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The Real Reason Kids Whine, Pester and Complain (and how to stop it)

Inside: Learn why kids engage in frustrating behaviors such as whining, pestering, and complaining and how to handle it most effectively. 

Shear terror comes over me when I realize I have no other choice but to bring all 3 of my small kids along to the grocery store.

‘Let’s see…there’s got to be another time I can go on my own… is there any way I can go on my way home from work…maybe I could get up early tomorrow morning….or we could just eat cereal all week….”

But all busy families know the terrifying voyage to the grocery store with littles is oftentimes unavoidable.

So why is a trip to the grocery store with young children so stressful? And what’s the reason kids whine, pester and complain so much there?

child stop whining

With some basic knowledge of child development and how our brains function under stress, it becomes easier to see why a trip to the grocery store (or any store for that matter) so often ends up with the final destination of meltdown city.

First, due to long waits and shiny products galore, grocery stores are the perfect breeding ground for three of the most irritating child behaviors; whining, pestering and complaining.

Secondly, these things have the potential to trigger you emotionally even more at the grocery store because your calm rational brain space is already being utilized to focus on the task at hand- to get all the things to feed all the people (man I hate grocery shopping! but I digress…).

“Tomato sauce, noodles, oh shoot I forgot the basil”…and then bam! you’re bombarded with high pitched whines and the 27th request for a new toy car.

And just that quickly- your brain goes from focused to emotionally triggered.

But the real question is, why do kids resort to whining, pestering and complaining in any situation, and what for the love of all things can you do about it?

The reason kids whine, pester and complain

There are a few reasons kids whine, aka change the tone, pitch, and volume of their voice until it sounds more like nails on a chalkboard than our own sweet child.

It’s important to note that these behaviors happen very quickly, and without a conscious decision on your child’s part, because just like you don’t strive to be annoying, neither does your child.

the reason kids whine

They will, however, strive to get their needs met in the moment, and unfortunately, whining, pestering and complaining are usually pretty effective ways to meet one of the following needs:

1.Validation (to be seen heard and valued)

2.Connection (often viewed as attention seeking)

3. Emotion regulation (they need help to stay calm)

Validation. Every human has an innate need to be recognized and appreciated and this includes having their thoughts, feelings and desires heard and recognized by trusted adults.

Connection. Your child needs your warm, consistent attention and when they don’t get enough, their subconscious will prompt them to get it in whatever way is easiest, after all, negative connection/attention is better than none.

Emotion Regulation. Your child’s emotion center is underdeveloped and in a stressful situation, they’ll still heavily rely on caregivers to help them regulate their emotions (what’s known as co-regulation). Whining may be a child’s final method of attempting to cope with overwhelm before they totally lose their cool and go into ‘the red’.

Related read >> 6 Guaranteed Ways to Boost Your Child’s Emotional Regulation Skills 

The 4-step approach to help your child stop whining

What definitely won’t work? Barking at your child to ‘calm down!’ or ‘knock it off!’. You’ll have to go a little deeper to get to the root of the issues.

Thankfully, there are a few tips that when practiced repeatedly, will become a fairly simple way to curb whining, pestering and complaining. Many of them also work as amazing calm down strategies for kids as well.

  1. Put on your goggles. Pause. Breathe, and center your attention onto your child (only then can you see under the surface). What need might your child be communicating?
  2. Listen and validate. Take a brief moment to listen to what your child is trying to express and let them know you hear them. “I can see you really want to go to the toy aisle today because you love looking at all the cool stuff”. Many times your child only wants to be heard and taken seriously and will then have a much easier time tolerating a “no” or “not today buddy”.
  3. Re-direct. For smaller kids, engaging them a replacement behavior such as a special helper job, singing a song or searching for a special item can help sustain their focus and keep them out of their emotion brain (aka meltdown zone).
  4. Follow through. If you calmly and matter of factly respond to what your child is communicating while following through with your limit (most of the time, you’re not a robot after all) they’ll get their needs met and learn to trust you, therefore decreasing the urge to whine and pester.

help a child stop whining

(If your child won’t let it go and is extremely persistent, intense and emotional you might be parenting a strong-willed child. )

Related read >> 10 Secrets of Effective Discipline with the strong willed child

how to stop whining

The reason kids whine is more complicated than you think

While it’s easy to simply assert that a child whines to get what they want, the truth is, it’s more complicated than that. When it comes to improving a child’s behavior looking under the surface is always the best way to create lasting change and it’s no different for the trifecta of doom; whining, pestering and complaining.

How do you keep your cool when you’re getting emotionally triggered by your child’s whining or pestering? Share your wisdom below!

More resources on parenting:

How to Discipline a Toddler- 7 Cardinal Rules to Live and Breathe By

The Strong-willed child: 8 Do’s and Don’ts for Parents to Live By

75 Calm Down Strategies for Kids That work! {Printable}

How to Get your Child to Listen Without Yelling

Are you raising a strong, spirited, persistent child?

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(and you’ll be signed up for a free email mini-series from a child therapist on taking the stress out of raising a strong-willed child).

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