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4 min read

Toddlers are often irrational and overly emotional little beings. They seem to fall apart over trivial things that don’t make sense to grown adults. If you have ever served your toddler a drink in the ‘wrong’ cup, you surely know what I mean.


Whining is the incessant sibling of the more explosive temper tantrums and for some little ones is a sure sign that a full-blown meltdown is coming. Whining is an off-putting behavior that many toddlers use to try and get their way. But putting a stop to whining is a little trickier than just telling them to cut it out.


Understanding why Whining Happens

Toddlers are little humans who have not yet mastered their emotions. In their world, whatever the complaint is - is important to them. At this age, they have only recently learned that they get to have choices and preferences.


One of the first choices that many toddlers make for themselves is choosing a favorite color. When you give them a drink and they have six cups in the cabinet, but only one is their favorite color -- it is natural that they feel slighted because they did not receive the cup in the color that they wanted.


As an adult, such minor things seem ridiculous. Most of us have learned that the physical color of a drink cup does not affect how the drink tastes. But from your toddler's perspective -- they have not learned that. To them, they are simply exercising their right to make independent choices.


When addressing behavior issues related to whining, start with an understanding that your perspective on the situation is not the same as your toddler's perspective. That is not to say that you should always let them have their way, but this understanding will help you respond in a more gentle way.


Look for the Cause of the Meltdown

Sometimes the cause of the whining is obvious, sometimes the toddler will tell you directly what he or she is wanting. Other times, it will be much less obvious., The thing to remember here is that when your toddler is whining, he or she is trying to communicate something to you.


Underdeveloped communication skills often keep your toddler from clearly communicating what he or she needs. Instead of saying, I am still hungry five minutes after eating breakfast - he or she may begin to whine about wanting a snack.


Or, your toddler might actually be thirsty. Sometimes thirst presents itself as a feeling of hunger. If your toddler frequently asks for snacks before or after mealtime, try giving them a drink instead. Explain to your toddler that they might be thirsty and you want them to try a drink first.


Meet their Need for Connection

One of the most common reasons that a whiny toddler engages in this behavior is because they feel that their need for social-emotional connection is not being met. Whether it is a parent that they crave more attention from, a sibling, or a playdate companion, whining is often an attempt to communicate displeasure.


Of course, a toddler will not be able to communicate that he or she needs more attention. Instead, your toddler's pleas for attention will come in more unpleasant ways like behaving poorly, whining, and throwing temper tantrums.


Check yourself and make sure that you are spending enough time with your toddler in meaningful one-on-one ways. In the moment, try refraining from yelling and offer a softer approach -- simply giving thirty seconds of your attention to your toddler.


You can try fighting it out in a battle of wills style, but most often stopping to give a minute of your time to your toddler will quickly resolve the situation.


Make Sure Basic Needs are Met

A whining toddler is not much different than a crying newborn. To figure out what is causing the behavior, go through the checklist of basic needs, and make sure there are not any gaps.


Is your child eating healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks?Sometimes whiny behavior is associated with unbalanced blood sugars or actual hunger. If you have been in a habit of grabbing whatever without much thought into meal planning, it is very possible that your toddler's nutritional needs are not being met.


Is your child getting enough sleep? The amount of sleep required, as well as naps, varies depending on age, development, and individual. If you are not currently practicing a structured schedule with a set bedtime and specific naptime requirements, consider implementing a routine. Adequate rest or even quiet time to unplug from stimulation can stop whining behaviors.


Is your child getting enough play and stimulation? Many school-aged children have trouble sitting in classrooms due to excess energy. The same is true for your toddler. They need plenty of playtimes to burn energy, interact with the world on their terms, and explore. If your schedule currently does not allow for enough playtime, your toddlers whining could be trying to tell you that they are bored and their curious needs are not being met.


Is your routine really working for your child? As adults, we often forget that children do not like to always be busy and on the go. Toddlers especially like to explore the world at their own pace. Of course, there will be times when your toddler needs to adjust to your schedule, but there should also be plenty of times where you are not expecting your toddler to be busy. Sometimes whining in toddlers is simply the result of overstimulation so you can try slowing things down and see if it resolves the whining behavior.


The Takeaway on Stopping Whining

The most common reaction to a whining toddler is harsh discipline. Some parents yell, some use timeouts, and others simply use a firm ‘No!’ In the rare case that your toddler has learned to use whining to manipulate you or the situation, then that might be appropriate. But - more than likely the whining is just your toddler trying to communicate to you that they have a need that is not being met. Look for that need and make the adjustment to meet it and the whining should stop.