Combating the Whine

It happened so uneventfully. I hardly noticed the change. My two-year old (almost three!) quietly said “Ok mama. I want to read my Frozen book” and she pitter-pattered to her bookshelf to get the very book she wanted. This might seem uneventful to you, but to me it is HUGE! Our routine every night is to brush teeth, wash hands, pick TWO books to read, put the books away, turn the lullabies on and pray. In the mind of my two-year old, there is a BIG difference between one and two books. But on this night, I was a tired mama and we all know how important sleep is to moms and toddlers. So I asked her to pick ONE book. Just one. And she replied with a simple “Ok mama.” I breathed deep at the absence of the impending whine that I anticipated. VICTORY!

Maybe my perspective is off, but whenever I see a grown adult make an angry scene in public because his order wasn’t just the way he wanted, or the service was not exactly as she expected, I think “Well there’s an adult who never learned to use her words instead of her whine!” I see a toddler throwing a tantrum in an adult-sized body. I cringe and silently pray that our parenting will somehow allow our kids to grow into emotionally mature adults. Adults who know how to use their words instead of their whine. Adults who know that bullying, being loud and threatening others is not the civil or kind way to get what they want. We live in a world that is sometimes unkind, oftentimes unfair and certainly does not guarantee to give us what we want 100% of the time. I want my kids to learn and accept that harsh reality. Of course I will teach them to work hard for what they want and never give up if it is at all within their control, but in attempting to get what they want, it is more important to be kind and respectful towards others.
As a parent, I try to imagine what my child’s behavior might look like 20 years from now. We all know and have seen adults whose emotional maturity is lacking. In fact, I have my own “moments”, if you know what I mean. By no means do I expect my toddler to BE an adult, but it gives me insight into what I need to teach my children as they grow so that when they are adults, they can handle themselves in an emotionally healthy and mature manner. There are three simple things we are doing now to combat the whine:
  1. “Use Your Words and Not Your Whine”
    I use this phrase to remind my sweet girl to use her words to ask for what she wants rather than whining for it. I say this less and less frequently, which means it is working! I am a very fortunate Mama so far because my two-year old speaks like a four-year old in clarity and in vocabulary. She can almost always use her words to ask for what she wants. Whining happens more readily when she’s tired or hungry (and let’s face it, I whine more too under these conditions!), but Tim and I are consistent in reminding her to use her words and it is working. Younger children or those who do not have the vocabulary yet to use their words DO have the ability to learn simple sign language  to tell you what they want, but they may also need more patience from you. Try being in tune with what they might want or need so that you can meet that need. But use YOUR words to tell them how they should ask: “Are you hungry sweetie? You can say ‘Mama. Can I please have a snack'”. That way they are hearing the words and will develop the vocabulary they need to “Use Your Words and Not Your Whine”.
  2. Do Not Allow the Whine to Work!
    After asking for what they want, sometimes we say “no” for any number of reasons. Oh boy… the dreaded no. I see it often. Parents who say “no” to more chocolate milk, more time on the tablet, staying up just 5 more minutes, reading one more book before lights out. And after the “no” is the oh-so-often flailing of the body on the floor with a loud scratch-your-nails-on-a-chalkboard kind of scream. It’s aggravating and exhausting. So sometimes we give in. Sometimes we say “Oh wait wait wait… You can have five more minutes. One more book. One more small glass of chocolate milk.” And what did we just do there? We sent a message LOUD and CLEAR that whining is the way to get what they want. Our impatience or lack of willingness to let our kids have their tantrum results in kids who continue to get what they want by whining LOUDLY when we say “no”. It is reasonable for small children to whine. They don’t understand or express emotion like adults do. The tantrum may be frustration, anger, or even sadness coming out in a way that they just don’t know how to express yet. Let them express it. If you cannot handle it, then put them in their room. Whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE IN! I say to my young one “I know you really wanted that chocolate milk and you are mad at mommy, but it is mommy and daddy’s job to help you stay healthy. I think you have had enough chocolate milk for today.” I try to reflect back to her in WORDS what I see she is feeling. She may not understand that feeling word yet, but some day she will and when she does, she will start using it. In the meantime, she learns that whining does not get her what she wants and she does it less and less. Again… VICTORY!
  3. Use Your Patience and Give Them Grace
    Kara Tippetts reminded me in a post the other day that “As children, they don’t have all the words, understanding, places to safely let go of pain” or whatever the emotion might be. There is no magic formula, but patience and unconditional love will go a long way with your kids. Remember they are kids. We were kids too! It is hard, confusing, and even frustrating to not understand feelings. Even as adults, some of us have emotions that are confusing and we cry, want to scream (and sometimes do), need a hug and ask for forgiveness from spouses who bear the brunt of it at times. We want to teach our kids how to use their words and process emotions, but just like us, they are a work in progress. Sometimes they need you to forgive their expected immaturity with a hug, an “I love you sweetie pie”, and an unspoken sense of understanding.

A child’s whine or tantrum is just a sign that they are at an age when that is typical. Comically, sometimes we feel like responding to their whine with a tantrum of our own! But, remembering that it is our job to teach them in a way that allows them to become emotionally mature adults who are capable of leading with respect. What are you doing to help your kids grow emotionally?


  1. What an awesome blog Sarah! My twins are 14 months now and already one of them is starting to throw her body down and cry. It’s like a mini tantrum. She often stops more quickly when I ignore it and leave the room. When they begin to talk I will definitely use, “Use your words!” I really like that.

    • It’s definitely good to ignore it Andrea! I am sure so many more moms have learned great ways to help combat the whine. I would love to hear what other moms do too!

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