There are very few noises in the world that are less irksome than a child’s whine. Most parents would rather listen to an orchestra of soup slurping and car alarms than hear their child whine while making a request. But where did this cacophonous half-talk-half-cry speak come from? And why do toddlers love to communicate in this manner? Turns out, they have some pretty good reasons!
Reasons Toddlers Whine
Whining is a survival skill.
Notice that her whine will often make an appearance when she’s tired, hungry, thirsty, or overwhelmed. When she was a baby, she would cry when she needed comfort or resources. Now, whining is utilized in the same way. She’ll often use her whiney voice because she doesn’t have the energy to be a big girl at that moment and she really needs something. If you think about it, it’s actually a pretty smart maneuver! Because adults dislike the sound of whining, a toddler will normally get an immediate reaction if she whines. Which brings us to point #2.
Whining is often reinforced.
Let’s face it, whining gets us what we want! Even adults whine every now and then to get what they want. Research shows us that we are particularly sensitive to high-pitched, ups and downs in speak (aka whining). Most will describe whining as “disruptive” and “disturbing”. When a child whines, more than likely, a parent or caregiver will stop what they’re doing and direct their attention to the whiner.
Whining is used to test boundaries.
A third reason why toddlers whine is to test their boundaries. You might notice that your toddler isn’t tired, just had a snack, and seems to be in perfectly good shape to use her big girl voice, then BAM! The whine hits you when you least expect it. She understands that when she reaches for that baby voice, she’s probably going to get what she wants. She’s exercising her right to have some power around the house and she’s pretty sure she can obtain it with the art of the whine.
Great Reasons! How Do We Stop It?
So now we know that toddlers aren’t whining with the sole purpose of driving us crazy and they actually have some solid reasons for it. But how do we get them to stop? The key is to consider where the whine is coming from and then react in an appropriate way.
There are two main paths to take when a toddler whines: (1) breathe deep, deal with the whining, and provide whatever it is that she needs such as resources, comfort, or support. And (2) stop the whine dead in its tracks and politely ask her to repeat herself in her big girl voice.
Here are some situations that help you choose a path:
When to breathe deeply and provide resources, comfort, and support:
- She’s exhausted, hungry, tired, thirsty, or completely overwhelmed
- She needs some extra positivity
- She needs to connect with you
- She needs to express an emotion such as sadness, disappointment, or anger
- She’s stressed about what’s happening in her environment (e.g. negativity or conflicts in the home or a change in routine that’s making her feel insecure.)
When to politely ask her to use her big girl voice:
- She has the energy to be a big girl
- She’s doesn’t need resources such as food, milk, or comfort
- She’s begging for something she doesn’t necessarily need at the moment (e.g. she wants a toy, and extra cookie, or to stay up past her bedtime.)
- She’s testing boundaries
Remember that when you find yourself these situations that call for her big girl voice, it’s important to be consistent! If you know that she’s capable of communicating in a better way, it’s certainly okay to ask her to do so. Sooner or later, she’ll notice that her whining is losing its magic and you’ll hear her big girl voice more and more often.