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When Your 3 or 4 year old whines constantly (And How To Help Them Talk Nicely Instead)

One of the most frustrating stages for me has been learning how to stop a 3 or 4 year old from whining contantly. I’m talking about that ear piercing tone toddlers and little kids use to display their displeasure with anything and everything.

You know what I’m talking about…that whiny voice that takes the place of talking to get what they want. The voice that makes you wonder if you’ve spoiled them or if they just need a nap.

“I want the blue plate not the orange one!” Or, “I want a snaaack.”

It seems like right after you get your toddler to stop hitting, next up comes potty training, and sometime after that your sweet kid tries out their whiny voice. So feel a little justified if you are mentally exhausted, ok?!

I’ve had to deal with this for 3 kids starting around ages 3, and we will go through it again with our 4th in a couple years. It’s right up there with screaming and scratching nails on a chalkboard for me. It can just make days at home really, really long.

It’s exhausting and I can’t stand it. If that’s you too, keep reading to see how we’ve handled it.

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All parents deal with whining toddlers…it’s part of growing up

Keep in mind there’s not ONE way to parent a whiny toddler. There’s so many things you could try…but ultimately your kids have to see they don’t get to keep on whining…it’s NOT an option.

Also, you’re not a bad parent because your kids whine! We ALL have whiny kids at times, and whiny stages.

Sometimes we just have tired kids that whine, while other kids are SMART and realize if their whining works. Because we’ll give them just about anything to make it stop. I’ve been guilty of this plenty, have you?!

You have to do what feels right to you, but here’s how we’ve done it with my 3 if you need ideas.

A toddler climbing up onto a bunk bed

Focus on ONE habit to change…in this case whining

When my strong willed child was around age 3, the whining was SO bad. O my goodness.

We did preschool at home so we were together all day and there was no escape. I had to put it to an end for my sanity and her character development.

It became a bad habit and we had to work on that one thing for a really long time. It was almost like we had to retrain her how to talk in an acceptable way.

It was…work… every single day. I couldn’t focus on that AND a bunch of other behavioral things. It would have been constant criticism if so.

We can really work on 1-2 things at a time here, and this was it for a while.

Tell them they can’t use that voice

This sounds obvious…but when your toddler (or older kid) starts that sing song whiny voice to talk to you, tell them calmly they can’t use that voice.

You can say, “That’s a whiny voice, use your regular voice.” Or, “I don’t like that whiny voice, ask again nicely.” Something along those lines.

I can also remember saying, “I can’t help you when you use that voice. Say it like this instead.

Show them what their whiny voice sounds like, and then repeat how you want them to sound

I’ve found that sometimes my kids have to be told exactly what I mean when I say the word “whine.” One of my kids even said he didn’t know what he was supposed to stop doing!

I found that if you have an older child that is slipping back into a whiny voice, it’s very helpful to give them an example of what their voice sounds like and what you’d like it to sound like.

For example: “Your voice sound like this: (Repeat what they said). I want you to say it like this: (Say it in a normal tone).”

I did this with one of my kids and she looked at me like, “That sounds weird”. Ya, a grownup whining sounds awful. And so does a 4 year old.

When your toddler is whining all the time for everything

Sometimes I wonder how I let the whining get so out of hand with one of my kids.

When she was beginning to try her hand at talking this way, I was just BUSY. I had 3 kids under 4 at the time and she was assertive and demanding by age 2. More so by age 3.

I think I just let it slip so long that we had to backtrack more for her than when my other kids have gone through this stage.

She simply taught herself to talk this way because it worked, and it became a habit without much thought. I’ve met other kids that use a whiny tone with their moms too. Good news for us…we can actually help retrain the way they talk with some effort on our part.

Here’s how

Don’t give them anything they want when they use a whiny voice

Natural consequences are SO awesome sometimes. With whining, I’ve learned to withhold any request unless it’s asked for in a polite, normal tone of voice.

They are so smart and figure out quickly what works! Sadly, it works the other way too where they can quickly regress if they find that works on a certain day.

I still have to ask my 4 year old to try again by saying it exactly how I want him to repeat me.

When he says, “I don’t want my cucumber sliced that way…I want little ones!” I look at him and say, “Can I have little ones please?” (insert nice tone) and he repeats it almost exactly in order to get what he wants.

When I do this, he knows it’s a reminder to try again and that he won’t get what he want’s unless he’s polite.

Watch for shows with whiny voiced characters

Our first exposure to whining came when I innocently let my 1st watch Caiou. My son LOVED that show. But, Caiou actually has a super whiny voice and once we pieced that together…bye bye Caiou.

It helped a ton!

I didn’t realize I was letting in an influence that was making the rest of my day so much worse.

This goes for A LOT of other shows we’ve watched aimed at toddlers and preschoolers.

A toddler watching a show on an iPad in a chair.

Next time you put cartoons on…just ask yourself if the voices sound “whiny”.

You’ll be kinda sad to see a lot of them do, and I’m convinced our kids learn how to talk from these shows. The show Pinkalicious was another very whiny pitched show.

We’ve also had to take a few longer screen breaks to reset which is always helpful it seems. I love the break from parenting when the T.V’s on…but every now and then I see it’s effect on behavior and have to back up.

They may learn the hard way

Last summer at the pool, my 4 year old didn’t want to wear his floaty. Um, sorry sweet boy. When mama’s got my hands full with a baby at the pool, you’ll be in a floaty or won’t swim.

He whined and whined and whined about that. It was painful to sit next to.

I couldn’t give him the power to take away my big kid’s pool time, so I told him he could swim with his floaty by me or sit by the chairs with me and the baby.

But whining that he didn’t want to wouldn’t change my decision.

He didn’t swim that day.

toddler wearing a floatation device at the pool

Here’s how we’ve managed taking toddlers to the pool if you’re wondering.

Hunger increases whining

Ever feel like whines get extra bad around a certain time, like lunch?

Hungry kids can get really whiny and it’s a bad cycle because it’s easy to toss a snack their way to stop it. That reinforces to them that whining will get you that snack. I know, because I’ve been on this wheel several times with each kid.

It really helps to take the extra time at meals or before food to expect and require politeness. Have them repeat you in a kind voice.

Instead of letting my kids tell me they want x, y, or z…I try to have them ask IF they can please have x, y, or z. Here’s a few healthy snacks you can keep around for a quick snack when you thing they may be whining because they are “hangry”. Hungry/angry 🙂

Are they tired?

A tired toddler is a sad situation, and prime time for whines. I excuse a lot when I know it’s nap time, or when nap time has been skipped.

If your child is still whining after naps, then the “they’re just tired” excuse is gone.

Need some nap time help? Check out how we napped 3 kids at the same time and also how we’ve napped all our kids past age 4.

They may be asking for attention by whining

In the moment of whines a hug might not be what they want, and might even seem to make them grumpier. But I notice my kids get whiny when they want more attention.

It’s not the only reason they whine, but one.

Sometimes I don’t have the time or resources to plan an outing with just one kid, but here’s a few ways we squeeze in one on one time with them at home without needing a baby sitter.

Try taking them outside

When we’ve been in a bad mood, or full of whines, I’ve found getting everyone to go outside changes the mood. Maybe it’s distraction, or fresh air, I don’t know.

But when desperate, try this! You may have to go sit outside in your yard…but it’ll be worth it if your ears get a break.

A 3 and 5 year old outside next to a tree with fall leaves on the ground.

Whining is a habit, and it may take some time to change

Just as your kid didn’t’ start whining ALL the time overnight…it may not end right away. You’ll have to keep interrupting them every time they use that voice.

They may not even realize they’re doing it. It’s just a default setting to get what they want. And maybe even they’ve taught themselves to automatically use a sing song voice to talk, not being rude or naughty at all.

They just need lots of reminders.

I feel like I can usually see a big improvement within a week, and that when we work on this specifically things are much better within a month.

Whines can get worse around moms

Ask my husband, or your husband, or your friend’s husband and tell me they don’t all seem to agree that toddlers can be whinier around their moms. Why?!

I don’t know…but it’s a real thing here! Maybe I’m alone here, but I doubt it.

Perhaps it’s because I’m my kids comfort zone. Or because I’m the one that fed them as babies and took care of ALL their needs during the day when my husband was at work.

But just because you are the one they whine around, you can also be the one to teach their growing little bodies self control. Not whining is a BIG part of learning self control at any age!

Be gentle on yourself, sometimes kids are just being kids

You got this mama! Remember habits take time to form, but consistency is your best friend. Kids will be kids, and they’ll press our buttons. But with love, we can hopefully show them the boundaries they are asking for.

Hannah

Wednesday 16th of February 2022

Liz, this is so helpful! Now that our oldest is 3 we are really struggling with the whining! Do you have any advice on what to do when the whining is after you have said "no" to something they want? I think that is the bigger issue with us. He might ask for something politely but then when he doesn't get the answer he wants he responds with loooooots of whining. But since we aren't giving him what he wants anyway we can't use that as a natural consequence, know what I mean? Thanks!

Liz

Thursday 17th of February 2022

Continue to be consistent, that will really help. When he asks you for the Goldfish and you say no and he follows you around and whines a bunch about that, you can tell him he needs to stop whining and talk in a normal voice. Kids have to learn your no means no. Then, if he continues to whine right after and not show any sign of trying to obey and have self control, then you may have to discipline him for the whining. Ug. We usually say, "I asked you to stop using that whine voice. If you can't obey, I'm going to have to get you in trouble for whining. Can you change your voice so I don't have to do that please?" That's one tool we use, good luck!