Nothing seems to get on a parent’s last nerve like the sound of a whining voice. As parents we find whining aversive, but we may have unintentionally contributed to its use.

Sometimes children discover that the most effective way to communicate an immediate need to a busy, distracted parent is to whine. Repeated requests made with an increasingly whiny tone of voice frequently get results for the child. Parents will do almost anything to make it stop! Yelling at the child or saying, “stop whining,” doesn’t help. The habit is hard to break if your child has been using whining as a means of communication for some time. There is hope.

  • First of all, if at all possible, listen/pay attention to your child when they are speaking to you in a normal tone of voice. Smile, make eye contact and put your phone down. Remark that you enjoy speaking with them or listening to them when they use their “normal,” “big boy” or “big girl” voice. If you can’t listen to them at that moment, say something like, “I’m very interested in what you have to say; can I come and find you in five minutes?” and smile. Make sure you set the timer on your phone and follow up with your child.
  • When the child whines, immediately say, “I want to hear what you have to say; use your (normal, big girl, or big boy) voice.” If the child persists in using the whining voice, walk away and repeat that you want to hear what they have to say, but only when they use their “normal” voice. Tell them to come and get you when they are ready to use their normal voice. After five minutes if they have not sought you out, go to your child and tell them you want to hear what they have to say - using their normal voice. Smile.
  • When the child switches to their normal voice, tell them that you enjoy speaking with them or listening to them when they use their normal voice. Say something like, “The other voice sounds very unpleasant, and I have trouble understanding what you are saying.
  • After you have used this procedure a few times, consistently, the whining should be reduced.
  • If your child forgets and starts to whine when making a request just ask, “What voice do you use when you talk to me?” When they switch voices, give them your full attention and smile.

Try this and see what happens! 

Blogger Mary Ann Mulcahey, PhD, shares her expertise in assessment and diagnosis of learning disabilities and ADHD, and the social/emotional adjustment to those issues. If you have questions, please contact Dr. Mulcahey at mmulcahey@springer-ld.org.

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