As the parent of a 2 1/2-year-old, I have to say that I absolutely love the toddler years. The sweetness, the innocence, the wide-eyed wonder – I love it all. But the whining… oh, the whining. Even the calmest toddler can dissolve into a bout of whininess (is that a word?) at any given moment. And while it may be tempting to lose your temper or just give in to your toddlers demands, there are more constructive ways to deal with a whining toddler.
How to Deal With a Whining Toddler
I know, I know. Staying calm when your toddler won’t stop whining is easier said than done. But the problem is, if you lose your cool your toddler will pick up on that. And from there on out, it becomes a vicious cycle. Your increased stress level will increase your toddlers stress levels, thus causing him or her to cry/whine/scream even more, thus causing you to become even more stressed!
Instead, try to take a deep breath (or ten…) and speak softly, calmly and clearly.
DON’T GIVE IN
It can be tempting to just give in to your toddlers demands, but that approach will backfire in the long run. When you give in, you’re reinforcing their negative behavior and essentially teaching them that whining is an effective way to get what they want.
So while giving in may be the quickest way to stop their whining, it’s definitely not worth it. Hold your ground, as frustrating as it may be.
My 2 1/2 year old loves watching DinoTrux on Netflix. He knows that he’s allowed to watch 2 episodes per day, after we get home from running errands.
Sometimes he’ll politely ask me, “Mommy, can I please watch DinoTrux?” Other times, he’ll whine and demand “Watch DinoTrux now!”
If your child is making a reasonable request but the manner in which they’re asking is unacceptable, let them know that they need to ask for what they want in a polite, courteous way. Try role playing so they can understand the difference between rude demands and polite requests.
OFFER POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
As parents, we’re often quick to reprimand but less likely to give praise when it’s deserved. One of the best ways to encourage and foster good behavior is to offer positive reinforcement. This means praising your toddler when they request politely instead of demanding and whining.
An example might be “I like how you asked so politely for a snack! Of course I’ll get you an apple!”
DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT OTHERS ARE THINKING
If your toddler is whining or having a meltdown in public, you might feel like there’s a spotlight shining on you and that everyone is tut-tutting.
The reality is, most people know that it’s natural for kids to whine and they probably have more sympathy and support than you realize. This is particularly true if they’re also parents!
And if you do happen to come across someone being judgmental or rude, don’t even give them the time of day. Remember, being offended is a choice you make. Don’t make that choice.
MAKE SURE THEY’RE FEELING OK
While most whining is simply a matter of your child being frustrated and annoyed, it can sometimes be a sign that they’re not feeling well. If they seem even more fidgety and irritable than usual, check their temperature and make sure they’re not teething or feeling unwell.
I remember a #momfail of mine (we all have them…) back when my son was about a year old. He had been particularly whiny, was crying more than normal and threw his pacifier at me. As much as I was trying to stay calm, I could feel myself getting frustrated at his behavior.
An hour or say later I was changing his diaper and started tickling him. He opened his mouth and laughed and I noticed a huge bulge in his gum. I realized that he had a tooth that was about to erupt, which completely explained why he’d been so irritable and whiny all day. I felt terrible that I hadn’t noticed and I had started to feel frustrated with him!
How to Prevent Your Child From Whining
So those are some ways you can deal with a whining toddler. But even better is preventing your toddler from whining in the first place. Of course, you’re never going to be able to prevent 100% of whining, but there are some proven tactics that help keep whining to a minimum.
NURTURE YOUR CONNECTION
Often, your toddlers whining and grumbling can be a way of seeking more of your attention. I get it – life is busy and we’re often pulled in a million different directions. But that’s not our children’s fault.
It’s obviously not possible to give kids our undivided attention 100% of the time, but try to make it your top priority to spend a significant amount of family and one-on-one time together every day.
LEARN AND PLAY
Little minds need to be stimulated to prevent boredom and the whining that is associated with it! As such, providing your toddler with adequate stimulation can go a long way in reducing whining.
Interactive games, outdoor activities, reading and doing puzzles are all great boredom busters. Another great idea is buying a family membership to a local kids science museum or community splash pad/pool.
Many children these days are chronically sleep-deprived, which can wreak havoc on their emotions and cause major mood-swings. Adequate sleep is also necessary for brain development.
Children thrive on routine, which is why it’s important to try and enforce a regular bedtime, even on weekends. A later bedtime once in a while won’t hurt, but try not to make it a regular thing.
ENCOURAGE HEALTHY EATING
Research has shown that artificial food colors can have a negative behavior impact on children. Additionally, a diet high in sugar and artificial flavors also negatively affects children health and behavior. (If you want to learn more about this, I HIGHLY recommend reading this book.)
A nutritious diet will give your child more energy and help to stabilize their blood sugar. Plan balanced meals and healthy snacks, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
While alleviating boredom is important, children can also become overstimulated which can cause them to act out.
Try to watch for behavioral clues which could signal that they’re attention span has been exceeded and/or that they’re overstimulated. If you suspect this may be the case, you can switch activities, do something calm like read a book together, or give them some quiet time to refresh and recharge.
AVOID PERSONAL TRIGGERS
In addition to the things that most children find to be a little stressful, it’s important to remember that your child is an individual and as such, they may have their own personal triggers.
Pay attention to when they whine and/or act out and see if it may be related to a particular situation/place/activity/event.
BE A POSITIVE ROLE MODEL
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “monkey see, monkey do.” Children are little sponges, taking in and mimicking everything they see.
If your child sees you acting aggressively, complaining excessively, losing your temper, etc., they’re likely to follow suit. Try to monitor your conversations and behavior to ensure you’re setting the kind of example you wan them to follow.
There are plenty of ways to deal with a whining toddler that don’t involve giving in to their demands or losing your temper. Try to give your child the attention they crave, and teach them how to replace whining with more effective communication styles.