going on beyond misbehavior. But this sounds like pretty classic four year old stuff to me.

Good luck.

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