Tired of your toddler whining and crying all the time? Learn how to deal with your child’s behavior with these respectful but effective solutions.
At some point, every mom asks herself, Is this behavior normal?
Because it seems that your toddler complains about everything, even when she has no reason to. She throws a tantrum in the car when she doesn’t get the snack she wants or has a meltdown if you can’t pick her up right then and there.
No doubt about it: toddler whining can make the whole family miserable.
It doesn’t help when you’ve tried everything under the sun, but nothing seems to work. You’ve tried distracting her with toys, even your phone, but she still isn’t happy. Making sure she’s had a snack or even giving her medicine for teething doesn’t do the trick.
She already had a nap, so you know it’s not because she’s overtired. You try ignoring her whining so she won’t think her behavior will get a response, and you’ve also sternly said, “No whining!” You’ve even imitated her whining so she hears how she sounds… but none of it works.
You’re starting to wonder if you’re doing something wrong that could contribute to her crying all the time. How should you deal with it and make the constant whining stop?
How to stop toddler whining
Toddler whining is one of my “triggers”—it can drive me crazy and make me lose my temper in a second. It also doesn’t help when my kids whine when I’m in the middle of something or at night after a long day. Other times, their whining can ruin what had up to that point been an awesome day.
Toddler whining is often a phase, but you can still do plenty to turn things around. In fact, don’t just “get through it.” Instead, use these moments to teach your child how to better communicate, reducing how often she whines in the future.
The best part? You’re building a stronger relationship with her rather than engaging in daily battles. First, check out this video where I share the things parents don’t think to do that will curb toddler whining:
Then, take a look at the solutions I’ve found to stop toddler whining and turn the behavior around:
1. Don’t engage in a fight
As grating as toddler whining can be, avoid engaging in a fight with your child. Don’t stoop down to her level, and instead maintain a matter-of-fact attitude.
You see, toddler whining can trigger the part of your brain that wants to fight back, defend itself, outwit, and win in battle. But as we all know, that path hardly serves anyone well. If you need to respond, do so calmly and factually.
For instance, avoid mocking hers whining or laying out your own reasons and arguments. If she’s whining about a snack, simply say, “It looks like you’re hungry again. But we’re going to wait 30 minutes until dinner time so we don’t lose our appetites.”
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“Nina, thank you so much. I really needed this. I feel better (honestly I took a breath of relief) reading that I’m not the only one who feels the ‘failure” feeling or the overwhelming anxiety of trying to remember how to be a perfect parent all the time. Thank you so much for the reminder that all we can do is try and not to hold on to the mean mom moments but remember we have more good days than bad. Our kiddos know that’s not us everyday and we have more opportunities to make up for it.” -Annie Rivera
2. Acknowledge your toddler’s hardship
“What now?” was sometimes my first thought when I heard my toddler whining. What is it that could be so hard? What is it this time? Or How else are you going to make this harder?
We’re quick to think about all the ways we’re inconvenienced with our kids’ behavior, so much so that we don’t think about what they could be going through.
Because kids have hardships too, even if they’re different from ours. A lost toy, not getting the blue sippy cup, or her brother taking most of the blocks are real problems to them. They’re just as real as a lost wallet, not getting the right order in the mail, or your coworker getting the raise (while you didn’t) are to you.
By acknowledging your toddler’s hardship, you’re beginning the conversation on the same side, instead of engaging in a fight. She feels understood, not brushed aside as petty. And because she sees that you know what she’s going through, she’s more receptive and less defensive.
Her hardships may not be as easily seen. For instance, she may have been well-behaved at daycare because she’s trying to keep herself together. The anxiety of being with other kids and feeling like she’s not getting attention are all but bottled within.
So the minute she comes home, she feels safe to “unleash” her frustrations, knowing you won’t abandon her for doing so. You might acknowledge her hardship by simply saying, “Looks like you’ve had a hard day. I’d want to whine too if I was feeling bad.”
Or let’s say she refuses to stop whining because you don’t want to accommodate her request (like asking for the zillionth cookie of the day). Explain the root of her emotions and why she’s upset. “You feel mad because mommy still won’t give you the cookie.”
3. Model how to behave
Think of childhood as a time to learn basic skills, including how to communicate. Toddler whining is so prevalent at this stage is because kids haven’t matured yet to the point where they can behave in more appropriate ways.
Rather than seeing toddler whining as annoying, see it as an opportunity to teach. Your child can learn how to regulate herself, cope with disappointment, and use her words, all based on how you respond to her whining.
One of the best ways to do so is to simply show or tell her how to respond.
Kids won’t know what you want to hear unless you give them examples. Take what she had just whined about—let’s say wanting to wear a particular pair of socks—and show her how to say it. “Looks like you want those socks. You can say ‘Want those socks’ instead.”
Model the behavior you want to see, and she will follow suit.
Point out that whining is not how you and the rest of your family speak to one another. And assuming you’d be okay with giving her what she wants, ask her to say it in a nicer way. Give her an example of how to do so if need be.
One of my kids wanted water after seeing his brother drinking some. Right away, he whines, “Want waaaateeerrrr…” To which I said, “You’re whining. Can you ask me politely?”
4. Set expectations and give a time frame
Does your toddler whine on and on? One of the best ways to stop toddler whining is to set your expectations and any time frames you may have.
Early evenings in my home usually mean I’m busy cooking dinner, unable to do many of the things my kids want me to do. I noticed that being clear about what I can do and expect sets the stage. I might say, “I’m going to cook dinner now. You can play nearby while I’m doing that.”
If your toddler is adamant about wanting something when you’re unavailable, give her a time frame: “Sure, I’ll pick you up, once I put these groceries away.” She knows you’re not ignoring her, as well as when she can expect you to meet her needs.
5. Give your toddler 100% of your attention
Does your toddler get clingy and whine right when you least need her to? Maybe it’s when you’re busy cleaning the house, shopping at the grocery store, or otherwise preoccupied in your mind.
It’s no coincidence that toddler whining is at its peak when we’re busy and distracted. Imagine constantly vying for someone’s attention over and over, and you can see why she whines at the worst times.
One way to avoid this dilemma is to start your interactions with 100% of your attention.
Any time you’re “reunited,” focus the next several minutes on giving her your full attention. This might be first thing in the morning or after she’s been playing independently for a while and now wants to spend time with you.
No distractions, no other tasks—be present with her even for just a few minutes. This will “fill her bucket” so she feels like she’s had her fill of you, making her better equipped to play on her own. She’ll be less likely to whine when she’s recharged and ready to go.
As I say in my parenting workshop, How to Get Your Child to Listen:
“Once their ‘buckets’ are filled, they’re better equipped to listen, play independently, and make better decisions than if they’re constantly vying for our attention and affection.”
6. Take a break
I’ll admit: I’ve gone into my bedroom and closed the door on my kids and their whining, all in the name of calming myself down. I knew if I stayed with them with the mood I was in, I was likely to yell or say something I’d regret.
Sometimes we just need that break, that breather to collect our cool and give ourselves a much-needed pep talk. Give yourself the permission to admit you’re on the brink of losing your temper, and the time and space to calm down.
Avoid using the break as a threat to your child, as if to say, “See? Look what your whining made me do. Now I’m mad and sad.” You’re not withholding your affection to “punish” her for her behavior, so much as giving yourself the break you need when you’re about to snap.
7. Reframe the stories you tell yourself
If you feel like your toddler whines all day, you might be contributing to that very behavior.
You see, we get what we focus our attention on. If you tell yourself she whines constantly, then you’re more likely to spot the times she’s whining than when she’s behaving. If you tracked her behavior minute by minute, I’m willing to bet that she doesn’t whine all the time.
Reframe the stories you tell yourself about your toddler whining. Instead of labeling her as stubborn or a whiner, focus instead on what you do want: someone who can communicate well.
This will help you spot the times when she is behaving, acting respectfully, and using her words. And the more you can praise her for her positive behavior, the more she’ll continue that very behavior. Now she can identify as someone who behaves well, not someone who whines.
After all, it’s much easier to correct behavior by praising the times she acts appropriately than correcting the times when she’s not.
If she says, “Want milk, please” in a nice, polite tone of voice, point it out. “You said that so politely!”
8. Don’t give in to your toddler’s requests
Your toddler keeps whining for more milk, never mind that you know she’s doing so because she’s cranky. As simple as it may seem to hand her a glass of milk and stop the whining already, don’t. You don’t want to respond with a “Fine, already!” mentality.
If you’re tempted to give in just to stop the whining, find another way to do so. Giving in each time she whines teaches her that whining is an effective way of getting what she wants.
And it’s okay if you changed your mind and want to give her milk later on. You’re not caving in if you realized she was thirsty or hungry, even if she was whining about it. But make your response intentional and explain why you changed your mind.
If possible, redirect your toddler to a similar activity or item that meets her needs.
Let’s say she’s whining about waiting in line, but you realize she’s hungry—you’re still in line during what would be her snack time. Without giving in to her whining, meet her needs and redirect. “Here, let’s get you a quick snack while we wait in line instead.”
10. Address the reasons your toddler might be whining
Your toddler may just be whining about something simple like not wanting to get down from the high chair. Or she might have underlying reasons, from feeling tired to not knowing how to deal with her emotions.
Remind yourself that there might be something beneath the whining by reviewing the day. Has she had any significant changes like a bad night of sleep or meeting new people?, for instance. These little things add up, and she might express them in ways she knows how to, including whining.
Before brushing aside her whining, address potential reasons causing it. “You seem tired,” you might say. You remind yourself she’s not whining to be irritating, and instead, help her identify the reasons she’s whining.
For many of us, toddler whining can feel like fingernails on a chalkboard, enough to trigger our tempers and feel downright defeated.
Thankfully, you don’t have to wait for this phase to pass. Start by acknowledging your toddler’s hardships, which makes you more empathetic and her less defensive. Model how you want her to speak so she knows what’s acceptable or not.
Then, let her know your expectations and even a time frame for when she knows you’ll be available. And when you are, give her 100% of your attention so she can recharge and feel ready to go. Don’t engage in a fight or stoop to her level, taking a break if need be to stay calm.
Change the stories you tell yourself about how often she whines. Focusing on what you want makes you spot those moments much more, which also encourages her to continue behaving well. Don’t give in to unreasonable demands, and if possible, redirect to a more appropriate activity.
Is this behavior normal? Absolutely. But now you have the tools to get through your toddler whining, even if it’s over a lost toy or sippy cup.
Get more tips:
- One Unusual Way to Stop Kids Whining
- How to Deal with a Child That Cries Over Everything
- Do You Have an Ungrateful Child? What to Do:
- 5 Things to Remember when You’re Losing Your Temper with Your Toddler
- 7 Things You Should NOT Do with a Defiant 2 Year Old
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