Erica Reischer Ph.D.

What Great Parents Do

Want to Curb Kids' Whining? Here's What You Need to Know

Minimize problematic behavior with this simple strategy

Posted Sep 29, 2014

We can understand and even appreciate this goal; there’s nothing wrong with it. What’s wrong is the method being used to achieve the goal. In this example, the method is whining, and the goal is milk and/or our attention.

If you think of examples from your own family experience, you’ll likely find that in most cases, you would agree that the goal your kids are pursuing is worthy; it’s their method that is problematic.

So make a distinction between methods and goals when you address the behavior.

Consider what their goal is and show them how to achieve it through other, more acceptable means. Be sure to suggest (with younger kids) or discuss (with older kids) an alternative method and then be ready to respond positively when they try it.

In this example, that could look like this:

“Sweetie, I can see that you are really wanting some milk (acknowledgment of goal / empathy), but when you whine at me it hurts my ears (rationale). If you would like some milk, please say: ‘Momma, can I please have some milk.’ (alternative method).”

The alternative method you suggest should be:

  1. A behavior you consider more appropriate
  2. Something you think your child can do successfully (so the alternative you would suggest for a 3 year-old is not the same as for a 13 year-old)

I’s also important to show them that their method is ineffective, too. If they are able to achieve their goal (milk) by their chosen method (whining) then they are likely to repeat that method in the future because it worked.   So wait until they try the alternative method before helping them achieve their goal.

Whether it’s whining or grabbing or any other behavior you’d like to curb, this distinction between goals and methods will help you acknowledge and empathize with what your kids want, while still teaching them how to achieve their goals with appropriate behaviors.

© Erica Reischer, Ph.D. 2014.

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