Toddlers learn how to whine as soon as they can form full sentences or sooner. While some kids break out of the habit by the time they reach first or second grade, for others the habit can persist even longer. Most parents ask their kids to stop whining or express annoyance when they do, but that is unlikely to prevent a child from whining if they are in a bad mood, frustrated, tired, hungry, or feeling unwell.
While toddlers might have trouble controlling their whining, around the age of 3-4, a child should be capable of expressing the very same words in a less whiny voice. The question is how to get them to change their tone of voice?
Luckily, there is a simple trick parents could use that can eliminate whining as a habit. While many parents are aware of this technique, it often fails when they try it because they are not abiding by the crucial condition of limit-setting and habit change efforts—absolute 100% consistency.
Here are the steps for eliminating whining:
1. Whenever your child speaks in a whiny voice say with a smile (to convey you are not angry), “I’m sorry but your voice is whiny and my ears don’t work well when you whine. So please say that again in your big boy/girl voice.”
2. If the child repeats the whine, cup your hand to your ear and say, again with a smile, “I know you’re saying something but my ears aren’t working. Can you please use your big girl/boy voice?”
3. If the child changes their tone to less whiny say, “Now I can hear you. Thanks for using your big girl/boy voice” and respond to them. Or “My ears are so happy when you use your big girl/boy voice”.
4. If after your two initial requests your child is still whining, shrug and turn away or ignore them until they express themselves without whining.
5. If they escalate into crying say, “I want to hear you, I really do. But my ears need help. They need you to use a big boy/girl voice.” If the child improves their voice even slightly or seems like they are making an effort, go back to step 3. The goal is to gradually shape the behavior so any initial effort on their part when first starting this technique should be rewarded.
- For this technique to work both you and your co-parent (if you have one) must respond in this way and do so with 100% consistency until the habit changes. The more consistent you are the quicker the habit will change.
- To avoid a power struggle, try to convey a light tone and encouragement whenever you make the request.
- Make sure to reinforce your child’s efforts with simple praise stated once (as in the examples in step 3).
- As your child makes efforts to whine less, keep upping your expectation of tone so their voice becomes less and less whiny.
- The calmer and less emotional you are when you respond, the easier it will be for your child to focus on the message. Otherwise, if they see their whining is getting a ‘reaction’ it will reinforce the bad habit.
Check out my book, Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014), and follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch.
Copyright 2017 Guy Winch.