Help with my world-class whiner

This is ironic because I spent years and a small fortune trying to have my daughter, but I don’t think hate is too strong a word for how I feel towards her these days. The problem in a nutshell is her interminable whining. It feels like 80-90% of her interactions involve whining. We’ve tried counting her, ignoring it, emotional coaching, positive discipline, labeling feelings, but are increasingly turning into people we don’t like when we look in the mirror... yelling, avoiding her, glowering at her, just turning and walking away.

Yes, there are moments of joy (she was an angel at 3) but they currently don’t outweigh the dread I feel ten minutes before she wakes up in the morning. It’s all downhill from there. She’ll wake up bawling, because she “doesn’t want to be alone“ when I’m feeding the baby in the other room. Then I’ll ask her to get dressed and she’ll flatly refuse “No.” Then she’ll whine when I pick an outfit, and cry when I tell her to pick out her own. She’ll fall to the floor when I tell her to get dressed to join us for breakfast... “I can’t!” I don’t give in but she has nevertheless adopted a feigned helplessness. She’ll sometimes purposely trip while walking to garner sympathy. Just now she dropped the iPad saying it was “too heavy.” She has this annoying, high-pitched “damsel in distress” tone she defaults to, even though we’ve asked her a hundred times to use her “regular voice.”

Teachers say they haven’t seen this side of her. We stayed with grandparents for 3 months during lockdown and even in their infinite patience noted they were disturbed by her bad behavior. I was mortified when she covered her ears when they advised her not to put her fingers in her mouth or scowl at them. Tell her not to show food in her mouth and she’ll squint at you and do it defiantly. Tell her to potty before a car trip and she’ll fight you tooth and nail. Twenty minutes after picking at her lunch she’ll whine that she “wants to eat something” and then repeat it for half an hour. Ask her to take a deep breath and she’ll whine “I don’t want to!” Show any interest in a song that’s playing, and she’ll sing the ABC song over it. Say it’s bedtime and she’ll run away, making you chase her down. Get her in bed and she’ll whine “I don’t want to sleep!” until she wakes up the baby. She doesn’t stay in bed, either. At her new post-reopening preschool the boys there chased her with a toy knife and called her cry baby. Frankly I had no sympathy left, and instead thought to myself that that sounds about right.

Is this normal? A sign of teenage years to come? Or is she getting it out of her system? It wasn’t like this pre-COVID but we also had her in preschool full-time so were able to actually enjoy the few hours we had as a family each night.

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I really feel for you!  I had a similar experience with my now 17 year old son.  I finally resorted to bribery, er, motivation!  He had a simple reward chart based on trying to adjust his "negative interaction" habit.  He got his reward after dinner, which was some type of "fruit snack" candy.  If he had 0 to 2 negative interactions, he received 3 pieces. 3 - 5 negative interactions got 2 pieces, and more than 5 negative interactions meant he did not receive any.  Believe me, he went from literally hundreds of negative interactions a day down to around 2 a day.  And along with his change came LOTS of praise from me, as well as really trying to work with him on identifying his difficult feelings so that they weren't just ignored.  I really felt at the time that it was just a horrible attention-seeking ingrained habit.  But, he is also a kid who was diagnosed with depression in his pre-teens.  Kids with mental health issues still need to learn how to live in the world and not make every interaction a power struggle.  Best of luck!

This sounds so frustrating and exhausting. I’m so sorry you’re going through this!

My preschooler had some major mood swings and regressions when schools closed and he wasn’t able to go to the playground and interact with other kids. I’d you’re comfortable and can do so safely, finding ways for her to play with other kids or go back to preschool could help. My son just started preschool again and he’s back to his normal, happy self. 

It also sounds like she’s attention seeking- maybe struggling with a new sibling? I would strongly recommend Janet Landsbury’s podcast for tips on how to handle whining, attention seeking, and dealing with a new sibling. 

Best of luck, I hope some of this is helpful!
 

Hi mama. I feel for you. Whining can be really grating on the nerves and I know I've been driven to my last wits during this time with less childcare support. You don't mention her age but you alluded to 3 being great, so I'm assuming shes 4-5? What you are describing is normal. Let me me repeat, this is completely normal!. Add in the stressors of COVID and staying with grandparents and a new baby and less preschool, and you both have even more reasons for both of your behaviors. But you are the adult in the situation who has more experience regulating your emotions. She does not. She has to learn and that doesn't come through punishment or loss of sympathy - quite frankly, the opposite works. You need to find more quality time with her, smother her with love and patience. Simply repeating back her feelings helps ("It's frustrating when something is too heavy", "It seems like you don't want to go to bed. I know sometimes I feel that way too. But it's time to rest our bodies".) You need to figure out what needs of hers aren't being met (likely it's individualized attention or simply the acknowledgement of change in her world and how hard this is). It sounds like you may also need some support as well to help you not become so easily flustered by normal childhood behavior and be in a better mindset to support her. Some books I recommend: "How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen" or "No Drama Discipline". Books by Louise Bates Ames (such as "Your 4 Year old") are enlightening in regards to normal developmental behaviors (but they are also very old-school and mention spanking so take some of it with a large grain of salt). Talk to her pediatrician and if they are supportive they may point you in the direction of other parenting resources to support you. Reach out to your own OB and get screened for postpartum depression and have your partner, family, etc step in to help with the baby so you can have both alone time to recharge and 1:1 time with your older child. 

I'm sending you lots of patience and strength. What you are describing is hard. But it's also completely normal for her to be acting this way and as a parent you will need to find out a way to nurture her through this phase. It will get better!

You managed to write all that without giving your daughter's age, which is kind of an important detail. But I have a guess, and it's based on this gem of parenting wisdom I got when my daughter was a toddler: "The terrible twos are overstated. Three is worse than two, four is worse than three, and five is the worst of all." I definitely found that to be true. Things turned around amazingly at age six, when it seemed like all of a sudden my daughter's ability to self-execute--to move from want, to plan, to execution and fulfillment without me having to play a role--improved immensely. That made her less frustrated and therefore less annoying and less whiny.

If I'm wrong about your daughter's age, I apologize for being off track.

I think the keys may be buried in your post- the baby, and Covid. This sounds like big sister syndrome, mixed with COVID anxiety.

When a new baby comes along, the older soon loses her cherished spot getting all the love and attention, so disrupting time with the baby, acting younger/weaker/unable to do things, and making bids for attention (positive or negative) is normal. You might see regression in toileting, sleep, feeding, motor skills, even speech. What helps? Special alone time with her, hugs and cuddles, special "big kid" things, etc. Ignore the bad, reward the good, and go out of your way to CREATE good times together that you both enjoy. Every day and with both parents, if that's possible in your family.

Now, Covid. What does Covid anxiety look like at this age? Acting up, not knowing what they want, never being satisfied, feeling overwhelmed, testing ALL the boundaries, indecisiveness, sleep disturbances, a general feeling of unease or anxiety (that helplessness/distress you hear), defiance, regression in social skills, unable to cope with emotions, going into fight or flight/meltdown mode at the drop of a hat, etc. What can help? Boundaries, structure, routine, consistency, calmness and confidence by adults (if you're anxious, it'll be worse), creation of "normalcy" as much as possible, time outside playing in nature, hugs, love, and family time.

So, what to do? Create a daily schedule that includes outside time, "big kid" activities, and 1:1 times with adults. Set up reasonable but not excessive boundaries and consequences (now may not be there time to work on table manners or keeping fingers out of the mouth). Give choices to contain that overwhelming feeling or indecisiveness (you can't get dressed? Offer 2 choices you know she can handle. Lunch is a problem? Put 3 choices on her plate, at least one of which you know she'll love, then let her eat it or not). Make bedtime special time with her, read books and cuddle up in bed together. Do something each day with her that YOU enjoy, too. Kids know when you're not having fun and wish you weren't spending time with them. The dread you feel at her waking up feeds into this- figure out how to change that for yourself and it'll help, too.

So sorry to hear about this.   I totally understand your reaction and I appreciate your honesty.   You are a good mama in a really difficult situation.    I would recommend calling Rachel Biale for some advice.  https://www.rachelbiale.com/about-me     She's a therapist who specializes in helping parents with various problems with their children and would also give you the support you need.   I'm sure that short Zooms or calls with her would be helpful.    good luck.   

Hi there! You are not alone! I can’t say any of this behavior seems out of the ordinary but you just have some extra helpings of it. And the Covid has really caused the kids to lose many outlets for their energy. did you say you tried positive behavior rewards? Sticker charts? For some things offer A or B choices from the start so she feels like she’s exerting some independence? I’m in a similar struggle with my 8yr old, so very defiant. Ugh...at least you have a couple more years than me for the teens hit...even the preteens. Sorry, not so helpful reply. Mostly wanted you to know you are not alone. Hang in there!

Hi i am sorry to hear you are having this problem with your  daughter. This is more than growing pains and you have been resourceful in your responses. Suspect she needs to see professional. She may have a diagnosis and they might have suggestions  on how to handle her  behavior. Best of luck. 

Hi there.....I am so sorry you are feeling this way. I would say I had hate relationship with motherhood when my daughter was 18 months to 4 years old. It seems between that age until she was 4 years old (every kid has different developmental phase), there was always something (ex: she was 18 months and couldn't communicate properly yet, so she got frustrated easily). I feel in your case it's combination between developmental growth (ex: being independent with her own choice instead of following mom/dad wish/order) and the new baby (ex: having all this new feeling that came with having a sibling from love to upset because of losing un-divided attention from mom/dad/grandparents). I used to joke with my husband that unfortunatelly kid is a final sale, so we need to work on what we have. In a nut shell, I feel what you are going through is normal. Being parents is not an easy job!

My daughter, my sunshine, is the world class whiner too. She is still a world class whiner at 8 years old. Before Covid 19, she was always tired when I picked her up from day care (at 6PM), so often I was dreading to pick her up, because she could be mean or whinny when she was tired. It is getting better though, so hang in there. With potential jealousy due to new sibling, my suggestion is to have some special days between you and her only (if it's possible. I am not sure if you are still breastfeeding), so she knows that she is still the love of your life.      

How sad that it sounds like you aren’t able to enjoy your daughter and she doesn’t seem to be enjoying much either. It could be a phase.... I definitely know kids who went through phases where they talked in a whiny voice constantly. And I’ve known kids who do it just with their parents or just with one parent. Since it’s affecting your family life so much I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth engaging with a therapist? Someone with tons of experience with children.... if only to help give you some insight into potential solutions.

You don’t say her age but guessing around five. It sounds to me like she needs a lot more empathy from you about the Covid situation, and about having a new baby in the family. It is so much for all of us but especially small kids. On top of that, five is hard and emotional as kids’ brains develop. I recall epic meltdowns at that age. You need to tell her and show her that all emotions are ok but not all actions are allowed. Slow down, listen, show her you love her even though she was just bumped from number one only child spot and now you spent so much time with the baby. Tell he you know she must miss her school friends and teacher and routine. Give her big hugs. She sounds like she doesn’t feel heard so try to change that feeling with in her by making her feel special. At the same time, calmly and consistently enforce boundaries with her. 

Happiest toddler on the block book or dvd might be better right now to see and hear his suggestions. Even if she’s not a toddler, it’s really a book about communicating effectively to kids of any age.  Also, the book The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary could be really helpful. 

Hi. My heart goes out to you and family! The behaviors you describe can be caused by anxiety. The fact that she wasn't like this pre-Covid speaks volumes. I'd bet money that anxiety is at least a part of what's going on for her, and probably for you, too. Kids can show anxiety and distress in different ways from adults. All of your lives were upended by this stressful bizarre pandemic situation, it sounds to me like how she's responding is classic for a child dealing with possibly high levels of anxiety and/or depression. She doesn't have the words or maturity/capability to express or even understand how out control she's feeling, so she's doing the only things she can-- i.e. acting out and trying to find places in her life where she can be "in control," even if destructive. Some kids respond to traumatic changes, transitions, stress, etc in dramatic ways like this. And I know that it's not easy for you to be able to manage it- It feels so upsetting. I know how that feels and I empathise! It's understandable that you're reacting and feeling the way that you are. When we feel like we are trying so hard to parent well and do everything right and nothing is "working," it can start to just feel hopeless and we can start to feel like we want to shut down because it triggers our own emotional distress. But please remind yourself that it's gong to be ok, you guys will be OK. If I am right and it's anxiety-related, yes it's normal for some kids to respond to it this way. Anxiety can be related to a genetic predisposition or health condition, sometimes it's just personality, sometimes it's a combination of a lot of factors. But there are things you can do and it is not hopeless.

Both my kids have had (& still manage) anxiety in one form or another and we as a family have gone through much of what you're experiencing. I have anxiety and PTSD (Well managed in part due to excellent sypport system and an awesome therapist. I have a predisposition to both depression and anxiety my whole life, starting from childhood, likely due at least in part to a genetic condition (Ehlers Danlos) that I just now have been diagnosed with & understand can often be related to or can go hand-in-hand with anxiety/depression; and also, in part due to a past abusive relationship I survived. That's all a long story.). My older son (now in middle school & doing well) saw a Play Therapist for many years starting @ age 3 to help with his own anxiety (Dr. Shannon Dubach in Berkeley. I highly recommend her. She also frequently had very helpful parenting advice for me). His anxiety was/is often related to trauma and transitions and changes. He has a condition called Dyspraxia (Very intelligent and sweet, super high functioning, but struggles with ADHD like symptoms that often could manifest in defiance and meltdowns, some pretty heavy struggles, especially worse before we all figured out what was going on). My younger son was in kindergarten this past school year, and he reacted to the lockdown and school closure and everything in some very similar ways to what you're describing. Woo, boy. Defiance, anger, refusing to listen, food defiance, etc. Luckily my husband and I knew what we were seeing, but it's still challenging.

I'm not an expert, I just wanted to let you know you're not alone. Find a good therapist for everyone, (lots are doing Zoom or careful in-person sessions now). Create a routine & try to stick to it. Meditate. Research. I'm here to chat if you'd like.

This is not advice and I know it’s not funny, but your whole letter made me laugh because I totally get it. My daughter has had a lot of attitude issues, not sure if it’s covid/not being at daycare or development stage related, but...yeah. I feel ya. Hopefully this is just a short phase (for our kids and the world.) 

This sounds incredibly awful! I am so sorry to hear this. Was she always difficult or did it start with the baby’s arrival?  I have a few thoughts. First- she seems to know how to get a reaction from you ( strong ones- which I understand) so I would try to not react with emotion at any bad behavior. I would stay as calm as possible.

maybe when she  knows she won’t get a reaction she will tone it down. 
 

If you think it is about the baby, try to have some time with just her doing something she really likes. 
 

I also suggest a LOT of outdoor time- hearty walks or hikes to get her anxiety/ angst/ anger / energy out. When my kids were that age I recall when they were exercised out ( meaning really tired from a long day in the park or a big hike) they had less energy to fight me on small things. 
 

if this continues after covid ends I suggest meeting with a child therapist as you definitely want to get things under control before she gets older. 
 

also- the fact that she does not act like this in school is really a good sign. Ask parents who she has had play dates with how her behavior is there when you are not present. 
 

so sorry- wishing you well. Some kids are just tougher than others and it’s not your fault. How you react to her is all you can control right now. 

I've got a 3.5 y/o and a baby and I definitely sympathize with how hard it is. This is a challenging age under the best circumstances, and we're not anywhere near that -- in just the past few months our kids have had their lives upended by the birth of new siblings, the abrupt withdrawal of peer socialization and structure, & the need to compete for our attention as we try to simultaneously work and parent under totally untenable conditions. Those are stressors that most adults are (understandably) having trouble managing, and young children don't have anywhere near the same number of tools.

None of that makes the behavior you describe any less frustrating in the moment. That said, I want you to really sit with what you wrote here. You "hate" your preschooler. You think it "sounds about right" for boys to be bullying her and chasing her around with fake knives. It seems like the first step should be therapy for yourself to work on anger management, appropriate expectations, and clear strategies to ensure you can continue to be a safe and unconditionally loving adult for your daughter. I hope you can find the help you need.

  I recommend you contact Rebecah Freeling ASAP. You need to turn this ship around now because this situation will not improve without intervention. Rebecah’s expertise is with willful, spirited kids who fiercely want their way. 
Rebecah saved my family and I’m not exaggerating. You may contact me for more details! Look up Rebecah in BPN for other reviews and contact info. She is not cheap but it is worth every penny. 
Wishing you so much future joy and ease! It’s not easy but the results are astounding.  

I'm so sorry you are having a rough time. It sounds like your daughter is reacting to the presence of a baby and the disruptions in life due to covid in predictable ways. I would suggest finding times to be alone with her and play, following her lead, and creating moments of fun without conflict. You really need to experience some loving and happy times with your child and build up a well of good feeling. I would also suggest picking your battles and while you must insist on certain things still validate her feelings as much as possible "yes, it's hard to be alone, but I'll be right in the next room and we will play together right after I finish with the baby." Finally, if you are feeling that much animosity to your daughter I know for myself, that can mean that some old wounds of my own are being triggered. Please go to therapy and/or get some coaching so you can find a way to navigate these challenges (covid, baby, etc) better. I wish I had gotten help sooner and regret times I lost my patience with my kid due to issues in my own past that I hadn't fully dealt with. Getting help can really improve your relationship with your daughter so much! Good luck, it's tough times all around but you owe it to yourself and your kids to get back to a loving place. 

The key to answering your question is buried within it: you have a new baby. Any parent who's navigated having a second child while the older one is still a toddler will tell you: all that you describe is completely normal. Please have compassion for your little whiner--she doesn't really understand why her world has shifted in this monumental way, and it is a painful reality check to deal with a newcomer you didn't ask for. To be completely honest, my son still hasn't recovered from the birth of our daughter nearly 5 years ago. I know that some kids are thrilled to have a sibling--some are not and that's okay. If you haven't yet followed Janet Lansbury on this particular subject, please check out her blogs and recommendations. One thing (straight from Janet) that has frequently defused my son's extreme upset is just saying "it's really hard being a big brother, isn't it." This has worked like magic even when I didn't expect it to. New big siblings need to feel heard and seen. They're not trying to be obnoxious--they need to be loved. Best of luck to you, it's a hard situation especially when you're exhausted dealing with a new baby. 

I thought your post heading was funny until I realized that you are serious. My personal experience growing up as a middle child and having a middle child as a niece, suggests to me that maybe, if you can take the time, to take her comments at face value. It will be many years before she understands that the delivery of her message is at least as important as the message itself. Her whole entire life has only spanned a few short years and it sounds like the last few were wanting. She believes that she needs more attention so that is her reality whether justified or not. I made a similar declaration about needing more attention to my mother and she laughed at me. So I gave up on her. In a way she is lucky that that was the end to most of our conflicts. My niece, who I see infrequently, has been quite the drama queen. At first I tried to address the drama with no success. More recently, I explained how we are both middle children and sometimes we have to make our own happiness because older and younger siblings dominate parental attention. Maybe she is older and wiser now, but in the span of 6 months in between family gatherings, she has much better control of her emotions and can communicate what she needs without the drama.

It sounds like this child my be four years old --- developmentally in the part of the cycle where Power, Control and Independence are at a high point. She will likely be more flexible and willing to be part of the group at 5 (when Kindergarten typically starts). Developing parenting skills at this juncture will be important when this kind of behavior recurs in adolescence!  This child is asking for attention and is willing to accept negative attention over a lack of attention. Then add the stress and uncertainty of a pandemic...  Elinor Fitch Griffin wrote that "A change in behavior comes about from a change in feelings."  My recommendations would be to try to get ahead of the behavior and build a new pattern:1. Attention. Uninterrupted time (at least 20 minutes per session) when the adult plays with the child, taking the child's lead. This means no phone or other distractions.2. Play. Prepare activities that the child will find make them curious, creative and/or expressive. This effort to plan and prep the environment will go a long way with the child. Children have wonderful behavior when they sleep or are deeply engaged.3. Praise. Provide the child with specific feedback for anything you find positive.4. Power. Share power by acknowledging every single decision the child gets to make. At this developmental stage they typically notice any restriction, so highlight what they do get to choose. Would you like the peach or the cherry yogurt? Oh, you would like blueberry, luckily we have that. Can you help me plan the next order of yogurt flavors?5. Respect. Be respectful of the emotional strain and social impact of this moment in time. Adults have a lot more strategies and ways to cope. Model the behavior you value. Speak with your child calmly and respectfully. Do not match the offered drama, it takes the excitement out of their deliberate attempt to frustrate the adult. 6. Empathize. When you are not in the heat of the emotion, acknowledge that there has been a lot of changes and limits for everyone. (Remember freedom of movement and freedom of choice) That everyone is missing friends and play. What kinds of play or activities would they like you to support? Work out a plan and then follow through. Children are sensitive to the uncertainty.7. Nurture. Remember that feeling you had when you fell in love with your child. Tap into that feeling and be nurturing and kind. The relationship is the foundation for well-being.8. Humor. It is the antidote to all that ails us, parent and child. For more information, please refer to the website for our new nonprofit organization, The Parent Venture, https://www.parentventure.org/  

You mentioned you have a baby in the house. That combined with the disruption in her usual routine due to the covid lockdowns seems like it would be enough to cause a lot of behavioral changes, much like you describe. It sounds like she’s got a lot going on for a little one. You might check out Janet Lansbury’s podcasts and look for stuff about covid, new baby, and maybe whining. Lansbury’s work with toddlers and the years beyond is excellent, and you might find something that resonates with your situation. 

I think it can be normal. But I think you can also improve the situation if you are willing to put some time and energy into it. I think you spend a lot of time with that baby and she resents it. It seems as though you are always telling her what to do and trying to control her. Take a few minutes every day for a positive interaction. Let her choose from several possibilities: read a book. take a walk,  play a game. Then spend more time (an hour?) once a week. Just the two of you. Let her choose: go to the park, ride bikes, work in the garden. Just the two of you. Let the baby cry. 

Try letting her make some "decisions." Do you want to get ready for bed now, or in ten minutes? Do you want hot or cold cereal for breakfast. In the evening, let her choose what to wear for the next day, and let her wear it to bed. Then you don't have to fight about clothes in the morning. 

She really needs your love and attention. Please find a way to show her you care. 

A friend of mine told me something when my child was young that I found very helpful. She said that kids act the worst when they need you most. I am not an expert, I am simply offering you some observations as a mother who is on the other side of this.  It sounds like there are a couple of things going on. You don't say how old your daughter is, you said she was great when she was three, but what you describe sounds partially developmental. My daughter was very difficult at four and kids in that age range can really be challenging, even more so than toddlers. You are not going to get relief until at least 7-8. Before then they really have very little ability to be reasoned with. The other things that stood out is that you have a new baby, that she is not the same with teachers and she was not like this before covid. It seems like she is crying out to you, to her family, for more individual time and attention. Her world has been turned upside down by all of these things. Pretending this is not happening and walking away is making the situation so much worse. She is telling you "I don't want to be alone" because she is desperate for your undivided attention. You are giving her commands, "get dressed" when she wants you to actually engage with her, undistracted, to pick out an outfit and help her get dressed, whether or not she can actually do it herself is irrelevant. She doesn't want to go to bed because she wants to be alone with you, without the baby. Children need sooooo much time and energy and it is exhausting, but you can do this.  Try to put yourself in her shoes.

So sorry for what seems to be an exhausting predicament. Have you considered having your daughter work with a child psychologist? When my twins were toddlers one had severe separation anxiety. Per her kindergarten teacher’s recommendation, my husband agreed our daughter see a psychologist. Our daughter was seen for play therapy by Dr. Fortunee Kayra Stuart (https://www.google.com/search?q=dr+fortunee+kayra+stuart&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-us&client=safari#lkt=overview&trex=m_t:lcl_akp,rc_f:nav,rc_ludocids:16475370491290225290,rc_q:Fortunee%2520Kayra-Stuart%252C%2520Ph.D.%2520Licensed%2520Psychologist,ru_q:Fortunee%2520Kayra-Stuart%252C%2520Ph.D.%2520Licensed%2520Psychologist,trex_id:qqLXAe). She worked with out daughter for 18 months. There were sessions that included all four of us so Dr. Stuart could help us be better parents (is what she’d tell my daughter). She’d also include her twin in sessions bi-weekly to observe their interactions. Dr. Stuart has tremendous experience working with children. Dr. Stuart also works for the courts for all manner of child related court custody, etc. cases. My daughter eventually overcame her separation anxiety and evolved into a confident and secure child. This outcome exceeded our expectations. My girls are now 20YO full time college students and thriving. I’m so grateful for Dr. Stuart’s extensive experience, knowledge and wisdom. She’s a gem! Good luck and be hopeful for a positive outcome. 

Sounds like she could be trying to get attention because you now have a baby. She might need some special targeted big girl time with each parent doing things babies can't do.

I don’t have any answers to this because I have found myself in the same boat lately. I am really hoping it’s a phase...? Sorry not to have any advice but if you want to chat via phone, Zoom or text and vent about our ridiculous 4-year-olds with no judgement, let me know!

For us, the evidence-based Kazdin method, and the book "Parenting the Defiant Child", really worked. In a nutshell: define for your kid, in great specificity, what constitutes a tiny step forward, and praise like crazy when she accomplishes it. (E.g. "It's amazing that you picked out your shirt and put it on all by yourself - let me tell everyone and put on the happy music for a happy dance - I'm so proud").The Kazdin team got kicked out of their offices because they were praising kids so loudly it disturbed the other therapists. 

I feel your pain. My son went through the whiniest period when he was younger and I thought I was going to lose my mind. Here's 3 things that helped:

1) Know that every child goes through a difficult period. An older person told me that nobody escapes the Terrible Twos. If you don't have them at 2, then you have them at 3, and if not, then at 4.  No parent is exempt from this difficult period, but there are things you can do to make it better. 

2) Before you can correct your child's behavior, you need to meet her needs. Your child is signaling to you that her needs are not met. You didn't elaborate, but reading between the lines, it sounds like you just had a new baby, you moved houses (to your parents), you took your daughter out of her regular preschool, and like everyone else, you are reeling in the midst of a pandemic. Your daughter is very stressed, and what stresses children out more than anything is the feeling that their parents are emotional unavailable. Children have a radar that picks up whenever their parent is emotionally withdrawing (from anger, from annoyance, from being busy), and it FREAKS them out. I have seen it so many times it's impossible to miss: the whiniest children are the ones whose parents want them out of their hair. I know it's hard, but you must must must hide your annoyance from your child. You need to give her some one-on-one time, be emotionally and mentally present. You need to hug and kiss her. When she shrieks that she doesn't want to be alone, you need to cuddle her and reassure her that she's never alone, you will always be there for her. For me, this was a lightbulb moment. When my then 2-3 year old dissolved into whines and tears, instead of scolding him or giving him the angry silent treatment (which made things infinitely worse), I sat down and hugged him. Which brings me to my third point.... 

3) Your child has unmet needs but she's asking for them in the wrong way. So once you have somewhat met her basic emotional needs, you need to correct the way she asks for attention. For me, after I hugged my son and reassured him, I told him that his behavior was unacceptable. If he was upset he could use his words and come ask for a hug, but after the hug, if he continued to tantrum, he was going to be sent to time out. After that, it was just a matter of being super consistent. If he was upset, I reminded him to use his words and gave him a hug if he asked for a hug. If he whined for something, I wouldn't give it to him or pretended not to hear (without appearing to give him the cold shoulder--yes it's hard), until the minute he asked for it in his normal voice, then I immediately gave it to him. If he threw a massive tantrum he was counted to 3 and sent to time out. The main thing is not to cave in and reward the negative behavior--don't reward your daughter while she's whining, otherwise she knows that if she whines a lot, she will eventually wear you down and get what she wants. By this I mean physical things (like screen time, or a snack). I hope she won't have to whine for attention anymore after you have focused on giving her more loving attention.

My son is now 9 and is a joy to be around. It does get better. Good luck!

I am no expert at all, but when reading your words it sounds to me like your daughter desperately wants to connect with you at a deep level. I can imagine that the changes with Covid on top of a new sibling could make her feel quite disoriented and in need of knowing her mommy loves her and will be there to help keep her safe in this changing world.

That said, I also have immense empathy for you! Whining is a killer.

Though some of the suggestions might seem beyond what you can do right now, new baby and all, I highly recommend the book Joyful Toddlers by Faith Collins. My son is younger than your daughter (and tends to do more high-pitched screaming than whining) but this book has helped us so much – not all of it immediate, but with consistency the changes in both my son and myself and my husband have been profound, almost like magic.

Since you probably don't have time to read, it is available on Audible (though a slightly "scripted" reader I find easier to listen to at 1.2x speed). 

Wishing you and your family the best, and looking forward to reading what others advise.

I am so sorry for your struggle. All I can say is that we’re in it together- I don’t have any friends who have a kid with the same cluster of issues, but reading your post feels very familiar. What makes my daughter so baffling is how objectively wonderful she is when she is in between moments of just intense screaming, whining, tantrum throwing. But the amount of energy I spend avoiding her or being irritated or angry...it’s just awful and exhausting. I did have success feeling  comforted by posting to a parenting blog and having parents with older kids say that they’d been through something similar when their kid was a preschooler, “and now she’s a lovely teenager” etc. I cling to the hope that I won’t always dislike my child. My girl is also a big sister - that’s got to be key, right? Best wishes to you, and to all of us.

Wow, I’m really sorry your family is going through such a hard time. How old is she? Have you had her assessed for ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, or anything like that? Sounds like you all could use professional help, at least for you to be able to figure out how to approach caring for her with compassion. Good luck. 

I'm sorry I forgot to mention, she's 4 years and 2 months old!