Saturday, June 6


Totally lost my days and Thursday slipped through my fingers, sorry for skipping Thankful Anyway Thursday!

Anyway, whiiiiiiiniiiing...... Man, doesn't it go through a person!

So after our few days of whining last week, I took some time, inbetween the whining and naps, to ponder what it's all about.

Now, as usual for me, I haven't read anything on this yet, to give my intuition a chance. So if you feel my thinking is skewed or you have your own insights, by all means jump in on this.

My first question was, what is whining?

Well, it seems obvious that it's a form of expression, just as crying, screaming and tantrums are ways for children to express themselves.

So I separated these. Briefly....

Crying is the first expression. Nature has built that one in for babies to get results. In older children, crying is sadness and upset.

Tantrums are frustration, anger (based in a fear).

Both are expressing a specific emotion stemming from an immediate need.

Whining isn't and doesn't. It seems that whining is somewhere inbetween crying and tantrums. The child isn't exactly sad and isn't quite angry. And the need isn't so immediate.

Whining in words might sound like this:

'I sort of/kind of feel anxious/bored/floundering/a bit sleepy/slightly 'off'/annoyed/impatient/combination but I'm not entirely sure how I feel either'


'I sort of/kind of want boob/food/toy/entertainment/cuddles/carry/something but I'm not entirely sure either'

As adults we all have off days. Sometimes even we can't identify so easily why we are off. We might feel a little cranky, irritable, sluggish, apathetic, blue, and so on, for 'no apparent reason'. We either let these moods pass, or if they persist we spend a little time in self-reflection to get to the root of the matter.

Of course, children can't do that. And I think that we have a tendency to demand that children have clear and definable needs and wants when even adults don't always have that clarity.
What do you waaaaaant?! Tell me what you want! we whine back.

What if we changed that question? What if we asked a child under 3, What do you feeeeel!? Tell me what you feel!

*chuckle* Doesn't it make us sound ridiculous?

I also think that whining has possibly the strongest potential to spiral down into a big relationship mess. The parent keeps asking and desperately trying to meet the need, and the child feeling the parent's floundering and stress whines even more.
And if we flounder and fluster around the child, doesn't the child also begin to believe that there's the possibility of a solution? They wait for us to find that solution. So more whining makes the parent search harder and as the parent searches harder but doesn't find a solution the child whines more to help out. Very kind of them really.

So if whining is a sorta-kinda expression, then expecting a clear response to what do you want is misguided. And expecting a clear response to what do you feel is nuts. No?

Why do we ask what do you want anyway?

a) to meet the child's needs
b) to stop the whining

For the first reason, I've considered that already. The want/need is not specific. So the solution can't be specific.

For the second reason, oh boy, we need it to stop for our sanity's sake. But with a young child, we can't explain and discuss yet. I can't say to the Wildflower (13.5 mths old) - sweetie, that voice makes it difficult for mama to hear you, use your normal voice please.
With older children, we can start to direct whining that indicates something specific for the moment, like whining for their juice.

So yes, I can try to meet her needs, and I might succeed to varying degrees. But if the need is not specific, then it's impossble to meet it!

Personally, I think her recent whining has been a combination of tiredness, but not tired enough for a nap, and earliest teething symptoms, so not actually coming through yet.

So how am I dealing with it? Here's what I've got so far.

1) For her: Give her words.

The more words and signs she has for communicating the more whining is reduced.
She whined to be picked up this last week and I told her 'say up', and now, that's what she does. She's whined for almost everything else but hey, one less is one less!

2) For me: Disconnect from the whining

Because I can't meet all the needs, because I can't stop all the whining, then I have to find a way to cope with it. What helped was disconnecting.

This is a tricky one. I'm so focused on being there for her that I'm a little surprised I thought of it and did it.

Disconnect doesn't mean ignore the child. And it doesn't mean disconnect from the child either, that's why it's tricky.
It means accept that I don't and can't have a solution every time.
It means that she owns her whining.
It means understand that the whining is neither personal nor an indication of my parenting.
It means rather than allow the noise to encompass me, overwhelm me, ring through every fibre and cell of my body, recognise that it is a noise 'out there'.

Very similar to the allowing to cry theory, once all her basic needs are met, then I allow her to whine while remaining available if she needs me. For now, that's how she's expressing her undefinable emotions. She has a right to them all.

3) For us: be a place of calm and certainty

Instead of flustering around her, I've let go that I can find a solution. So now I am there for her in my presence. I am uncertain of what she wants, but I am certain that I love her and that I am okay with her undefinable emotions.

Afterall, she is uncertain. Surely I'm not helping by flaffing around being uncertain too?!

This had the effect of shortening her whining! She continued whining throughut the day, but when I sat on the floor and hugged her and picked her up as she requested it, but didn't offer her anything else, she had her whine and then diverted her own attention.

You know what it felt like? Like she was thinking - right, ok, who the heck knows why I feel off, but it's ok, mama thinks it's ok, let's see what that toy does for a bit.

When do children need us to be the most strong and certain?

When they are upset (crying), when they are fearful (tantrums), and when they are uncertain (whining).


Warning: take me too seriously at your own risk.

"There are no facts, only interpretations."



  1. Great post you have here Mon. Really great! Thank you. You are so right, it's about being present. You may not know what the problem is, but being present is all you can do.
    My intuition tells me your intuition here is on the mark :P

    Here's a def from on what whining is.

    –verb (used without object) utter a low, usually nasal, complaining cry or sound, as from uneasiness, discontent, peevishness, etc.: The puppies were whining from hunger. snivel or complain in a peevish, self-pitying way: He is always whining about his problems.
    –verb (used with object) utter with or as if with a whine: I whined my litany of complaints.
    4.a whining utterance, sound, or tone.
    5.a feeble, peevish complaint.

    I deal with whine behaviour like this (from less common to most common):
    Ignoring, I know, shock horror, but when I feel like whining back or saying I don't like it, it's utterly futile (which you have talked about so well here) and I think it's better for them not to be involved with me if I'm in the mood of wanting to whine back. I never ignore them for long periods of time of course, just enough for me to calm down, for their sake. Sometimes it really is like the whining starts when I'm around. Definitely a form of attracting my attention I do believe, and I don't mean to say this in a way that is not acknowledging the valid reasons as to why they would want my undivided attention. Because I currently find being present a challenge.

    Asking "what do you need", which of course is ridiculous for obvious reasons. Sometimes it works though, especially with the 4 year old and sometimes the 2 year old, always with the 33 year old. Have to be tuned in to the type of whine I suppose for this question to be useful.

    Ideal and ultimate response:
    Meeting the whiney with love. Cuddles, the best medicine. Like it fills up their emotional tank and then they're able to carry on. This always works best. Always. Sometimes of course the whinee doesn't want to be loved, just wants to whine in which case I let it and continue with what I'm doing rather than getting involved and then they're done and seem to get on with it too.
    Read about this in a book by Naomi Aldort, Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves, it was the best piece of info I got out of the book. You have talked about this too. So important and what great heart advice to put out there.

  2. I don't recall what we did with whining when our kids were babies, but now that they are 5 and 6, I am very upfront with them: I say, "You will not get what you are asking for if you whine. Please use a normal voice." They immediately switch to a normal voice about 95% of the time, and then I evaluate their request. They know I will listen to them.

    For my kids, whining is almost always rooted in the fear of not being listened to or not getting what they want. I haven't had success in ignoring it, because they just whine louder and longer! So I redirect them by making them aware that they are whining and requiring them to use normal voices.

    It's a bit stern-sounding when I write it out like that, but really I believe I am very patient and kind yet firm with them in these situations.

    Recently my 5 yo daughter has had some "tantrums" that often start with whining. In those cases I try to meet her with extra patience and love, hugs, etc. Then it's not about making a request but rather expressing a less conscious need (usually food or sleep).

  3. Mon, as usual, I think you have nailed it, at least in the toddler age range. For myself, I did have to face at one point that I was contributing to my sons whining phase earlier this year - he was older, around 2 1/4 - by not responding at times when his needs were clear, so that was a different situation. I realized sometimes that with three kids I was just tuning out too much, so I had basically trained him to whine, because that always got my attention and moved his needs to the top of the queue (in fact, whining is the one thing that can drive me nuts.) He still has a tendency to whine more than the girls, but I can ask him to repeat it in a normal voice now and he can do it, and has started to correct it himself too, so that is helpful.
    The other thing my mother brought up when she was visiting around that time was that he really seemed to whine when he was hungry, but didn't always identify it as hunger. It really is like a low blood sugar thing or something - I give him a little fruit or cheese and he is fine. At first I resisted this unless he was explicitly asking for it because I didn't want to just shove food in his face as the solution to issues, but it so consistently improved his mood that I have started to think it is just the way his metabolism works (he's quite thin, so no weight issues.) My mother is just like that - eats small amounts every two hours - so that is why she noticed it. So that was the case of an actual need that he couldn't identify.

  4. I have found that with the toddler (22 months), the more words I give him to use about feelings or wants, the less whining he does. So from experience, I do think that helps the whining to dissapate.

    I also agree that there are days when the toddler, like me, is just feeling off or cranky. And thus the whining comes out a bit more. But I do for him what I do for me -- find something to lift our spirits -- a brisk walk, a trip to the park, tea and a cookie at our favorite coffee shop, playing in the pool. Activity goes a long way to ward off whining and so does adequete sleep and nutrition!
    Very interesting about disconnecting from whining. I will have to mull that part over, and respond later.

  5. this is another in the parenting realm that I don't feel qualified to comment on, having all that whining ahead of me. I'm inspired as ever, though, by your heartfelt dedication to being present, peeling back the layers, and actively sussing out what's really going on for you and for your daughter. it would be so easy to just whine about the whining. x

  6. I don't really have any 'thoughts' because my babe is still in my belly (8 days and counting), but I can say that as someone who is trying to learn from parents I connect with, this post is astounding to me. It is so grounded and sensical, it is so readable and affirming. Your girl is so lucky, and so is any newbie parent who gets a chance to read your writing. Wow! Totally impressed and feeling good. Thanks!

  7. I really like this post, it gives me much to think about and a new way to look at whining!!


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