The Most Annoying Sound in the World


I have 2 daughters. One is 19, the other is 11. They are different as night and day. My oldest is a fiery personality. She was a yeller, a stomper and a door slammer when she was a child. My youngest.. she’s more of a sulker, a whiner. My oldest came as more of a behavior challenge. After all, an in-your-face, loud child who is quick to talk back and will stomp back to her room and slam the door seems, at face value, to be naughtier. The thing about her though, is that she was also very quick to get over things. She would get mad, then get over it. Quick to come out of time out and give hugs and apologize. We’d all move on. The younger one never talks back the way her older sister did, she doesn’t slam doors. But she would sulk for HOURS. Half the day would go by and she’d still have a huge pout on her face, wouldn’t respond, didn’t want to come out of her room. And she start to get really whiny. You know whiny… the fingernails on a chalkboard sound. The sound that grates at your ears and peels back the layers of your brain one by one. The sound that could get secrets out of the hard-core spy if they were left alone in the room for an hour.

Do you remember the hilarious scene from Dumb & Dumber?

Lets talk first about why children whine. It seems like kids can whine for almost innumerable reasons. They whine because they’re hungry, because they’re tired. The whine when they want something they can’t have, they whine when they have something they don’t want. But it’s important to realize that different ages of children have different reasons why they do it.

Toddlers whine like babies cry. It happens when they are feeling out of control and overwhelmed, which is pretty much how toddlerhood is. They lack the ability to articulate their frustrations and needs and the natural default sound is whimpering, whining and crying. The biggest contributing factors are usually fatigue and hunger, which if whining doesn’t address, often a full break-down will ensue.

Like toddlers, preschoolers have a low threshold for frustration. Children at this age have brains that are developing rapidly in the areas of cognition and they are becoming more and more aware of their own wants and needs. They have very strong desires, but they also fully aware of the fact that they are still “little kids”, therefore there is an innate sense of not being in control in almost every situation in their lives. Older siblings and adults have all the power and that can be very frustrating. Plus, they’re going through a lot of changes on top of that – often new baby siblings, exciting yet stressful situations like starting preschool or moving out of their comfortable crib or co-sleeping arrangement into a big-kid bed. All of these changes make them susceptible to attention seeking behaviors. You know the old adage, even bad press is good press? This applies to attention as well. A child would rather have a parent yell, “WHAT!?” then not give them attention at all.

So how can we most appropriately respond to whining? We can start by addressing the issue. Many of us have taken the approach of blocking it out and ignoring the annoying pleas of our irrational children. But kids can whine all day long and easily outlast parents who are trying to tune them out. Often the longer you let them complain, the more determined they become. It’s very helpful to explain clearly how hard it is to listen to that. Don’t assume your child understands what whining is. It’s helpful to demonstrate. That will often bring a good laugh for you both. You also want to give your child several positive options and show them how to phrase things if they need your attention. Also helping them figure out why they are feeling how they are feeling. A 4 year old might be whining about a toy their sibling won’t share, but they might have a lower tolerance at the time because they are tired from not sleeping well last night or because they didn’t finish their breakfast. Helping children become present in the moment, and stop focusing on the object of their frustration, can help them begin to learn how to recognize and pay attention to their own emotions, an invaluable skill that will serve them well their entire lives.

Validating their feelings is very important. “I know you really want to have all 4 colors of cars, that would be fun to play with all of them, wouldn’t it? But then your brother wouldn’t have any at all and that would make him very sad, that would make you feel sad, wouldn’t it?” There you’ve validated their desire to have all the cars as well as helped them develop some empathy by relating why that wouldn’t be fair to the other child as well as giving a reason why you aren’t giving in to their request.

Relating to their feelings is very important. If your child is complaining while you are on the phone, its helpful to take a moment to acknowledge their frustrations. “I know you want mommy’s attention right now, and I want to give you all my attention. Sometimes it’s hard to have to wait for people. How about you draw a picture for a few minutes while I finish up my business and then we’ll do something very special together.”

Teaching your child how to use their “big-boy” or “big-girl” voice is important as well as helping them learn how to rephrase requests. Be prepared for, “Ok, well can I pleaaaaase have another cookie now?” with puppy dog eyes and a giant smile. When your child asks for something in a nice voice without whining, even when they have an unreasonable request, its important to reward that. “Oh what a nice way to ask! That makes mommy so happy! We have to wait because you already had a cookie, but that was such a good way to ask for something! What a big girl!” Strong positive reinforcement before a denial can be very effective.

The great thing about young children is they are still easily distracted. Coming up with silly responses can be a fun and effective way of dealing with whiners. Responding with a “What? I can’t hear your words through that whiny sound” or coming up with “whining gets whispers” rule where you will only whisper in response to whining. I read somewhere a mom tells her kiddos, ‘Go pour out your whine and fill your glass with real words!” There are lots of fun and silly ways to handle what would otherwise be very frustrating situations. One thing that I can always say is that having a strong sense of humor will change your life as a parent!

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