How Can I Get My Child to Stop Whining and Cooperate?

upset child“What can I do to get my child to stop whining?”

“How can I motivate my child to follow through without arguing?”

These are the types of questions I often hear from parents. As soon as a child starts whining, the parent becomes tense and wants to immediately silence what sounds like nails on a chalkboard. I get it. In addition, there is the added aggravation that while the whining is taking place, the child is not doing what he or she has been asked to do and/or is arguing with the parent.

I always begin by asking the question, “What purpose is the behavior serving? What is the payoff for the behavior?”

I don’t believe any behavior happens in a vacuum. I believe it is about getting a need met. While it may not be the most desirable way to get a need met, we as humans do what works. Children learn very quickly what behaviors work to get the outcome they are looking for.

Typically, when a child whines, it is because he or she wants attention, the behavior works (e.g., the parent eventually gives in), or the child wants to avoid an undesirable task such as homework, chores, or going to bed.

If the child is whining in order to get attention (to a child, negative attention is better than no attention), I believe an effective strategy is for the parent to calmly tell the child that when he or she whines, the child will not receive any attention from the parent. The key to this is that the parent must follow through and be consistent. In addition, the parent must “catch the child being good” (when the child truly deserves it). Eventually, the child will learn that the most effective way to get his or her attention needs met is by engaging in behaviors that result in positive attention from the parent. This will also enhance the child’s self-esteem, as the child will believe he or she deserves to get the positive attention and will have a sense of pride knowing it was earned.

If the motive for the whining is to get the parent to give in to what the child wants (it’s worked before, why not now?), again, the parent should calmly tell the child that the whining will be ignored and the parent’s decision remains. Again, the parent must follow through and be consistent. When trying to extinguish negative behavior using this technique, the parent should expect the negative behavior to escalate before it changes. The behavior has worked until now; therefore, the child will “up the ante,” so to speak, to see if the parent will eventually give in. Hang in there! It will be worth it! Then, the first time the child responds without whining, the parent needs to provide a lot of positive reinforcement, letting the child know how much it is appreciated that the child accepted the parent’s decision without whining.

The parent also needs to take the time (when the child is not whining) to discuss with the child the reason behind the parent’s decision. In the future and when appropriate, the parent should allow the child to be part of the decision making process. Children more often “buy in” if they believe they have a voice in the decision making process.

When a child uses whining to avoid doing a task and attempts to “stall” by whining and/or arguing, an effective strategy is for the parent to communicate to the child that “when” the child does what has been asked, “then” he or she will be able to engage in an activity the child finds rewarding, or “then” the child may have something he or she has asked for. The parent should then walk away and expect the child to follow through as opposed to watching to ensure the child follows through. In order for this technique to be effective, the “then you can …” must be something the child truly wants to do and/or have. Otherwise, the strategy loses its power and will not motivate the child to follow through.

The most effective way for a child to learn life lessons is through natural or logical consequences for his or her behavior. For example, if a parent is trying to get a child to football practice on time and the child is whining and arguing, the parent may become concerned that the child will be late for practice and “give in” to get the child to cooperate. Instead, I recommend that the parent avoid engaging with the child and allow the child to be late for practice. The child will then experience the natural consequence of having to engage the coach about why he or she was late.

The objective is for the parent to try and stay out of the power struggle with the child and for the child to become intrinsically motivated to take responsibility. The child then becomes empowered in knowing that by taking responsibility for choices, he or she has the best chance of creating the outcome he/she wants and that he/she can feel good about.

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  • Morgan

    October 8th, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    This might be a good time to step back and see what your response it is that could also be encouraging this kind of behavior. You could say no no no for a very long time, but then you give in. The child is like a dog. If he knows that eventually you will cave then they are going to continue with that behavior until they get the response that they are looking for.
    Sounds pretty simplistic but I think that the less that you give in to their demands the less likely that they will be to continue that behavior. They might exaggerate it for a while but once they see that you are not going to give in then they will move on.

  • Tim

    October 8th, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    Sounds as easy as writing a computerscript.


    Whining releases stress. Busy-technical oriented parents are often frustrated by the stress the child experiences. (because they are motivated to regulate their own stress)
    Give them a script for their cognitive parts and they feel strong and will detach – which leads to more stress.

  • Riley

    October 8th, 2014 at 3:33 PM

    Kids are gonna be kids and sometimes this form of communication is the only way that they know to express what they are feeling. You might just have to go with it for a while until verbally they can communicate with you on a level that is a little easier for everyone to deal with.

  • Kt

    October 11th, 2014 at 11:18 PM


    You’re right! My 8 year old daughter resorts to temper tantrums, throwing and breaking stuff until one day I got so fed up! I demanded her to use her words to express her feelings instead of acting out in different instances!

  • Real Creature

    October 8th, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    Parents probably contribute to the behavior of their children far more than they could possibly know. As a baby begins to explore their world, don’t most parents perform a type of “whining” to begin engaging them and curbing certain behaviors? A constant verbal reminding of very young children to behave in a certain way can be considered a form of parental “whining”. This verbal repetition is a request without a logical justification and that is exactly what comes back to the parents, in the form of whining, as the child grows. Probably a better method would be to constantly explain every request in as much detail and using as much logic as possible…if that’s what the parent wants the child to give back to them as they grow.

  • Grayson

    October 9th, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    I think that it is fair to say that parents teach their children how they will allow them to behave. I think that it is also fair to state that most parents do not realize how the bulk of responsibility for this behavior can fall onto their shoulders. I don’t want to play the balme game because there is enough responsibility to go around, but I do think that parents can play such a huge role in this type of negative behavioral pattern and yet they are always solely looking to the child to modify the behavior. They do not stop and think of the things that they say and do which can cause this behavior to be even worse. It is at least something that more of us should think about, because the reality is that these are children but we are adults. We should have enough experience by the time we choose to become parents to know how to handle situations such as these and how to at least ask for help when we do need it to get some of the behavior stopped and modified.

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