Inside: Discover seven crucial areas to stop a toddler whining and crying all the time. This is especially helpful if you’re struggling with toddler aggression or a strong-willed toddler. This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share some commission.
The other day I was driving the kids to school, and my three year-old daughter made a big announcement.
Prior to leaving the house a whopping eight minutes earlier, she was eating breakfast.
Now she was starving.
From the driver’s seat, I winced and pinched my right-eye shut for a brief moment, full-on knowing the waterfall of emotions was starting.
She barked, “I need to eat – now!”
She continued with her barrage of demands for food, while I continued to explain that we were on the way to school, and there was not food available at the moment. This, of course, only intensified her whining and crying over something that was not possible.
This is so typical of what it’s like parenting toddlers, right?
Wails and sobs over impossible things come out of nowhere – like crying about having no food when you just ate a meal, and you also happen to be on a desolate road where there is not food to buy, and there is no food in the car.
Literally out of thin air, a toddler will start whining and crying about something that seems very bizarre to feel upset about.
To which you could say, from the toddler’s perspective, is it bizarre?
How to deal with toddler whining.
Toddlers whine for all sorts of reasons, but at the core of whining there is a child who wants to feel heard and understood (even if it’s lunacy to you).
They are also meeting an underlying healthy need, and practicing what it’s like to calm themselves down in different situations.
And by learning to cope with things that are not possible in the moment, they are learning to cope with disappointment.
Let’s explore how to help toddlers calm themselves down when it seems like all they can do is whine and cry about everything.
1. Start with “child eyes.”
Kid brains and adult brains operate completely differently. It would be cool if we were always on the same page, but most of the time kids and adults want opposite things.
When kids are whining, it’s usually about something that is very important to them: Playing, slowly taking in life, trying out new things, seeking to understand how the world works, having fun or finishing the game they started.
To adults these all seem like unimportant things, but when a child falls into whining, what they are actually doing is telling you about something that matters to them.
This is not to condone whining, but if you’re able to see through “child eyes,” you can start to see a whole new perspective on what is actually happening.
2. Find the missed communication.
At first glance whining may appear like manipulation, but what is typically occurring with a toddler whining and crying all the time is this: The child is trying to communicate a message to you.
Since all kids will continue to communicate until they feel heard and understood, it makes sense why the whining and crying only intensifies until you “get it.”
This is why kids will continue to say the same thing over and over again, even after you said they cannot have it.
When the child says, “I want a banana.” You look at your watch and see it’s 20 minutes before dinner and say, “No, you cannot have a banana.”
The child will keep coming back over and over again asking for the banana. This is enough to drive you insane.
What the child actually wants in this situation is for you to say, “Of course you want the banana! You LOVE bananas. They are your favorite. And if you could eat bananas all day long, you would!”
If you can find the missed communication and validate what the child wants, it can be a great first step towards helping the child calm themselves down. Only once a child knows that you “get it” can they entertain the idea of calming and finding an alternative solution.
3. Meet the underlying healthy need.
All kid behaviors are driven by three healthy needs: Power, experience and connection. Everything kids are doing is already meeting those needs.
If your child turns to whining it’s usually about connection or power. Sometimes a little bit of both. The need for connection revolves around the child wanting to feel heard, understood and connected to you.
The need for power is about control — wanting to control their environment, those individuals in their environment or learning to control themselves. After all, the greatest power of all is self-control.
If you’re able to help your child discover ways meet their needs in a way that is OK with you, then you start to create situations where you both win.
Here’s a quick example:
A reader in my listening course, recently shared about how her daughter had a doctor appointment and really did not want to go.
Her daughter was scared she would get a shot. They used SAY WHAT YOU SEE® and looked at things from the child’s perspective. Yet, she went to bed scared the night before and woke up in a terrible mood and spent the morning crying and pushing all the buttons.
All of the parents factual reassurances and empathy did nothing to help UNTIL they recognized their daughter’s underlying need was POWER.
The dad said, “Ok. It’s your choice and the doctor will do whatever you say. Do you want 4 shots, 2 shots or 0 shots?”
The girl emphatically said, “I choose 0 shots!”
Again, the dad responded, “Then that is what we will tell the doctor. You choose 0 shots.”
And magically, she was much better. They went to the appointment and told the doctor that she choose 0 shots today please. And the doctor said that was just fine with him. Whining and crying averted!
4. Look at the basics.
I know this seems so obvious, but in working with parents over the years, I know it’s something that is overlooked. Life gets busy, and the core things that we know are important fall to the wayside. Despite knowing that simplifying childhood can protect against mental health issues, I regularly forget to look at these things too!
- Is your child getting enough time in nature or outdoor playtime?
- Is your child getting enough rest for their age and development level?
- Is your child getting enough nutrients for a healthy developing body?
- Does your child have enough time to enjoy slow and simple things throughout the day?
- Check out 13 Habits That Raise Well-Adjusted Kids
5. Discover patterns.
If toddler whining and crying all the time is a frequent pattern in your home that can actually be a good thing!
Now you can anticipate the whining ahead of time, make a plan and work on it proactively. When working with toddlers, offense is a much more encouraging place than scrambling on defense.
Look for underlying patterns of whining and what seems to trigger your child. From there, think about what the underlying need in those situations might be (power, experience or connection).
If it’s power, look for ways your child can feel more control over a given situation. I like to think of this as giving your child micro-decisions, while you keep the macro-decisions.
To meet the need for experience, look for ways the child can enjoy a particular experience in a way that is OK with you. Kids have very vivid imaginations and one way to meet the need for experience is through pretend play. This also has the magical ability to help meet the need for connection.
If you want to take things up a notch and do special playtimes with your child, I highly recommend the life-changing book called The Parent Survival Guide By Theresa Kellam
Or if you’re looking to be more playful with your kids in general, Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen is a fantastic read.
7. Help your child bring out their greatness.
One of the coolest things about kids is they are born with every possible inner STRENGTH they will ever need. Yes, really!
All kids are filled with greatness; it’s only a matter of helping the child recognize their own STRENGTHs and helping them draw it out bit by bit.
So how do you do that?
Naming STRENGTHs is the critical piece of helping children see the behaviors we love (kindness, respect, cooperation, hard-work ethic, politeness, etc.,) are always there.
When you SEE something you like in your child, you name a STRENGTH.
“You told me what you needed in a calm way. That took a lot of self-control.”
“You figured out how to calm down all on your own. You knew what worked!”
“It’s hard not getting what you want. You knew how to find another solution. That’s problem-solving!”
Naming STRENGTHs helps kids see that they are completely capable of doing things without whining.
Will this work all the time? Sometimes it won’t.
Kids are all growing and learning and sometimes whining is what they need to do. Just like adults like to vent to a friend (adult whining) or have a good cry sometimes.
But as kids develop self-control and learn alternatives, your toddler will begin to see that there are other ways besides whining and crying in order to get what they want.
…Like when you’re riding in the car and realize that you aren’t starving (8 minutes after eating breakfast) and all you needed to do was ask, “May I have a drink of water please?”
“Yes. Yes, you can. That would work for me.”
Hey there! I’m Lauren, a mom of two, military spouse and a licensed Language of Listening® parent coach. Many of the ideas inside the post come from Language of Listening®, the 3-part parenting framework I use and teach to thousands of parents just like you.
Several years ago, parenting using Language of Listening® drastically changed our lives for the better. Now, I help other parents do the same. To learn more about Language of Listening®, click the image below to subscribe and join us! It’s free!
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