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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

How do you turn a whiny kid into a problem solver?

June 3, 2014

You can't tell me "I can't have it!!!!"

You can’t tell me “I can’t have it!!!!”

Kids only learn to whine when frustrated if whining gets them what they want. They do it because it works. It doesn’t even have to work all the time. It just has to work once in a while for them to try it all the time. When their whining consistently does not work (because we have taught them it doesn’t) then they don’t bother… ever. That doesn’t mean kids who don’t whine don’t get frustrated. Of course they do! They just use their frustration as a signal to calm down and think about solutions.

So have a look in the mirror. If you’ve got a kid who excels in whining, congratulations, you have trained him or her brilliantly. It doesn’t matter that you can’t stand the behavior or that it makes you feel like screaming “Shut up! You’re driving me crazy!” This evidence of Mom or Dad’s frayed innards is exactly what the child’s going for. When they know we’re on edge, they may secretly rejoice because they understand they’re closer to what they want (the candy, the toy, the extra 30 minutes to watch the end of this show, the permission to do whatever it is for which you don’t feel good about giving your permission, etc. etc.)

If parents truly want kids to learn more mature, respectful, and constructive responses to life’s frustrations, do not reward the behavior you hate. When you calmly refuse to engage in the infuriating back and forth, your kid experiences a teachable moment. In this case the lesson is: “This whiney BS does not work. I’m not going to waste my time any more.”

So, if you want to transform a kid who whines into a problem solver, start with this:

PARENT: “Sweetie pie, I owe you an apology.”

KID: “Huh?”

PARENT: “I am really really sorry. It’s my job to teach you how to deal with frustration so you can solve problems and do more things for yourself. But I haven’t been doing my job lately. Nope. Not when it comes to this. I’m sorry about that and I’m going to do much better starting now.”

KID: “What do you mean?”

PARENT: “I heard you whining. What are you frustrated about?”

KID: “I can’t button these buttons!”

PARENT: “How can I help you?”

KID: “You do it!”

PARENT: “Nope. Not going to do it for you, but I will help you learn to do it yourself.”

KID: “NOOOOO! I just want you to do it!”

Your old impulse to rush in (shut down the whining and button the damn buttons) is strong.  But now that you’ve seen the light, your resolve to do your parenting job is even stronger.

Put on your oxygen mask… inhale slowly and evenly… and teach the child to button a button. This could take a while. But that’s OK you will make the time you need. You’re a teacher. You’re in the zone. Use only positive words as you praise all efforts no matter how tiny. Cheer on all progress. Take breaks when little fingers get tired. Have a snack then get back to the task at hand. Use humor. And reward success with high fives and the happy dance.

Make this a positive experience and guaranteed your child will not whine about buttons again. Instead, he’ll be busting with pride that he’s learned a new skill on the road to independence.

Wow, that was fun. What’s next?

Check out my 3min answer to the ‘Whiny Child” question on Vidoyen.



Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , — Annie @ 6:13 pm


  1. Great advice. I did too good a job teaching my son to have a low frustration tolerance and he was an excellent whiner. My nephew came to live with me 6 years ago (age 5) and I worked hard not to reward whining, but to teach frustration skills. I am still shocked that he never whines. I had no idea it was possibly to have a kid who never whines. As you say, frustration happens, but doing just what you have outlined has helped him build his skills. Thank you.

    Comment by Laurie Monserrat — June 4, 2014 @ 11:14 am

  2. Hi Laurie,
    I’m so glad to hear your experience with your nephew. Yeah, this stuff really works. Not because we parents are geniuses, but simply because kids are so quick to figure out what gets their needs met and what doesn’t. Our kids also never whined and they both grew up to be really creative problem solvers. Here’s to rewarding independence.

    Comment by Annie — June 4, 2014 @ 11:41 am

  3. Annie – love this advice. It’s important to step back from our own parenting and see how we interact with our child. Of course it’s easier and faster just to placate our child with whatever it is they are whining about, then we can all move on. But, that’s not the way it happens everyone then becomes stuck in the whining trap. It is so much more challening to teach our child the skills needed to move past the whining, and parenting is supposed to be challenging…

    Comment by Krysty — June 5, 2014 @ 3:19 am

  4. Hi Krysty. Thanks for weighing in. I love your term “whining trap!” Spot-on. Also what you say about how it’s “easier and faster” to cave in so everyone can “move on.” But the question is: In what direction are we moving? Not actually the one we want for our child or ourselves as parents on a mentoring journey.

    Comment by Annie — June 5, 2014 @ 8:20 am

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