"My child whines, and it is driving me crazy. Punishment and bribery haven't worked. Does it sound like I'm whining? I'll do worse than whine if I don't get some help!"

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Children do what works. If your child is whining, he or she is getting a response from you. Oddly enough, children seem to prefer punishment and anger to no response at all. Whining is usually based on the goal of seeking undue attention. This child believes, "I belong only if you pay constant attention to me--one way or the other." For some children, it is the only method they know to get their needs met. Other children go through a whiny time and it then disappears as quickly as it started. Some of the suggestions here may seem contradictory, depending on whether they address the belief or the behavior. Choose the approach that feels best to you.


  1. Every time your child whines, take him on your lap and say, "I bet you need a big hug." Do not say anything about the whining or what the child is whining about--just hug until you both feel better.
  2. Let your child know that you love him but you can't stand whining. Tell him that if he whines you'll leave the room. You'll be happy when he stops so you can spend time with him. Then, every time your child whines, leave the room. If your child follows, go to the bathroom, lock the door, and turn up the radio. It is more effective if you don't say a word when you follow through on what you said you would do. Kind and firm actions speak louder than words.
  3. Address the problem your child is whining about, by saying, "Let's put that on the family-meeting agenda and work on a solution at our next meeting."

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

  1. Plan for regular, scheduled special time with your child to help her feel special, important, and that she belongs.
  2. During a happy time, work out a signal with your child about what you will do when you hear whining. Perhaps you will put your fingers in your ears and smile. Another possibility is to pat your hand over your heart as a reminder that "I love you."
  3. Tell your child what you are going to do: "When you whine, I will leave the room. Please let me know when you are willing to talk in a respectful voice so I will enjoy listening to you." Still another possibility is to explain, "It's not that I don't hear you. I just don't want to have a discussion with you until you use your regular voice. I don't answer whiny voices."
  4. Have regular family meetings.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that their parents love them but will not fall for their manipulative tactics. Children feel better about themselves when they learn effective skills to deal with their needs and wants.

Parenting Pointers

  1. Some fascinating studies have been done with children of deaf parents. The researchers found that the children would make facial expressions that looked like they were crying, but they weren't making any sounds. The children had learned from experience that their deaf parents didn't respond to sounds, but did respond to their facial expressions. Whatever works!
  2. A misbehaving child is a discouraged child. A cooperative child is an encouraged child. Whining could be a sign of discouragement that will stop when the child feels enough belonging and significance.

Booster Thoughts

Mrs. Jones had a little girl, Stacy, who whined incessantly and demanded almost constant attention. Mrs. Jones scolded Stacy and pushed her away, telling her she could entertain herself.

One day a friend of Mrs. Jones talked her into having her fortune told at a county fair. The fortune-teller implied that Mrs. Jones would not live to see the flowers bloom next spring. Even though Mrs. Jones didn't believe in fortune-tellers, she was plagued with the possibility that she might not live to watch her little girl grow up. Suddenly she could not get enough of Stacy. She wanted to spend time with her, hold her, read to her, play with her. Stacy loved all the attention--for awhile. Then she began to feel smothered. Instead of demanding constant attention, she started pushing her mother away and demanding more independence.

These articles are an excerpt from the book Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott and H. Stephen Glenn.