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Whining and Pestering Behavior

What Is Whining?

Whining is a verbal temper tantrum. Compared to screaming tantrums, it’s a step up the developmental ladder. Some examples of whining and pestering behavior are:

  • A child who won’t take “no” for an answer and keeps demanding something you’ve told him he can’t have
  • A younger child who wants “one more” snack, book, game or back ride
  • An older child who nags a parent to buy things, even though his bedroom already looks like a toy store

What Causes Whining?

There are many contributing factors. The child often has a strong-willed temperament. The parent may intermittently reward whiny behavior by giving in to it. In addition, most normal 3 and 4 year olds enjoy testing the boundaries in their home. Expect more whining when your child is tired or sleepy.

What should my goals be?

The parent’s job is to teach the child that whining and pestering never works. Teach that you don’t change your mind, you know what you’re doing, you’re fair and that “no means no”. While children’s needs (love, food, clothing, safety) should always be met, their wants (for more of everything) require a reality check. Children need to be learn to accept limits when they request nonessential possessions or activities. They need to learn to cope with the normal frustrations of unmet wishes.

What should I do when my child whines?

  • Clarify the Rule about Whining: “No whining in our house. I can’t understand you when you use your whiny voice. Please use your normal (or polite) voice”.
  • Be Kind and Understanding about their Request: “I know you want to stay up later, but it’s past bedtime”. “I know you want more snacks, but we need to save room for dinner”. Give your decision in a calm, quiet, loving voice.
  • Make Your Reasons Brief: Highly educated parents tend to talk and reason too much with their children. Before age 5, trying to reason with your child just gives him hope that if he perseveres, you will give in. You can say “No means no, I’m done talking about it”. For school age children, listen to their request. But after a few minutes you can say: “I’ve heard your side of it but we don’t pay to see the same movie twice at the theater. Now let me get back to my work”
  • Redirect Your Child to Other Options: Help your child disengage from their nagging behavior. Point them in a new direction. Suggest playing with LEGOs, reading a book, going outside, doing a puzzle or calling a friend.
  • Ignore Ongoing Pestering: If the whining continues, don’t expect to satisfy or calm your child. Don’t play point-counterpoint with them. Stop talking. Let him have the last word. Often you will need to move to another room.
  • If Whining Continues, Give a Time-Out: As a last resort, send your child to their bedroom. This is your backup plan. Calling it a Quiet Time is often better than calling it a Time Out, because your goal is to help your child control his emotions and calm himself down. Tell him “Come back when you feel better”.

All children do some whining and complaining. They need a wise parent to coach them through this annoying phase. Be sure to praise them when they accept your decision without resorting to endless pestering.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

  • Your child has several other behavior problems.
  • Whining becomes more frequent
  • The whining is no better after trying this program for 1 month.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-08
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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