Parenting: Whining Doesn't Work
by Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT

Okay, actually it works great — ask any kid. Parents are often frustrated because their child whines a lot. So why do they whine so much? Kids whine because they have simply learned that it works. Children’s brains are geared for problem solving. For example, when a parent says "no" to something a child wants this creates a barrier between the child and what he or she wants. The brain reads this as a problem. Children revert back to what has worked since infancy: cry to get your needs met — the solution. Crying to get what was wanted was okay and necessary as an infant, but can be super-annoying as a kid. Annoying as it is, kids continue to use it because they continue to learn that it still works. The brain just reminds them, "Hey, whine loud and long enough and sooner or later mom or dad will give in out of sheer exhaustion."

So, any takers for learning how to send the message loud and clear that "Whining doesn't work!"? Yeah, I thought there would be a few. Here's the drill: From here on out anytime your child begins to whine you must calmly and simply say, "Oh, sorry, whining doesn't work here anymore. If you want something you'll have to calm down and ask nicely." Then disengage from them and do something else (they may need some time in their room away from you). Do not continue to talk, argue or explain anything further to them.

Now, of course, if your kid's brain is working normally they are not going to buy this for a second. No normal child is going to say, “Gee Mom and Dad, I finally see the wisdom of your stance and will abide by your wishes.” Instead they are going to think, "Whining doesn’t work? Yeah, right. We'll just see about that..." This is not a problem so long as you stand firm and just keep repeating, "Sorry, whining doesn't work" over and over and over like a broken record. Do not yell or scream for them to stop whining. Just over and over and over tell them "Whining doesn't work.” “Hmmm. Sorry, whining doesn't work here.” 10-20 repetitions of this broken record approach will drive them crazy. Their brains are now faced with a problem it has never faced before: "Oh my gosh! Whining isn't working! What are we going to do?!" So do not cave-in, no matter how hard they try to wear you down with whining — it's just their brain stepping up an old solution that will no longer work. When they learn that no matter how much or how loud they whine that they get nothing they will in time learn that the only way to get anything is by calming down and asking nicely — because that's the only option you are giving them.

This approach will require daily consistency and time for it to work effectively. Get united on this one parents and together you can take back some sanity as you start seeing this united effort yield more quiet results. Have you tried this or other suggestions in the Greatness in Relationships column? Let me know how it worked at You can find more articles and tips at

Watch future columns for more strategies for creating greatness in your relationships. The “Great Relationships” eZine has been launched. This eZine contains further articles, ideas and strategies for creating great relationships as well as announcements for free community workshops in The Relationship Wellness Series. To subscribe to this eZine simply email with “subscribe” in the subject line.

Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Consultant specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn to improve their marriages, their parenting and themselves through skill development, life coaching, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of Bardos Relationship Consulting. He is married to a skillled husband trainer who has truly earned her keep. They live in eternal bliss (okay, fairly peaceably) with their four children in American Fork, UT. You may reach him at 801.787.8014, or at
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