Archived Q&A and Reviews

14-month-old driving me crazy with whining

Nov 2006

My 14-month-old son has recently developed an irritating habit: he whines. It drives me crazy and my brain sort of freezes up while he's doing it. The advice in the archives on whining is directed at verbal chldren who whine with words; my son just grunts and points. He keeps it up until he is stopped, either by getting what he wants or by parental intervention (distraction, removal from the scene, whatever). His whining is usually clear in intention (feed me more yogurt, hold me up so I can look at the fruit bowl, let me touch the hot tea kettle) so it's not like he needs to learn baby sign language. My question is about how *I* should respond?

There are three types of situations. (1) Sometimes I am able and willing to provide what he wants (e.g. yogurt I'm already in the process of feeding him), but I am afraid that if I give him what he has just whined for, he'll be learning that whining works. How can I encourage him to ''ask'' politely? (2) On the other hand, sometimes I'm *temporarily* unable to deliver (e.g. I can't hold him up to the fruit bowl when I'm busy cooking); in this case I want to respond to the whining right away, so he knows I'm listening, but I don't want to say ''No!'' all the time because we save that for more serious cases. Anyone have a good phrase to explain this? He seems to keep on whining until I've been very negative in my response, and I'd prefer to teach him more gently. (3) Finally, when he whines for something he can never have, like the tea kettle, a firm ''No!'' is very effective, although sometimes it makes him sad. I'm pretty comfortable in this case, however.

I am only wondering about how to respond at the times when he has expressed himself with this very irritating whining tone -- if he ''asks'' for something pleasantly, we have no problem communicating. Thanks for all your help! I'm still getting used to the fact that his ''needs'' and his ''wants'' are no longer one and the same. Whined At Mama

I could have written your post! My daughter was an incessant whiner. It used to drive me crazy and also exhaust me. From talking with other parents, I think this is pretty common. However, some do it more than others. What I found with my daughter was that as she got more verbal, the whining has been subsiding. It may be that your son, when he doesn't get what he wants, thinks he is not communicating effectively. Because whining is the only way he knows how to communicate, he keeps doing it. Things that helped for me, was to completely remove my daughter from wherever we were, when at all possible. If smaller distractions didn't help, often ones sometimes did. If this wasn't manageable, and my husband was home, we would take turns. This would at least give me a break if we had a bad day of whining. The main thing, though, was practicing patience. And there were days when that was painful. But my daughter is now just turning 18 months and things are substantially better. So improvements are not too far off.

On a related note, my husband and I took a discipline class for 0 to 5-year-olds at Habitot. The class intrigued me because the description talked about why kids may or may not respond to something due to their development, (rather than a specific ''style'' or theory of parenting). We found the class very helpful. The instructor, a specialist in child psychology, was very practical and entertaining. We found the class to be very helpful and interesting because it helped explain some of our daughter's behaviors or reactions. I just wanted to pass this along because I would recommend it to anyone. (I don't work for them!) It was only an hour and half and the highest cost was $25 a person. Habitot has a sliding scale. If your interested, their classes are posted on their website Anon

We have a 17-month-old son, and though he is not ''pre-verbal'' anymore because he has started to use words (and predicatably, has mastered some of the ones that relate to stuff he wants, like ''agua'') he still does the pointing and grunting (his is more like a ''ah! ah!'' than a whine, though it gets more and more desperate as he is not getting what he wants). And yes, I have the same impulse as you - to not give into whining because I don't want him to draw the conclusion that it works. What I have learned is that sometimes he just wants to have his needs/wants recognized (and actually having them met is less important). So, I have found that sometimes just talking him through it and redirecting him resolves the situation. For example:

him: ah!aha! (pointing to the scissors on the kitchen counter)

me: what do you want me to hand you, the scissors? him: (smiling and nodding) ah! ah!

me: oh, no I can't do that, scissors are very dangerous for kids! him: (more and more desparate) ah! ah!

me: do you know what scissors are for?

him: (seems to be intrigued by the fact that I have asked him a question and we are in conversation) ah?

me: scissors are used to cut things, etc etc. I think there might be a picture of some scissors in one of your books (there's not). Do you want to go pick out a book to look at while I finish cooking?

Generally at that point, he is thrilled to be entrusted with a task, runs off, and brings back a book, which I congratulate him for. I have hidden the scissors, and when he comes back, I will sit with him for maybe 30 seconds to start looking at the book together until he is into it, then I go back to cooking. But I keep talking to him. ''Whats on that page? Do you see a kitty? What sound does the kitty make?''

Mind you, this whole time I have not stopped cooking, but have made a lot of eye contact with him.

I don't know if that kind of thing will work for you or if you have already tried it. My little guy seems to get engaged through conversation and that at least lets him feel like he is being heard and also helps to re-orient him away from a ''I need that thing!'' mind-frame. genevieve

I think some of the advise for verbal kids applies to pre-verbal kids as well, you have to give them the words they don't know yet. so if they whine and you know what it's about you can say ''use your words, water please'' and when they stop whining and make an attempt, give him what he wants. tell him you don't understand his whining (even if you do) this will get better as his vocabulary expands but I still have to remind my 3 year old to ask nicely without whining or bossing.

as for stuff that you can't get for him you can say ''I know you want to look at the fruit bowl and I will help you after I....'' then you can try to redirect him to another activity. this way you acknowledge his desire, express understanding, you don't really say ''no'' just ''wait''

another thing I noticed helped with my son when he seemed to want something he couldn't have was to give him the word for it. it seemed like if he knew how to say it, his desire for it wasn't so desperate - he had some control or something

14-month-old whines constantly

Jan 2003

My 14 month old daughter whines, constantly, from sun up to sun down. She follows me around clamouring to be held or for attention. My attention span for this is dwindling. Has anyone found a good solution for similar behavior? mommyo2tod

Sounds like she is using the most effective voice she has at that age to let you know how much she loves being with you. Are there ways you can include her in your activities? Using a sling or backpack will allow her to be attached to you but still leave you free to do most household work. Sometimes getting down to her level and giving her lots of physical contact while modeling a calm sweet non-whiny voice may help her feel acknowledged while also showing her an alternative to whining. Jen
Is your daughter talking (or signing) yet? My son's whining and shrieking reached a peak around 12 months, and then diminished as soon as he learned some words. I think kids around that age get very frustrated because they can understand a lot of language but they can't yet express themselves. So I predict that your daughter will whine less once she learns (more) words. You can try teaching her some simple signs (for example, the baby sign we used for ''more'' was an index finger tapping the other palm). In the meantime, you have my sympathy; I know how a child's whining can feel like it's drilling a hole in your head! Nomi
Young toddlers often whine because they don't yet have the language skills to tell you what they want easily or quickly enough, and because they tend to go through a clingy/separation anxiety phase just as mom tends to think the newly walking, talking kid ought to be able to self-entertain more. Understanding this may help *you* face the whining more calmly. Also, remember that the more time and undivided attention you give your daughter (as exhausting as that can be), the less she is likely to whine when your attention *is* divided.

The specific technique that worked for us to 'retrain' away from whining goes like this: Crouch down to her level, make eye contact and give her full attention. (This is not ''giving in'' to her whining unless and until you actually do whatever it is she is whining for.) Figure out as best you can what she actually wants. Then tell her you don't like the whining and model what you want her to do. Say, ''Mommy doesn't like it when you whine. If you would like me to pick you up, ask nicely. Say, 'Mommy, up please.''' 99.9% of the time this will do the trick -- she will repeat some variation of whatever you are telling her to say and everyone's happy. Of course, if you cannot pick her up just then, or you can't actually understand what she wants, or she refuses to 'ask nicely', you'll have to either distract her or find an acceptable alternative (''Mommy is cooking dinner just now and can't pick you up. Would you like to sit in your high chair so you can see what I am doing?'') but in no event give her what she's whining for until she can calm down and ask without whining. Also, do your best to give some positive reinforcement every time she *does* ask for anything without whining. (''Of course you may have some juice! Thank you for asking nicely.'') Best of luck! Holly

2.75 yr. old often sad or whiney

May 2002

Our daughter, going on three years old, has of late been more sad or teary or whiney than usual. This is not an all-the-time issue, but she is in some sort of bad mood far more often than in the recent past. This has been occurring for maybe a week or so. She is very difficult to console. Is this ''normal''? Do these things pass? We feel very bad and frustrated about her inconsolability. For background, she spends 2 or three days/week at pre-school and 1 or 2 days/week at grandparents. This has been her routine since September. There have been no major changes in her day-to-day life, as far as we can tell. Thank you. michael

I'm not sure this will help but as the mother of a 2 yr 8 month old I've found it's often not appropriate to attribute adult motivations or explanations to such young kids behaviors. You say this has been going on for just a week. Probably, this too shall pass (like so many other things I'm sure you've experienced!) Maybe a minor seeming event has occured, or maybe she senses your concern and anxiety about her feelings. Maybe you should not worry about this experience going away and just be more affectionate or comforting than usual and help her during this period. LSG
I have fraternal twin girls about the same age as your daughter. We have also gone through weeks that seem more demanding than others - either tears and whiney, or extremely willful, or especially destructive and antagonistic. I attribute it to their growing and development phases. I'm a stay-at-home mom although the girls go to preschool two mornings a week and have a regular babsitter two mornings a week. So, unless there was a specific incident at home or either care situation that may have triggered this behavior, I wouldn't attribute the behavior to something external. I try to deal with these behaviors with more one-on-one attention or enlist the help of one of our mom-friends - someone the girls (one or both) enjoy spending time with. And sometimes I try to change our routine a little and maybe go to a different park or some other child-friendly place. Lastly, we have figured out that one daughter gets especially difficult when she is constipated. Best wishes to you. Lori
I apologize if this advice seems too obvious, but it has been a tremendous revelation to me. I was wondering why my 3-year-old was whiney, why she was picking on her sister, why she was so sad all the time. My friend told me that her mother (mother of six and elementary school teacher) said, ``When young kids are out of sorts and misbehaving, 99% of the time they are either tired, or hungry, or both.'' At first I refused to believe it was so simple (wasn't it sibling rivalry and not hunger or exhastion? was I not giving them enought attention?), but I have really become convinced. Whenever my now 4-year-old and 2-year-old pick on each other I try to ask myself: Are they are tired or hungry? THe answer is almost always, yes. WHen they whine and cry and drive me crazy by hanging on me I ask myself, ``Are they are tired and/or hungry?'' The amazing thing is how long it has taken me to get used to asking myself that every time!

I watch a friends' daughters (also 4 and 2)once/week 10-2 and I noticed that all the kids got really whiney and started to fight at 11. At first I thought it was that they got tired of each others' company after an hour, but it was strange that after lunch they played happily until right about two when they started fighting again. I decided to apply the tired/hungry theory, and started giving them a snack at 11. What a difference!! Now I know why daycares always serve two snacks a day and have a nap time! When kids are tired or hungry they are cranky, whiney, tearful and prone to fight. The two O'clock blues were simply natural because it was naptime and lunch was starting to wear off. Now we have a snack at 11, eat lunch at 12:30, run around like crazy outside and at 1:45 we have a small snack and I read to them. They get along beautifully.

Perhaps a snack here and there and either a longer nap or an earlier bedtime will solve all your troubles! I hope so! susan

Two-year-old whining relentlessly


Our son just turned two and has started to whine relentlessly. He also seems more needy and clingy: wants to be carried more, etc. We think some of this has been precipitated by a newcomer in day care who is a boy, 14 mos old and some of it may be the ambivalence of becoming a 'big boy'. Any advice about how others have handled this phase would be helpful. We try to ignore it or ask him to speak so we can understand him, but it can be sooooo annoying.

Has anyone found a good strategy for nipping whining in the bud? My just two year old has really gotten into a whiney phase -- it seems like half the things that come out of his mouth are in a whiney tone, even straightforward requests like I want a drink of water or I want to go outside. I feel like I spend half my day saying, Can you ask me in a regular tone of voice? or Go ahead, drink some water, no one's stopping you or, when it's been two hours of unceasing whine, Stop that whining or I'm going to lose my mind! None of these seem particularly effective. Any suggestions?
Our son began whining at around that age and we helped to nip it in the bud by using some of the recommendations in Bill Sear's Discipline Book. It's important to keep things positive with kids this age because it's so easy to get into power struggles. One way is to kindly respond to whining with Ouch! That makes my ears hurt. Can you use a speaking voice? Whining will persist a while, but if you gently encourage the words and actively respond to requests made in a speaking voice, it'll eventually subside. Helping the child to put his feelings into words by encouraging a speaking voice can help stop whining and help the child mature at the same time. The other thing is to remember is that whining replaces crying as infants grow into toddlers. Trying to understand the underlying upset, and responding to that, can help too. Laura
If you will truly and thoroughly not tolerate it, it will simply stop. I would say to a whining child that as long as he uses that tone, I will not relate to him. And I wouldn't. It has worked with my boys, I hope it does with yours... Good luck! Noa
For the sake of my sanity I finally instituted a zero tolerance policy. If you ask in a whining voice, you can not have it for an hour, day, week..what ever you think is appropriate. It works much better when you consistently enforce it, which I am working on. Kean
No amount of explanations of good tone of voice helped with my children and their whining, but whining really bothers me. So I told them (they are ten years apart and it worked both times) that my ears were different and I could not hear whining it just sounded like a mouse squeaking. When they would whine I'd hold up my hand and say There's a mouse in the house.. can you hear it and some comment about hoping it wasn't after the cheese? They would laugh and ask me in a normal tone of voice. I never acknowledged that I heard or understood what they were whining. It's kind of silly, but it worked. Good luck. Veronica
Don't fulfill their request until they have stated it in a non-whiny voice. I have replied to my daughter in a whiny voice, and she thought that was strange to come from a mom and instantly taught her what whiny means. Then I repeated the reply in a regular voice. So I know, she can distinguish the difference in tone of voice and what each is called. She learned really fast what voice to use to have her needs met quickly. By the way, that's also how we taught her to use the word please. Shouldn't take more than 3-5 attempts and three tantrums. Just be consistent. You set the rules of how you want to be treated. You can also walk away from a whiny voice in addition to not fulfilling the request, stating that your ears do not like whiny voices. Whinyness is a short-lived problem unless you allow it to continue.
As difficult as it might feel when you hear that whiny voice, you might try saying it sound like you need a hug and giving him one. I think I read this in Positive Parenting A to Z (under whining), and it was pretty effective when my son was going through a whiny stage. There were probably some other ideas in there I can't recall as there are usually a few ideas for each topic. It's a great book to have around when you need some concrete ideas of what to do about whatever the current parenting issues are. Good luck! MHavilan
The only thing I've found effective at all for our 4-year old is simply becoming deaf. If she's whining, I can't hear her. Sometimes I do have to remind her that I can't hear whining. But usually she remembers on her own. I don't know if it will work for a 2 year old, but it's worth a shot. Good luck! Dawn