Why The Whining? (And 5 Steps To Eventual Peace)

A child whining, specifically my child whining, has got to be the most torturous sound I can imagine.  I’d rather be trapped in a car with the alarm going off, or locked in an Urban Outfitters dressing room with that monotonous techno music they play pulsing at full blast…  Maybe that’s because whining is not only earsplitting — it makes me feel intensely pressured to do something, to fix something NOW. (I know, enough whining about whining.)

Getting our attention and unnerving us is what whining is supposed to do. If it’s any consolation, just about every child goes through a whining phase (or two) at some point, and it’s not indicative of a fatal flaw in our child or our parenting. Here’s how to help toddlers get what they need in a manner that’s easier on the ears and nerves…

1. Don’t let it rattle you

Some say to ignore behaviors like whining, but since that might be misinterpreted as deliberately turning away and ignoring the child’s existence, I believe in staying present and available, just disengaging from the whine. Imagine yourself wearing an annoyance filter (an invention that could make billions, I’m sure). Take a deep breath and remind yourself that your child’s behavior is perfectly normal, but that you don’t want to encourage it. If we grant our child’s request to appease the whining, or react negatively, we might do just that.

2. Gentle guidance

Calmly and nonjudgmentally say something like “It sounds like you’re uncomfortable, but it’s hard for me to understand you. Can you tell me in your normal voice?” If the whining continues, return to whatever you might have been doing and then after a moment try again. Or, you might ask the child some questions about what he wants while reminding him to please answer in his normal voice.

3. Rest, food, drink, comfort

Whiners aren’t functioning at their best, often as the result of not enough of these things. Remember, your toddlers are growing rapidly, tire easily, and have low blood sugar attacks before they realize they’re hungry. They’re also sprouting two year molars, which is bound to create discomfort (and also interfere with sleep).

4. Whiners might be on the verge of an emotional explosion

Whining can be a sign that strong feelings of frustration, disappointment, sadness and anger need to be expressed. If these feelings appear, welcome them, allow the feelings to run their course completely (in that moment and as a general rule) and the whining will likely cease.

5. Give undivided, positive attention

Even newborn babies know whether or not they have our full attention, and a day’s worth of half-attention doesn’t fulfill our child’s needs. As Magda Gerber writes in Your Self-Confident Baby, our children need to periodically receive the message “You are important. You are number one right now.”

Magda encouraged parents to take advantage of feeding, bathing, diapering and dressing as natural opportunities for one-on-one attention. She also recommended periods of “wants nothing” quality time, time when we allow our child to be the initiator of activities while we observe, support, respond and participate as the child requests.

Unfortunately, no matter how much attention we give our children, they’ll still try out whining when we aren’t observing and listening to them. But if they don’t get encouraging results, this too shall pass.

For additional support, here’s a podcast that might be helpful:

Parents, teachers and caregivers, feel free to whine all you want here in the comments…


I share a complete guide to toddler behavior and respectful discipline in
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

(Photo by StarMama on Flickr)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Michelle dillard says:

    Wow! You read my mind because I’m experiencing a similar incident except my child is 1 year old. He can’t quite understand full sentences. How do I diffuse the whining if they can’t communicate effectively at the same time take care of their current needs. I want to be proactive:)


    1. Hi Michelle! Glad to hear the mind-reading lessons I’ve been taking are working.:)

      I would try asking simple questions and asking your boy to indicate YES or NO, point, etc. I’d still acknowledge his difficulties and say “I can’t understand when you speak to me that way.” You might be surprised by how much your boy understands even though he can’t respond in kind. When he starts talking you’ll realize how much he’s been taking in!

      1. christina says:

        Hi janet thank you for all your work. I am currently experiencing this phase with my 15 month old. The problem is i dont think he even knows what he wants as when i ask him to show me he fleets from one thing to the next and still keeps on whining. I ask him if he is hungry, thirsty etc and he keeps on whining (he is capable of indicating yes and no) and he even whines when he is playing and i am there giving him my undivided attention. What to do?

      2. This is such a wonderful explanation of whining. I also love how you suggest handling it. I’m so tired of the gentle parenting advocates claiming that whining is all about connection and if you connect you can just fix all the whining. It’s so much more than that. I use similar methods with my son by telling him I can’t understand him and to please use his normal voice.

      3. Hi Janet. I have an ‘in between’ sort of qu about my just-turned 1 year old who has just started this seriously irritating whining behaviour. Most of the time, he seems to want my full attention as it does stop when I provide him with it. Your post is helping me to get on top of it early, especially to ‘fill his cup’ as much as I can. What can occur though, is that sometimes, I’m doing something (e.g. washing up after a meal, on the phone) with every intention of giving him my undivided attention when I’m done), but then the whining starts. And I’ve finished my task and am fully able to give him that attention. But now I’m afraid to, in case he sees that attention it as a consequence – or a victory for his whining. What do you suggest in this sort of scenario?

    2. This is where one word communications become effective. Sign language and simple “yes”, “no’s”, “Bananas?” can be communicated quite easily. But what do I know? 🙂 With love, Cheyenne

    3. Libraries have sign language DVD’s and such. Love, Cheyenne

  2. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I thought we had passed the whining stage, since B is almost 4 but he has really been struggling with sleep for the past few weeks. When he’s tired and hungry, just like you said, the whining starts. It’s a huge relief that my standard “Sorry, I don’t understand that kind of voice” is okay!
    A little bell went off when I read number 4, undivided attention, though. That’s what he’s really asking for, in whatever voice he can.

  3. Janet – no whining here 🙂 Your 4 approaches are clear and to the point to engage with children and UNdo the whining. I’ve used each of those in my preschool classroom, as well, and the whining shifts quite quickly! Thanks, especially, for the reminder to not get rattled otherwise the other tips won’t work!

    1. Thanks so much for your encouraging report, Jeanne!

      1. Interesting read, and just what I was discussing with partner, my boy how ever is older 8 nearly 9, and can whine for England but only with me!! Not with his Dad or my partner, he seems to save all the unpleasant behaviour for me, but I think the whining is the 1 that gets me to that raw nerve really quickly, I’ve tried ignoring, distracting positive reinforcement and nothing seems to work. And now it just makes going anywhere or doing anything a stressful and not enjoyable

  4. I’m finding that with my 20 month old, who doesn’t always have the capacity to tell me what’s wrong, if I ask him to SHOW me what he needs, I can nip the whining in the bud a lot of the time. Not ALL the time. 😉 But more often than I’d have guessed.

  5. I love your last point, especially. I often feel so distracted that although I have spent all day with my kids, they’ve only received my “half-attention”. I love the “Wants nothing” quality time – that is an amazing gift to be able to give your children. It is absolutely the most energizing and delicious experience – to just “be” together.

    I have found that my children whine way less when I have filled their cups, so to speak. Even just a small amount of deep connection eliminates their need to seek attention in negative ways.

    Thank you again for such a great post.

  6. Lovely post!

    I addressed the same issue quite a while ago in my blog, at

    Perhaps the words I suggest using to the child are a little stronger; I do believe in being authentic about one’s own feelings when children are behaving unacceptably, and invariably whining creates extreme irritation in the poor parent (or teacher!). But we come to the same conclusion in the end. It’s all about how much time you’ve given your child, versus how much time she actually needs and wants.

    1. Thanks, Annie! Yes, we do have similar conclusions… and I think you like whining even less than I do! I know what you mean about being authentic, but I’ve seen our emotional reactions backfire in a big way, just as they do with other undesirable behaviors. The child feels powerful gaining that negative attention from us, and for some, it can encourage them to do it more. But you are such a gifted teacher that I don’t doubt you know what works for you by now.

      1. Hi Janet and Aunt Annie! After a steady few days of “the whine’s”, and with my husband in the US for work (I’m in Australia), I plugged “whine” into your blog search for some inspiration.
        Hooray! Many thanks for this post, Janet! I think #1 is the hardest one for me, especially when I feel I am doing a pretty good job of the other three. I will add that one to my fridge/pantry reminders!
        I would also like to thank Aunt Annie for your post too. I love how you both have similiar ideas, “similar conclusions” but with differences in delivery and yet you remain on speaking terms! :>
        I’d love your advice with something I have noticed when getting down to my two-year old’s level and talking with him. No matter what I am saying, really it could be anything at all, good or bad, he doesn’t look me in the eye. I was a bit concerned about this initially, but I have since noticed he does look at me other times, just not on those occasions when I would really like him to look at me. Perhaps it is simply the “Look at Mummy” phrase?
        Should I be concerned? Any thoughts on what I should do next?

        1. Thanks, Kirstie! Sounds like he might sense he’s about to be scolded or confronted. To help turn this around, I would, 1. not expect him to look at you, and, 2. speak to him in a more casual, less pointed manner.

          1. Anastasia says:

            What do you mean by casual? My 15 month old looks me in the eyes all the time, except for when I get down to her level to correct her. She will go to great lengths to not look in my eyes for that

      2. What about in instances where my 21mo whines until I pick him up? For example, its always when I cook. Every day he whines to be picked up when im at the stove or prepping food. Ive alway been responsive to his needs since he was a baby and wanting to be near me and feeling of safe. Ive tried offering him food while i cook (not hungry), a bench to stand at the counter so he can help (worked for a while but now just climbs the counter, he wont sit in highchair, I put toys in the kitchen etc. Any advice?

  7. Yes…we must go to loved based discipline if we are ever to change this world for the better.

    The time of domination is ending.
    The time of respect and unconditional love is here.

    I am reading, “Easy to love, Difficult to Discipline” It is a great book. It goes into great depth (Eckhart Tolle-style.)(categorized well) concerning why relationships seem/are disharmonious and what we can learn for them and how we can transform ourselves and avoid trying to transform others. Successfully transforming them is good- through inspiration but (confused)manipulation only causes pain for all.

    So I end by saying. I love you all and I look forward to this growing relationship with peaceful presence.

  8. I’m hoping that my daughter (she will be 4 next month) is just going thru this “whining phase” it’s been 4 nights in a row that she have not sleep normal nor everyone else in the house, she start by getting mad at me or at something then she starts crying like a cow ( it’s so loud it hurts on the ear) when we ask her to go to bed, she cries for about 20-40 minutes. The very first time we thought that she was in pain, hungry or just mad at something but when we ask her she’ll just cry more and louder like almost screaming. She then will fall asleep then few hrs later she will wake up again( 2am or 4am) upset or mad then starts crying the same way for 30-45 minutes, on the 2nd and 3rd time we ignore her and my husband put her in the room by herself crying loud then the crying fades and she falls asleep, tonight is the 4th night it’s now 11:40pm, she fell asleep at 9:30 PM got waken up again at 11:10 PM by something then started getting upset and mad at me then starts crying loud again for 15 minutes, it”s the same thing for 4 nights now. Good Lord I have to have some sleep~ please someone tell me this is normal for kids her age or someone had experienced this at some point.

  9. What should I do about my 15 month old whining? He can’t really talk yet so I can’t use the “I can’t understand you” route. I know he has a hard time communicating his needs- he does some basic sign language- so I try to be patient but it gets sooo annoying! Any advice?

  10. I have a two years old boy who has changed so much. He just got mad at me whatever I did. I have tried to use “limit-setting” approach and acknowledged his feeling. But it doesn’t seems working yet. He still can’t speak properly, I guess this is one of the reason he got so mad when he can’t express his feeling and his need to me.

    I love your blog, Janet and I think what have you said is so logic and make sense to me. But, is hard to practise (for me). I hope I can be more patient and consistent.


  11. Ummmm this describes me as well as my kids. I can feel myself get whiney and the above mentioned certainly applies. Whining is like a contained cry. Janet, once again you’ve reminded me to check in with myself and my kids. Thanks!

  12. ouch. I must have screwed up since my kiddo is whining horribly at 4 years old. do you think these rules still apply at her age?

  13. I found your website a couple of weejs ago. Bought the audio book. We are on the exact same boat as Lanie. D is 3 years and 5m.o We are also mussing preeschool right now because he is oblivious to potty training, sadly he dies to ho to school.
    Lack of sleep really gets him, also his BM but no amount if activity seems to fix his sleep. 🙁

  14. I always try and put myself in the shoes of the child. If I was whimpering or whining and someone said to me ‘sorry I can’t understand you when you speak that way’. I think I’d feel patronised. It sort of feels like you are saying. ‘Be what I want and communicate in a way which pleases me’. I think whining is a child being persistent, determined and that their need for connection has simply morphed into the volume being turned up. We give children attention, but sometimes we don’t actually give them connection.

  15. A friend sent me to your website last month. I love the positive parents tips and detailed techniques.

    My question is about the technique. We are a full month in on trying to use positive language and understanding with our almost 3 years old. Still, all I get is push back . . . . MAJOR PUSH BACK and refusal of my positive attempts.

    A typical response to “Are you feeling frustrated (or angry)? I understand that you are frustrate (or angry) right now.”

    “STOP! STOP! No say understand! No say ok! NOT OK! No talk at me! I’M NOT ANGRY!!!” Ending in crying, high pitched screaming and often throwing herself onto the floor. All done at the loudest shouting volume she can mange and in the whining voice.

    Any ideas?

  16. This is my 7-year-old. When does it end?!

  17. My some is 23 months and the whining is insane! He has started cutting 2 yr molars so I’m assuming the extra whining is from that . But my real struggle is his constant need for snacks ! I mean what is he a bottomless pit? I try to keep a structured day since he goes to daycare 2 days a week for 1/2 a day so I don’t want his day to be off . It seems every 15-20 mins he’s begging at the pantry! Do I give him more food ( which is usually what I give in to) I don’t want him filling up in snacks but I also don’t want him to be hungry !! (I also try to give him some fruit or yogurt instead of the snacks in the pantry which he’s usually ok with but geez he’s a constant hungry hippo! Help!

  18. My 19 month old whines a LOT. My husband and I also do spend a lot of time with him but we also try to encourage independent play. He was better at this when he was a bit younger. Often he will push us away from the sink or cupboard while we are trying to make dinner etc. and then go and try to climb into and onto things we normally don’t allow. There is no real way to fully 19 month old proof the house (i.e. climbing up onto the back of a lazy boy chair etc.) but the reality is that sometimes we need to get around to housework. What are we doing wrong here and how can we encourage him back to less extreme neediness or is this normal. I feel like he’s almost constantly clinging and whining. He has words and sign language and can say “up” but he wants UP ALL THE TIME.

    1. Just thought I would also add (because we just had an example of it) that he has always whined whenever he needs to wait. Is this normal. We just did bedtime routine and at very end we do a bottle. I mix it right then and he always pushes me climbs me (tries to) etc. while whining. It only takes me under 2min to heat water and mix formula max. I never do much in response except say ok I hear you want it right now. I’m hear you, you don’t want to wait. By time bottle is ready he’s in full whinge. He’s done this since he was mobile enough to try and attach himself to me and follow me to kitchen counter.

      1. Hoping to see a reply to this as this is my 15month old too. I struggle so much to do basic housework and make sure he’s given time and focus to fill his cup but still, he whines and constantly wants up and squeals/whines if I don’t pick him up.

  19. Thank you for this article. I am a child care provider and am very patient with the whining….except when it comes to my daughter. And I love your ideas, but what happens after you’ve tried all these things, and it still doesn’t work? She is with me all the time, as I bring her with me while I nanny. I always used to be good at reading her and figuring out what’s wrong but she cannot calm herself down. She gets upset about not having the right blanket or toy, or wanting me to do something specific for her. I do not want to give in to her demands because I don’t think it’s appropriate to order me around. Yes, I give choices. But with 3 kids, she just can’t always have everything she wants. She just cries for 30-60 minutes at times until her voice wears out. It just seems like whatever I do won’t calm her down. I have given her guarded space as well (to not cater to the crying) but again it doesn’t work. Is this normal?

  20. Hi, thank you for this article. I was wondering if you could provide any tips for dealing with whining behavior that starts first thing in the morning. My 3 year old seems to wake up in a whiny mood most days and it takes a while for it to stop. I have tried the advice you listed but it still takes a long time to change the morning attitude and it makes getting ready very difficult. It’s quite difficult to start the day this way…. Thanks

    1. I would let go of trying to change her attitude and wholeheartedly accept her feelings of grumpiness, so that she can pass through them. These are her feelings and not your responsibilty to fix.

      1. Thank you! That is exactly what I needed to be reminded of.

  21. Thanks for the article. My daughter is nearly 6 and still whines a lot everyday. It usually goes into a screaming tantrum if she doesn’t get what she wants. I also have a three year old who hardly whines at all and has a very different nature. Do you have any ideas for me?

  22. Loved this article. Thank you

  23. This was really useful thank you! My nearly 18 month old has been driving me CRAZY the last few days and I hate how it makes me feel and react, it’s not fair on her to be snappy as I’m rarely like that but the whining has really pushed a button. I will try being more mindful with my responses and breathe!!

  24. Thanks for the tips Janet. I’m always a bit concerned when asking my daughter to speak differently that it’s just a more subtle way of telling her her feelings aren’t ok. Where is the line between whining and expressing feelings?

    1. Well, it isn’t necessary you ask her to say it differently, if you’re not comfortable! The tone used would matter a lot. My thought was to ask gently and matter-of-factly, so that you could understand her.

  25. Melba Kaliszyk says:

    Hi Janet, love this post. Admittedly it is hard for me to stay calm and unruffled when our daughter (3yo) whines. I feel the pressure to control the situation and prevent it from escalating to a full-blown tantrum, which more than half the time does. I do #2 and #3 and these approaches are quite effective on most occassions.

    My question is how do I proceed dealing with her on those instances that despite employing #1, 2 and 3, the whining turns to a full-blown tantrum? Normally, offering to hug her diffuses the situation but she’d resume crying as soon as I let her go. We also have a 1 yo son and he’s the reason why I can’t give her my undivided/unlimited attention during these times. Aside from attending to his usual needs, he’d also cry and demand my attention as soon as he sees his sister melting down.

    I feel the worst and can’t help thinking I’m such a failure everytime they’d cry at the same time and I can’t do anything to make them stop cry. Often I’d wish there’s two of me to be able to simply offer my love and undivided attention to each of them. Thanks in advance for your advice.

  26. Is it okay to apply the above with screaming? I have been saying let me know when you are done so I can help you, but it looks like I should be acknowledging the feeling before asking to speak In a different voice?

  27. This is an excellent article, but what if your children are far out of toddler stage and still whining? Ages 7 & 4

    1. Thanks, Missy. I would take a look at how you are handling the whining and then make some of the suggested adjustments to your approach. It should work! At the moment it seems that they are getting something out of whining — an emtional response from you, etc. When you stop giving this behavior the power to bother you, it will stop happening.

  28. My 17 month year old started whining relentlessly after we went to stay with a friend who had a 2 year old who was not feeling very well so was very whinny with his mum. My son just observed him and as soon as we left – he started whining in just the same way and has not stopped since (that was three weeks ago). Not sure what to do as he seems to be mimicking and taking it on as his new form of communication!!

  29. It seems like my 18 month old is whining all the time but it’s in the form of crying. She seems frustrated so easily and about everything. I think she is about to develop language because she talks a lot in her own language and seems like every day she is learning new words that I understand. It just seems she isn’t happy 90% of the time. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong or if I am doing anything wrong. There wasn’t always this much crying during the day. This article was helpful but when I validate & acknowledge her feelings then she will just follow me and pull on my pants. It’s really hard to just go about my business with a child clinging to my pants. Any advice Janet?

  30. Hi Janet! We are huge fans of your blog and advice! To say your podcast gives me life might be an understatement! We have a precious 3.5 year old son. He is normally very chill, loves to play together, and for the most part “uses his words” well. On this holiday break he has taken to swatting and screaming if not getting his way immediately. I recognize he is out of his normal routine at mothers day out and I am sure this is the cause (at least I assume). I restrain his swats as gently as possible and say “we need to use sweet touches” “I can’t let you hurt” “its ok to be upset, but we can’t hurt others because of that” But I feel powerless when directing the upset-ness. Do you have any suggestions as to what to say to him? I feel like I should direct him to be kinder and more patient but struggle with the right words to do so! Thank you so much and keep up the amazing work!
    Lots of Love,

  31. My daughter is almost 3 and i love her to death. Weve been doing lots with her over the weekend. Festival parade seeing family and friends and play with our pets. But as soon as we ask her to play with her toys she starts whinning and crying. I dont know what to do and ive asked her whats wrong and she just gibber jabbers. I dont know what to do…

  32. Alicia Sullivan says:

    Hi Janet,
    This is some great advice. Thank you for this “just in time” post. My 3.5yo has been doing an awful lot of whining lately. It seems however, to happen more in my presence. At the babysitter’s or even with dad, when I’m not home, he really holds it together. I know that it’s not uncommon for kids to save their emotions for Mom, but this adding a great deal of stress to our family life. Dad struggles to manage his emotions around the whiling, while I am able to let it pass. We’re spending more time apart as a result. What am I doing wrong? I haven’t found a podcast episode re: to kids acting differently for mom, but if there is one (or a post), I’d love to listen.

  33. I have an 18month old high needs toddler who doesn’t talk yet. When she’s home, all she does is whine and cry and cling.
    I plan out activities for us to do but she looses interest in everything, even activities she previously enjoyed doing. She also doesn’t play alone and will come find me when I sneak away for a cup of tea or chore.

    She understands when I ask her questions and will nod or shake her head. Has no problem telling you what she doesn’t want but not what she wants. Or maybe I’m just not getting it but it’s driving me nuts.

    All day all she wants is the tv (which I limit because I can’t stand it in general but especially when she refuses to watch anything other than 2 shows over and over again). She has toys and planned activities yet the day drags on and on because I have no clue as to why she’s so bored. By the end of the day I am drained.

    Open to suggestions. Thanks.

  34. Today my 4 year old whined ALL morning. She woke up early from a bad dream and then was just in a terrible mood the entire time. It was extremely hard to get her dressed and out the door, and all ended up being late. I did recognize and acknowledge her feelings from the get go. Held her, gave her a safe space to cry, named her emotions, gave her some time to go through them, tried using humor as a distraction, tried being playful, all the stuff I could think of! But nothing seemed to help today. Eventually I just had to physically dress her and carry her out the door. What can I do on days like these when nothing seems to work? 🙁

  35. Cameron Kralik says:

    Hello, my fiance is having a similar issue. From the moment she wakes up, her daughter is at her heels crying and whining all day about really anything and everything. She cannot walk away, look at her phone, change the channel on the TV, cook a meal, go pee, really she cannot accomplish anything without her daughter having a full on breakdown. She has too much guilt to reach out and ask for some advice and assistance. Some background that may go along with it: she gives into everything that she cries for and wants. She always speaks to her in a very high voice and loving way. She is 100% of the time giving her undivided attention. What can she/ we do to help both of them. I want my fiance to be able to have peace of mind, and the young one to be more independent. I will appreciate any advice at all! Thanks in advance for all of those that take their personal time to respond.

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