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Nip Whining in the Bud with These Simple and Empowering Phrases!


If you care for one or more young children between the ages of 18 mos and 4 years, I have no doubt you've heard your fair share of whining. And I'd be willing to bet money that you don't like it.


I'd also guess that these words, "Stop whining and ask me nicely!!!", may or may not work, but only temporarily at best. You need some really good tips to combat whining and get them to talk to you with the respect you deserve. The first time they ask. No one enjoys a habitual whiner.


Whining is universal. And even the most well-meaning adults resort to it at times. And sometimes it works.


At its core, whining is a communication problem. Children mostly whine because it gets our attention and gets it fast. And when we admit to ourselves that it works, half the battle is won.


So, what do we want them to learn about whining in the long run?

I learned to ask myself that question ages ago in a Montessori-based training and it's stuck with me ever since because it's so easy to use.


It only makes sense. Since I'd like them to learn to communicate their wants and needs respectfully and clearly that's where I like to start. I try my best to teach them the words to use and the tone of voice that I will respond to. And I tell them that. Then I follow through.


I'm not saying this is easy to do, but I am saying that it works when you make an effort and explain yourself with "I" messages. I've used this method for about 35 years now and it really does the trick. Sometimes it takes a few days, but the transformation is amazing!


The message is, "I want to teach you to ask in a nice tone of voice. For a verbal child that might mean, "More milk please!" or signing the word "more" for one who's not so verbal. Once I'm sure they get it, I devise a signal that says it all. And I tell them clearly what it is.

When I notice a whiny tone of voice, I point to my ear and that means, "I hear you but I want to teach you better ways so I won't respond to whining. That's where the empathy comes in. I hear you but I want you to remember to use a nice tone of voice on your own, without my reminders. With a younger child, I might practice the proper words and tone. With an older child, I might ask them to wait a few minutes and try again.


Then on an ongoing basis, you can point out that nice assertive tone of voice often when you hear it as they play and talk to others. It's so important that they learn what to do, not just what not to do.


Thanks for asking nicely, Raj!

That's a nice clear way to say it, Emily.

I like that tone of voice, Howie.

Sheldon asked you nicely for a turn, Penny. Tell him when he can have one, please.


You'll start to be seen as the one who teaches respect as well as empathy and that's a really good feeling. Language is so important when it comes to early care and education.

I believe that in order to build more empathy in the world we have to start as early as possible. Waiting til 4-K is a little too late. Are you with me?


If so, Share this with other caregivers and parents who really care!


Get the exact words to use when dealing with common childhood issues like cleaning up, tattling, or positive communication.


Early Childhood Rocks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the world through early childhood education.

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human dev from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI and is the founder of early childhood rocks, a non-profit org dedicated to creating change through early childhood education.


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