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A simple tip to stop toddler whining

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Listening to my child whining is quite possibly the most annoying sound in the world. As a first time mum, I was caught off guard at just how bananas his whinging sends me. Especially because he’s only 10 months old can’t actually talk yet.

An enlightening article in The New York Times on the evolution of kids’ whining says children use this communication style as a tactic to get a parent’s attention – fast. And when you think about it, it’s quite genius (because it works).

The good news is that this annoying milestone is something so universal and common that all children go through, so I’m not alone.

Plus, children apparently reserve their best whiney voices for people they are emotionally attached to, which I’ll take as a compliment.

The bad news (for me) is that it’s only going to get worse once he starts talking.

Please, make it stop!

So how do you make the whining stop (once they’re talking)?

There are a couple of approaches parents can take to help reduce toddler whining. One is ignoring it. But this method comes down to a battle of wills and should only be attempted if you’re confident you can absolutely keep your cool.

Dr Dunya Poltorak, a paediatric medical psychologist, told The New York Times that yelling at your kids for whining can backfire.

“Scolding or disciplining can inadvertently reinforce the behaviour. They’re looking for a response; when they don’t get a positive response, they’ll go for the negative one,” said Dr Poltorak. So yelling may actually teach them they’ll get a response – making them do it more.

“It’s hard for me to understand you”

Here’s what you can do instead.

In a podcast episode of Raising Good Humans, developmental psychologist Dr Aliza Pressman tells parents to take a deep breath.

“Here is the problem with whining: it’s not harmful, it’s just annoying,” she says.

“It’s an annoying behaviour, and we tend to get really annoyed and then tell our kids, or show our kids, with our body language that we’re really annoyed. This prompts them to whine more because it’s kind of working,” she says.  

“But if you can take a deep breath and get down on eye level and say to them, ‘I’m really trying to understand what you’re trying to say. It’s hard for me to understand when you are whining. Can you try that again in your real voice?’ They are much more likely to respond to you.” 

The leg tug

Similar can be said when you’re chatting with a friend and your child is tugging on your leg.

Dr Pressman suggests saying something to your child along the lines of, “’I see you. You really want my attention right now. I’m talking to my sister but then I’m going to get to talk to you as soon as we take a break.’ And then ideally you tell them when that’s going to be.”

So as hard as it might be, the best strategy for minimising a whinging toddler might be to have no strategy at all. Simply let your child know you’ve seen them and keep calm and carry on.

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