Parenting: How to handle toddler whining

September 29, 2010

Now that my daughter, Emma, has turned three she's mastered her art of whining. It is usually when she is tired or hungry that her whines get progressively louder and higher pitched. Yes, our little princess has turned into a drama queen!

According to pediatricians, whining is a normal stage of development for preschoolers. They've moved past the baby stage when crying gets them what they want, past the toddler tantrum stage with screaming and flailing. But whining is essentially a tantrum with the works.

Pediatrician Laurel Schultz, MD, says youngsters whine for one simple reason: it works. "Whining gets the parent's attention," Schultz says. "A high-pitched whine is effective because a parent can't not attend to it." I have to admit, I am partially at fault. Maybe it is my maternal instinct that makes me want to jump when Emma whines for something. But the only way to stop whining is to not reward the behavior.

To avoid whining, Schultz advises parents not to wait until children are in distress to acknowledge them. "It's important to respond to that first bid for attention, if you can," she says. "If you are on the phone or in the middle of a conversation, make eye contact with your child and put a finger up, so she knows you'll be with her in a minute. Then give your child your attention as soon as you can politely do so."

If your child starts to whine, tell her just once that you don't understand what she is saying unless she asks properly. Ironically, this is often true with Emma since her pleading whines can be so high-pitched that I really can't understand what she is saying. If she whines again tell her you will ignore her and turn away. If she keeps whining, consider giving her a time out in another room until she calms down. Sometimes humor can help stop the behavior. You can imitate the whining to let your child hear just how ridiculous the whining sounds. When your child asks for something appropriately, in a normal voice, make sure you reward the good behavior and point out how happy you are she is being polite.

The key is: Don't give in and react to whining. Once your child realizes whining doesn't work, the behavior will stop.

Happy parenting!

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