How to naturally be calm when your child is whining

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Absolutely every parent finds out, sooner or later, what whining is, and not because they suddenly remember themselves whining as kids. It may seem like children are experts at whining, as they can do this often and for minutes on end. Keeping calm in those moments can be quite a challenge!

Why does my child whine?

Whining is important communication, not manipulation. Click To Tweet

It should not be ignored as it always has its reasons and holds messages like “I’m feeling helpless” or “I feel lonely”. However, I will dedicate a separate post to talk about the reasons why kids whine and what they actually need from their parents.

In this post, I will talk about how we, parents, can easily keep calm when our kids start to whine and still be calm even when the whining goes on for 5 or 10 minutes, however long it takes until we are able to assist them.

Why is whining so annoying?

Whining is “the making of a long, high-pitched cry or sound” [*]. And this sound can be really irritating from the moment it starts. That’s because it can trigger irrational feelings inside us, like feelings of resentment, exhaustion, painful memories from our own childhood, even anger.

A while ago my youngest was whining. She was anxious for the courier to deliver a toy she had longed for. She was going on and on about her being tired of waiting and asking “when is the courier coming?”.

I had answered her question, I had told her I don’t know, I had assured her the courier was to come. Nothing helped, so I knew the message she was transmitting was one of the following:

  • “I feel alone”
  • “I feel powerless”
  • “I don’t feel connected from you”

Even though I knew what she needed, I couldn’t provide it to her at that very moment.

The whining was continuing and I was getting more frustrated, wishing for a moment of peace to finish what I was doing in order to attend to her. My frustration was growing and I realized it was heading towards anger. And I remembered that whining can trigger irrational emotions.

I found myself thinking “Why?! Why does her whining frustrate me so much? What do I feel right now?”.

And that was my moment of calming down.

I realized something

I realized that, when she was whining, I was feeling the urge of emergency and in my own eyes, I was failing to solve it.

In my mind, I was feeling responsible for her happiness.

I was feeling like she was expecting something from me and I wasn’t able to provide it, so I was letting her down. I was failing.

Feelings of helpless were flooding, making me doubt that I was a good enough mom for her. Thoughts like “I know what to do and I am not doing it right this very minute? What kind of mother am I?!” were automatically going through my mind.

Let go of the pressure and guilt

And then it hit me: I was the only person in the whole world that was putting pressure on me!

My child was not judging me. She was safe, I had acknowledged that she had been heard and I was planning on connecting with her as soon as possible. She was communicating her needs, and this shouldn’t be a reason for me to get frustrated or angry. Communicating needs is healthy, I should learn from her in fact!

So I just had to let go of the pressure and guilt and accept that it’s not humanly possible to be available for your child every second of the day. I had to accept myself as being a human being that cannot do everything at the same time, one that is not perfect, but one that does her best.

Realizing that my child’s whining was not about me made me calm just like that. I was no longer feeling as if I was disappointing her as if she was expecting something from me that I couldn’t provide for her. I wasn’t taking it personally anymore – her whining wasn’t my fault!

I became able to see more clearly the whole situation. I could actually be calm, finish what I was doing without yelling at her, and then be with her, calm and supportive.

Asking myself “What do I feel when I hear her whining?” made the switch from me clenching my teeth, being all angry and fighting the urge to yell, to me being calm and able to listen to my daughter and understand her better.

Why does whining trigger feelings inside us?

If you grew up feeling that you were never good enough, that you were unlovable and always disappointing those around you or if you were always compared to those around you, whining can trigger those memories.

You might have a certain image in your mind of how you should be as a mom, and when you can’t be as you think you should, you once again feel not good enough or that you are disappointing your loved ones. And this was painful when you were a child, and is again painful now.

If you were punished as a child for whining, yelled at or even spanked, all these emotions can be triggered when your kids whine. In your mind, pain is associated with whining, and it again hurts. Or because you feel like “It’s not fair, I was punished when I whined, why? How come this child whines in my ears and is not punished? What did I do wrong, why was I punished?”.

If you felt misunderstood and not accepted for whom you were as a child, you mind find yourself thinking “He is just whining, why can’t he understand I am busy right now?”. You again feel misunderstood, and it’s painful.

Accept all these feelings and thoughts and don’t judge yourself for having them. They don’t make you a bad parent. They just mean you are a human being that was hurt as a child. Be kind to yourself and offer yourself the acceptance, the understating, and the empathy you deserve.

How to stay calm when my child is whining?

So as soon as the whining starts, ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?” and give the real answer, not the “oh, I am annoyed because I am in a hurry” one. This will help you in two ways:

  • it will change your focus from your child and this will quickly calm you down
  • it will help you get to know yourself better and even heal a bit

So it will go from “Oh, no, here we go again with the whining, I can’t stand it! Stop whining!” to “Oh, this whining is painful, I wonder why… is it because I was punished for whining, as a child? If so, what did I need as a child, instead of punishment? Acceptance? Understanding? Empathy? Can I offer this to myself now?”.

This is an interesting (and painful at times) process because you remember and understand things about yourself, and in time you learn and you heal. And soon, your child’s whining will no longer trigger anything, it will no longer be painful. It will just be. You will be naturally calm and able to attend to your child as soon as possible, be it in one second or ten minutes, in an understanding, supportive and emphatic way.


So next time your kids whine, to keep calm right from the start just:

  • remember that whining is the children’s way of communicating things about themselves
  • tell yourself “This whining is not about me and it says nothing about me”
  • focus on yourself, not on the whining, as this will calm you down – ask yourself “What feelings/memories does this whining trigger in me?”

You don’t have to do this every time, don’t put pressure on and don’t judge yourself when you don’t. Just try and take the above 3 steps every time you remember them. You might find it easier if you write them down or save this post. One day you will find yourself being naturally calm and not needing these three steps because you will have healed.

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  • Luke

    This was a lengthy and helpful report! I am sure it will be of benefit to those fortunate enough to read it 😉 I suppose one must also be reminded that children are somewhat different in regards their whining… some whine more than others, no? Life is complex. The environment at home and parenting (or lack thereof ) contributes so the frequency of these problems don’t you think? I’m sure you have seen cases first hand where the parent “has no clue” how to deal with a child and, through their utter incompetence, end up creating a real little monster with some serious problems 😀 Giving small children complex choices between foods or rewards is often seen to lead to disaster etc., Another curious thing that I see constantly is the complete lack of concern for a child’s proper rest or sleep! Small children under, say 4, running around after 11pm every night, outside with the parents coming home from restaurants or visiting, is now apparently commonplace and considered normal. Huh? Whatever happened to the extra requirement for sleep and rest to grow healthy? These are old fashioned ideas that no longer apply. Perhaps the human genome has changed lately and such tissue regenerative processes and neural development can progress during waking hours? I’m being facetious of course… 😉 Yup. Sure is amazing what one sees out there….

    • raluca

      Thank you, I also hope it will be of use to as many parents as possible 😉 Life is indeed complex, and a child’s life may seem easier from adults’ perspective, but it’s quite complex as well, so many things to learn, to discover, to understand, to manage! I truly believe child psychology should be studied in school, as it helps not only parents to raise their kids but any adult to understand himself better. As for sleep, even though in the UK bedtime is around 7.30pm for kids, I know what you mean – though from experience, when kids have a late nap (parents refer to it as “danger nap”), bedtime can go waaaay beyond 7.30pm :))

  • Anissa | Mama Goes Beyond

    I always feel like I need a doctorate in psychology in order to be a parent—not only to understand where my kids are coming from, but to understand my reactions to them. I will definitely be keeping your three steps in mind when my kids whine again- -which should be in about three minutes. 😂 Thanks so much for this thoughtful and helpful post!

    • raluca

      Thank you for your comment, I do know what you mean! I’ve learned so much about myself since becoming a parent, and I had to read child psychology books to understand my kids better. Parenthood is an amazing journey, isn’t it? 😉

  • Sarah

    My son can’t even talk yet, and he whines! It is usually for something that he knows he can’t have! Haha! It is hard to keep calm sometimes! In my case, I don’t view it as an emergency, but I definitely feel my blood pressure rising! 🙂

  • Faye

    I’m glad you had an epiphany, but my goodness this article just made me angrier. Because everything I can find presents this as such a simple solution, but my kid whining makes me want to tear my house down piece by piece with my bare hands. And as much as you might tell us to say “this whining isn’t about me”, me needing to do that makes it about me. Then after I’ve done my deep breaths and positive self talk, and I still feel like a raging bull, it becomes my fault. You were “magically” calm with these tactics, so the issue must be me. I had a great childhood, there’s no trauma there that needs to be healed. But that’s all anyone will talk about.

    • Raluca

      I hear you, Faye, and I’m glad you shared your feelings and thoughts here. And I agree with you, these kind of ‘quick fixes’ or ‘easy solutions’ can stir strong feelings inside of us, because we might feel like they should work, and if they don’t, there’s something wrong with us, or we’re doing it wrong. And I am sorry this article gave this impression. The anger or rage we sometimes feel after the breathing and the self-talk is valid and it might be just a signal that there is something deeper that might be worth looking into with the right support, not a signal that there’s something wrong with us or that it’s our fault.
      I’m wondering if tapping into a bit of playfulness in the moment would be more helpful? 😉

  • Suzette

    This was a wonderful article! Thank you. I plan to implement these tips. My kiddo just turned 5 and I read that whining can last till age 6-7. My question though is do you have any tips or thoughts for those who are asd and non-verbal? I hate to think he’s going to whine forever because that’s a rabbit hole.

    • Raluca

      Thank you, Suzette, I’m so glad these steps might be of help! And so glad you reached out for support and ideas when it comes to whining. As for tips and thoughts on how to support children when they whine, one way would be to go in a playful direction, depending on the situation – like pretending that ‘oh, no, here are these whiny bugs again, where are they? I have to look everywhere and I’ll eat them all!’ while playfully pretending to look over the child’s body (without tickling), in search of these ‘bugs’, and gobbling them up when you ‘find’ them. This might or might not work, depending on the child and the situation. I will try to collect more information on the topic, for a future material – but I do not have experience with ASD and non-verbal, though I could direct you to other Parenting Coaches who do – feel free to contact me for info.

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