How to Stop Toddler Whining: The ULTIMATE Guide to Your Sanity

One of the most challenging parts about raising a small, toddler-sized human has to be how to deal with the whining. Unfortunately, our kids are no longer babies, but they aren’t really old enough to fully communicate their feelings yet either.

As a result, you get whining….sometimes….lots of whining.

Admittedly, whining can be extremely taxing and hard to navigate as a parent. I don’t know about other parents, but whining tends to be the one thing I have little to no patience for. It’s like listening to nails on a chalkboard and I have a limited threshold for whining tolerance.

Since it is something we’ve struggled with in our home, I have done LOTS of research on how to stop toddler whining.

Fortunately for us, we’ve found a lot of great strategies and compiled a nice little guide.

How to Stop Toddler Whining: The ULTIMATE Guide

#1 Understand why it’s happening

There are lots of reasons for whining when you are a toddler.

As a parent, it can be helpful to understand why toddlers whine because it helps us know how to react. If you put yourself in the shoes of your toddler, it can be helpful in dealing with the whining and also preempt situations where whining is a possibility.

It goes without saying that when kids are tired, hungry, or sick, they will tend to be more whiny. But even if none of these things are contributing to your current situation, understanding that this is part of toddler development, can be really helpful.

As I said, at this delicate age, toddlers aren’t babies anymore, so they aren’t strictly crying to fill their needs. However, they still depend on adults for everything: potty/diapering, eating, drinking, rest and attention…..etc.

So, while they aren’t crying for everything anymore, they still aren’t developed enough to communicate clearly how they are feeling or what they need, so the result can be really frustrating. Which often leads to toddler whining.

Recognizing why the whining is taking place has helped me a lot in developing more patience in combating this behavior with my son. Knowing that it’s just a phase and that there are things I can do to help him learn better outlets for his frustrations really helps me take that extra breath when I need it!

#2 Explain “whining” to your toddler

While whining can start very early for some kids, most kids will start in the toddler years. During this age, they are making lots of connections in language and communication, but there is still so much to learn! It makes sense then that saying, “stop whining” may me absolutely nothing to them if we don’t first identify what “whining” is.

One helpful article I read at What to Expect suggests that parents use technology as an aid in explaining “whining” to their toddler and preschool age kids. The suggestion is that you gather two separate recordings, one of the child whining and one of the child in another situation where they communicate in a more healthy way.

Once the child is in a good mood, it is suggested that you play back both recordings and use the opportunity to explain the difference.

Some parents said that being able to show their child what they define as “whining” can help them recall it to mind when they are reminded to “stop whining” at a later time. It also helps to see that when they communicated more clearly, they got a more positive response.

Which brings us to our third recommendation…..

#3 Give a reward where a reward is due 

Toddlers thrive on praise! In fact, if I praise my 2-year-old son on just about anything, I am guaranteeing myself the need to praise him while he repeats the action over and over again for the next 10-15 minutes. So, using this to my advantage has helped us a lot in the whining department!

When your toddler asks for something nicely, don’t be afraid to show them what a good thing it is. Getting overly excited and giving praise can be a great way to reinforce good behavior.

Getting excited helps your child associate positive emotions to using speech and being calm when expressing their needs. It doesn’t mean that they won’t whine again, but it does mean that they will start to make connections about which behavior gets positive results.

Using positive reinforcement can include using a rewards system as well.

Don’t be afraid to tie small rewards to a situation where your child may be prone to whining. If you know that your child tends to struggle during the checkout process at the grocery store, for instance, don’t be afraid to give your child a goal to look forward to. For example: “if you can let mommy/daddy pay for all the groceries, and you don’t whine, mommy/daddy will take you to the park on the way home.”

When using rewards systems like this, you give your child an opportunity to choose a good behavior and see the reward for doing so. It also gives you some leverage if things start to go south: “remember….we only get to go the park if we are nice while mommy/daddy pays for the groceries.”

#4 React appropriately

As we just discussed, reward systems and positive reactions are helpful in encouraging your child to communicate without whining. However, that means that when your child is whining, you have to show a different reaction.

Snapping at your child or yelling “stop that whining!” is often the automatic response (and lets be honest, we are all dying to say it after 10 minutes of that nonsense!). However, you have to keep in mind that toddlers who whine are looking for attention and they generally don’t care what kind they get.

Any attention, positive (getting what they want) or negative (getting you to react), fuels the child to keep whining and keep using it as a way to get attention.

Many parents and experts agree that ignoring whining behaviors can be one of the best ways to stop whining in toddlers. This tactic can be exhausting, however, so hang in there! Non-reaction can be the best reaction when it comes to toddler whining. If you fail to react, the child will either move onto something else, or change the behavior looking for a different reaction.

Most parents recommend a combination of ignoring and intermittently reminding the child that you cannot react until they change the behavior.

For example, “I can’t understand you when you whine like this” or “Mommy/Daddy can’t help you until you are calm and use your nice words.” These can be great ways to remind your toddler why they aren’t getting a reaction, without necessarily caving and actually reacting.

#5 Distraction can be better than reaction

Sometimes there is no good way to stop the whining or explain why they can’t have [insert any random toddler request here] right now. Distraction can be used in instances like this, or in situations where you know that your child is already struggling (i.e. tired, hungry, sick, etc.).

Toddlers have short attention spans: distractions can be super helpful when faced with a difficult whining situation! Distracting your toddler with an alternative to their request can be a great way to combat whining in situations where you can’t grant the original request.

An example from my house usually has to do with food requests. My son is a determined little guy who has always been a picky eater. He’s also learned that he LOVES cake.

So, nearly every snack request comes with the word “cake” attached. I know that in this situation, just saying “no you can’t have cake” isn’t going to go over very well, especially if he is hungry. So instead I might say, “Well, I can’t get you cake right now, but I do have these apples! Would you like some apple and one of your string cheeses?”

Normally, if said with enough enthusiasm, he gets excited about the alternative and I stop hearing about cake…..for now.

#6 “Hear” your toddler

I liked this suggestion from an article I read at Mommy Shorts. This one is more about helping your child understand that you are hearing their request even if you cannot grant it.

Experts agree that whining tends to be a reaction of the overwhelmed toddler. They often don’t get to feel like they are in control. They are developing opinions, but can’t always have them satisfied, and sometimes, just knowing that their request has been heard can help a lot.

The suggestion from Mommy Shorts includes reacting to your child’s request when they are initially trying to engage your attention. Acknowledging that you heard them and will address their need shortly, can help to stop toddler whining before it begins.

Because toddlers don’t have a lot of patience, keep in mind you may have to repeat this or give them something tangible.

My son is OBSESSED with numbers right now and, although he can’t tell time, he can read numbers on the clock. I’ll say, “Mommy hears you and I am talking to Daddy right now, but I will get your water in a minute. Can you watch the clock for the number 8?” Granted, this is a combination of distracting him while still acknowledging him, but it seems to work!

However, if the whining has already started, sometimes it takes a more pointed approach. Sometimes, you have to repeat the request to make your toddler understand they have been heard. Try repeating the original request back: “Yes I know you said you want the cake, is that right?”

Sometimes knowing you understand the need can help calm your toddler down. Then you have to decide if you can grant the request or have to use another tactic!

#7 Take a break

Sometimes all you really need is to take a break. This tactic is usually used when other tactics haven’t worked (and perhaps your toddler is just overstimulated). In my house, we don’t treat this like a “time out” or a punishment – it’s more an opportunity for him to take a moment and calm his mind before trying again.

Honestly, it’s super helpful, and sometimes I wish someone would hand me a book, put me to bed and let me “take a break”!

I was happy to see I am

not the only parent using this tactic – there were actually several suggestions for this type of thing at BabyCenter, including the use of a “whining chair” and a timer.

The whining chair is not the same as a “time out” spot, but one parent stated that when her daughter is whining and is being persistent, they will ask her to take a break in her “whining chair” until she can be calmer.

The other suggestion was a timer system. Somewhat like “time out” models, one mom uses 1 minute for every year her child is old (i.e. a 2-year-old gets 2 minutes). When her child is whining and being persistent, she will set the timer and ask her to come back and ask when the timer goes off.

This usually gives a child enough time to calm down and approach the situation differently in a few minutes.

#8 Be consistent

Our final suggestion in our ultimate guide for how to stop toddler whining, really goes without saying: Consistency is key. (And this applies to just about every aspect of parenting.)

Often, it can be really difficult, especially when it comes to annoying behaviors like whining.

Being consistent will require that both parents be on the same page and agree to handle a whining situation the same way (and stick to it). It can be difficult in places like grocery stores, restaurants, and family gatherings, but it is so important your toddler sees consistency in your reactions (and non-reactions) to their whining behavior.

Kids are so smart and perceptive – they do what works and they learn quickly. So if you cave, they will continue to use whining because it works. Which only makes it harder in the long run to end that pesky toddler whining! 🙂

That’s all!

Hopefully you found our guide on how to stop toddler whining helpful in your mission to end whining for good!

As a fellow parent, I am right there in the trenches on this issue.  I’ve used each of these tips myself – and in different situations, they’re all very effective as long as you have the patience to execute them properly.

And hey, it may sometimes require an extra glass of wine (not whine!) after bedtime, but I know we’ll beat this whining thing together!

What are some of your favorite tactics for dealing with toddler whining? Leave a comment below!

About Eric and Tiffany Matthews

We're Eric and Tiffany, the parents behind Cynical Parent. We're just normal parents who are navigating parenthood with both eyes wide open (probably because there's a kid yelling nearby). And of course, we're pretty cynical. Don't believe everything you read or hear, whether it's on the internet, or from a close family or friend (or even from us!). Every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Sometimes you just need to try and see for yourself. :)

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