Dr Lim Boon Leng , a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, explains that your child starts to whine because he feels ignored. “[They] may [start to] whine in order to gain attention and if adults only respond to or give in when the child whines, the whining behaviour will be reinforced and perpetuated.”
“Children do not intentionally set out to manipulate adults, however, they will learn to display the behaviour that is required for their needs to be met.”
While you may think that your child is whining because he’s out to get you, but Dr Lim assures you this is not the case. “Children do not intentionally set out to manipulate adults, however, they will learn to display the behaviour that is required for their needs to be met.”
Your little one resorts to whining because they lack control and feel helpless to cope with whatever they’re facing. Dr Lim states. “[Following which,] parents are now faced with the dilemma of giving in to the child to stop their whining, or bearing with it and standing firm, [hence] making them feel helpless, too.”
However, taking a zero tolerance attitude to your child’s whining will stop him from acting out in this manner. Both Dr Borba and Dr Lim list simple steps you can take:
Step 1: Don’t respond to your child’s sulking
Dr Borba and Dr Lim agrees that whenever your child starts whining, you should stay calm and ignore their behaviour. Dr Lim adds, “Becoming angry with the child is also giving him the attention he is seeking and positively reinforcing their whining.”
In fact, Dr Borba advises that you nip your child’s whining in the bud as soon as you sense that junior is about to start. Tell them, “Stop! I don’t listen to whining voices. Please tell me what your need is in a nice tone.” Then, walk away and ignore them until they speak in an acceptable voice.
Also be mindful of your non-verbal body language when you speak to them — anything from a raised eyebrow, a frown, or a smirk can signal annoyance — your child will interpret these reactions as his ability to get your attention. Remember if your mini-me cannot get what he wants, he will eventually stop and be less likely to misbehave, Dr Lim points out.
Step 2: Show them what the right voice is
Don’t assume that your child will automatically know what an acceptable tone of voice sounds like. Tell your child, “Here’s my whining voice: ‘I don’t want to do this.’ Here’s my polite voice, ‘Can you please help me with this?’ Now you try.”
Dr Borba explains that your goal is to instruct, not to mock your child so be sure not to mimic your child’s whiney voice.
Your goal is to instruct, not to mock your child so be sure not to mimic your child’s whiney voice.
Step 3: Acknowledge and praise your child when they use the right voice
Recognising your mini-me’s attempts at speaking with the right tone will encourage them to use it more often. Respond with, “Thank you for using your nice voice.” Or “That’s better! Your voice sounds more polite now.”
Dr Lim stresses that positively reinforcing your child’s good behaviour and teaching them how to speak properly will lead to better outcomes in the future.
Step 4: Introduce consequences if they continue to whine
If ignoring junior’s sulking isn’t working, you should start implementing simple consequences to encourage them to comply. These can range from taking dessert away or halting the activity as soon as they whine.
For instance, if your child whines in public, get up immediately— don’t lecture, display anger or show irritatation — and calmly tell them you’re both leaving now.
Try saying, “That’s whining and you know the rule, we are leaving now.” Remember, these measures only work if you apply them the moment your child displays the bad behaviour.
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