Here are the reasons children whine:
# 1 Their needs aren’t being met, their tanks are low and they communicate their upset through behavior and tone of voice.
# 2 There is a problem but they don’t have the knowledge, skills, or the option (or power) to fix it themselves. They communicate their upset through behavior and tone of voice.
#3 They don’t have the language to put it all together in a coherent mature sentence and ask for the right kind of help that will help them feel better. Perhaps whining has worked in the past and they have not learned good communication skills.
#4 They don’t have the self regulation to deal with their big emotions or to deal with things that don’t go their way. Emotional regulation skills have not been learned.
Children don’t actually want to be whining. If you have convinced yourself that this is something that children enjoy, you are going to need to rethink this. Whining is a call for help, or a strategy, albeit annoying, to try to fix something.
If children could feel better, they would. Our job is to help them feel better, and to teach them the skills to help them help themselves. The good news is that a lot of the reasons why children don’t feel good are things we have control over and can address right away!
- Doesn’t feel heard
- Doesn’t feel connected to parents
- Things are unpredictable
- Parents argue and yell
- Feels powerless
- Feels judged and not accepted
- In pain
- Something else
- Or….They want something that they can’t have (They think this thing is going to make them feel better)
The bottom line is that children often lack the awareness. self regulation, know how, or power to meet their own needs, so they look to adults. But for adults, it can be hard to decode the whining because we don’t want to hear it, and because we might not know what’s really going on.
For example, a child could whine for ice cream. (And let’s say the child is not really hungry) Then the ice cream can easily been seen as a proxy or quick fix for an underlying problem. It will not address root issues. A child who has been given a toy or token to soothe their whining is no better off than they were before. This child will still feel disconnected if connection was what they were really after. The whining could start up again soon.
All children want to feel:
- Connected and loved
- Heard (listened to)
- Seen (paid attention to)
- Autonomous (some choice and control)
- Engaged (stimulated)
When this doesn’t happen, children either try to get those things, look for help, or look for something else to soothe the pain of not having that need met.
When all else fails, children will demonstrate their upset through behavior. Behavior becomes a form of communication.
The fix is to understand that your child has needs, and it’s your job to help him/her to get those needs met.
Look at the problem behavior with curiosity rather than annoyance and blame.
There are ways to meet the needs of children (and your own needs) so that whining is much less likely. These skills include: