How to Stop a Whining Kid (Without Whining About It)

Mama Greenest tackles the most annoying sound in the universe: the toddler whine



Whining is literally the most annoying sound in the world. No, really: Literally the most annoying sound in the world. This fact — known by parents worldwide for all of time — was confirmed last year by a study published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology. Whining won out over infant crying, a high-pitched table saw, and “motherese,” as it proved the most distracting to the participants.

Finding this information when I did was like receiving a giant cosmic pick-me-up: “You are not a horribly impatient and cold mother,” this universal validation said. “You are simply human.” It’s hard to tell if other kids whine as much as Coraline, since she’s the only one I’m with all the time. Girlfriend whines a lot. Without end. About everything. There have been days when I have to excuse myself to another room with my hands over my ears, a petulant attempt to keep the whining out and my sanity in. Her whining is made 10 times worse by the fact that she is actually a very bright and articulate child with a large vocabulary. I don’t understand why she has to whine.

Of course, she isn’t whining for the express purpose of driving me crazy. She’s whining because, big vocabulary and all, she’s still just shy of three-years-old. This world is a frustrating place, and she feels it. It’s my job as the parent to teach her how she can express such frustration in a way that doesn’t make people cringe. And, much to my chagrin, it’s my job as the parent to find the patience to do so within myself. There’s a lot of recommended ways to combat whining — some work better than others, depending on the kid. But if you’re also in the throes of the whining stage, hopefully one of these works for you.

Pretend your ears are broken. This is the one that seems to work best for us. Coraline whines, and I tell her that I’m having trouble hearing her, with feigned confusion. If she continues whining, I continue saying I can’t hear her, sometimes shaking my head out dramatically, like there’s water in my ear. It usually doesn’t take long for her to pull herself together and state what she wants (or doesn’t) in a calm and normal-pitched voice.

Whine back. If you are really at the end of your rope, this one might be tough to employ appropriately. Little kids have a lot to learn; they might not realize how awful they sound, so just hearing it back may straighten them out. Or induce some giggles. Either way, the whining stops. 

Sleuth out the cause of the whining and nip it in the bud before it starts. Maybe your little one is over-tired or hungry, or having trouble with transitions, or doesn’t feel like they’ve had enough of your attention. Rosemarie Sokol Chang, co-author of the whining study mentioned above, says that whining has an evolutionary point: “It’s telling you to tune in.” Babies cry, toddlers whine. Figure out what they need and maybe the whining will stop.

How have you been able to combat (and/or cope) with whining toddlers?

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About This Blog

Shannon Gallagher

Shannon Gallagher
Rhinebeck, NY


Dutchess County native Shannon Gallagher is a contributing editor for Hudson Valley Magazine. An erstwhile thrill-seeker, these days she courts disaster of a different variety wrangling a spirited toddler, honing her vegan baking skills, and chasing the ever-elusive work-family balance. She teaches Pilates and does fascial bodywork, and lives in Rhinebeck with Coraline, a cat named Otie, and Sushi the Fish (named, of course, by the toddler).

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