Why children whinge, and how to manage it

Bella Brennan
Bella Brennan
Bella is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience in women’s publishing and digital media. In her spare time, she loves making up dances to the Wiggles with her two little girls, swimming in the ocean and trying to sneak away from her family for a cheeky nap.
Created on Oct 29, 2023 · 4 mins read

By mid-morning, the whingeing has already started. You’ve had to say “no” to chocolate for breakfast and a dip in the icy beach waters, but now your little one is insisting on a PAW Patrol marathon. It seems like every time you try to set a boundary, the whingeing begins all over again. It’s a tough job keeping up with kids who whinge, but hang in there – you’ve got this!

Yep, whingeing is the soundtrack to so many parents’ lives. And like most of the curve balls we get thrown in parenthood, it’s not something you can ever fully prepare yourself for. Nagging, whingeing, whining — whatever you want to call it — can wear you down!

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be an uphill battle and is all par for the course of kids just being kids. We spoke to Clinical Psychologist and the Director of MindMovers Psychology Jaimie Bloch about how we can best manage whingeing in our children, and how it’s all linked to child development.

Why does my child whinge so much?

“Whingeing is all about attention. Children struggle to express their emotions through words, so they often use their behaviour as a way to signal their needs,” Jaimie explains.

How can I stop my child from whingeing?

Jaimie suggests implementing the three-step process below to limit whinging.

  1. Focus on filling your child’s ‘needs bucket’ during the day. What is under the whingeing behaviour? Is it attention? How can you connect with your child and give them attention during the day so they aren’t needing it later in the evening when you are busy? Spending 20 minutes a day stepping into your child’s world and engaging in an activity they enjoy can be enough to fill this need.
  2. Connect to your child’s emotions. When children whinge, they’re in their emotional brain. When in this brain, it’s very easy for them to become dysregulated and escalate, which is why we always need to validate and listen to them before moving them into a boundary. It’s important to connect with your child’s emotions before addressing their behaviour. One helpful technique is emotion coaching, which involves four simple steps: first, acknowledge that your child is struggling with a problem or emotion; second, validate and empathise with their feelings; third, normalise their frustration or hurt; and finally, thank them for sharing their feelings with you.
  1. Teach them about “asked and answered”. This term was coined by psychologist Lynn Lott who wrote the book Positive Discipline.  It’s a technique to stop the cycle of repetitive lecturing and the power struggle when a child wants a different answer. How does it work?

Parent: “Have you heard about asked and answered?”

Child: [They’ll most likely say no.]

Parent: “Did you already ask me a question about ____?”

Child: “Yes.”

Parent: “Do I seem to be a parent who will change their mind if asked over and over again?”

Child: [They may ask again.]

Parent: “Asked and answered.”

“Being consistent in this approach is key,” Jaimie stresses.

Is whingeing good for kids?

It’s common for kids to whinge as they grow up – in fact, it’s a very normal part of child development, and it’s a way for them to quickly get what they want from parents. While it’s important to acknowledge and support their emotions, it’s equally important not to give in to their demands. If you give in to their whingeing, they’ll learn that it’s an effective way to get what they want and will continue to do it.

There’s no denying just how tough whingeing is on the whole family (that’s why they invented noise-cancelling headphones, right?) but i​​nstead of shutting your child down and telling them to be quiet — listen to them, ask them what their anger or frustration is trying to communicate, and empathise with them instead.

Starting a genuine conversation as opposed to trying to sweep it under the rug is where true connection begins. In time, your little one will feel safe and secure enough to share their thoughts, feelings, and worries with you — and the whingeing should subside.

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