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It’s science: Kids whine for a (very good) reason

Remind yourself, “This whine is an urgent request for a resource or comfort.”

It’s science: Kids whine for a (very good) reason

Whining gets parents' attention, and (because we are human) we often react with frustration or anger. Research suggests that people tend to experience whining, which peaks when kids are between 2 and 4 years old, as “one of the most distracting sounds on the planet," and view it as more annoying than a screeching sound on wood, crying, heavy drilling or other uncomfortable nails-on-a-chalkboard type sounds.


Exasperated parents may respond with “Stop whining!" or “I can't hear you when you talk in that voice!" Alternatively, we may simmer in silent frustration, closing the fridge with a little added vigor or edgily slamming a red cup down in exchange for the coveted blue one.

To react to whining with compassion (instead of annoyance), parents can remind themselves of the science-based reasons why kids whine, and what they are trying to accomplish with it.

Here are 5 reasons kids whine, and how parents can respond with compassion:

1. Kids may whine because they need your help or resources

Dr. Jessica Michaelson suggests that one of the main reasons kids whine is because they are exhausted and need your help. She suggests that sometimes, through a whine, they are telling you, “I can't act big anymore, please take care of me like I was a baby."

When kids get stressed, hungry, thirsty, tired or overwhelmed (often by a change in routine), their sweet natural voices get replaced by high-pitched, need-it-now tones. They may require immediate resources—a nap, some water or milk, a snack, a rest, a diaper change—and, whether they are aware of it or not, they are falling in line with the science-tested truth that when you whine, you tend to get people's attention (and resources) faster than when you don't.

It's just more effective. Researchers have found that people tune in more to whining than to neutral speech or crying. It makes their skin crawl (higher skin reactivity) and distracts them from whatever else they are doing.

Try this:

When your child whines, ask yourself, “Is my child tired, hungry, thirsty, stressed or overwhelmed?" "Are we packing too much in our day?" "Did they go to bed late last night?" "Is an emotional issue (e.g. new baby or trouble with a preschool friend) weighing on them?" "Is a physical issue (e.g. sick, new tooth, or pain) bothering them?"

Remind yourself, "This whine is an urgent request for a resource or comfort."

2. Kids may whine because they need more connection or positivity.

Psychologist Becky Bailey argues that sometimes whining is a signal that a child needs more connection. She suggests that if kids are especially whiny, they may need some focused one-on-one time with their parents, such as reading, cooking a meal or playing together.

John Gottman's research indicates that kids may also need parents to "turn toward" them more often when they express a “bid" for emotional connection. When a child says, “Will you play with me," a parent can “turn toward" the child by saying, “Yes, let's play! I love playing with you!" and make time for it. When a toddler holds his arm up to be held, a parent can "turn toward" her by scooping her up for a snuggle.

Research also suggests that kids whine more when the family environment is negative or conflictual. In one study, when mothers showed more negativity, kids argued and fought more; and when fathers showed more negativity, kids whined and cried more. Negative displays of emotion in both mothers and fathers were “robust predictors" of how much children used “negative emotion words" in everyday life.

Try this:

When kids whine, take a step back and look at your stress level, emotionality, time spent connecting with your kids, and overall family environment.

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3. Kids may whine because they need to express feelings

Research suggests that whining, not just crying, is simply a way for young children to express sadness or disappointment. Early childhood educator Janet Lansbury suggests that parents "accept, acknowledge and support" kids and their feelings instead of "correcting, scolding, or controlling" them. She writes, “the more we welcome our children's displeasure, the happier everyone in our household will be."

Try this:

Remind yourself that whining can be an expression of human, developmental feelings, which are best met with kindness. If it's uncomfortable for you to hear kids whine, breathe in slowly for five seconds and out for five seconds and repeat Janet Lansbury's mantra "Let feelings be."

Remind yourself of the last time you needed a good cry or complaint session to release your feelings and be able move forward.

4. Kids may whine because they have a sensitive or feisty temperament.

All children differ by temperament, the qualities they are born with. Researchers often discuss three types of temperament (though no child fits perfectly into one of these categories) as:

  1. Easy or flexible
  2. Active or feisty
  3. Slow to warm or cautious

Try this:

Remember that some children are born with a tendency to have more intense reactions, a stronger will, more anxiety, or a harder time coping with new or changing experiences (thus resulting in more whining).

5. Kids may whine in response to variable reinforcers.

Behaviorist Skinner found that people will repeat a behavior for the longest time with variable-ratio reinforcement (e.g. giving in once in a while, but not all the time). For example, if you give into your child whining once in a while for ice cream after dinner, he or she will likely continue whining for ice cream for a very long period of time afterward (to get the same reward).

Try this:

Avoid reinforcing whining by being consistent and not giving in “once in a while" to things like extra time on a video game, an extra toy in the supermarket, or an extra late bedtime, which stops whining in the moment, but reinforces it for the long-term. We all want to relieve our discomfort about being seen as "the mean one" or we may crave a "boost" from being seen as a benevolent fairy granting a wish (often resulting in kids saying something like, “You're the best mom ever for buying me this toy!").

If you decide it's worth it to give in, expect that a few weeks of whining may naturally follow. Lastly, to disrupt the reinforcement pattern, try to provide treats only as "out-of-nowhere surprises," rather than immediately following whining.

Although bringing acceptance, understanding and gentleness to whining is no easy task, it's a great way to build an even stronger bond with your kid(s). Researcher John Gottman suggests that by giving a positive, loving response when a child is whining, you are filling his or her “emotional bank account" and strengthening the connection between you. The stronger your connection, the less likely your child is to whine in the future.

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14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

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There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

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Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

FEATURED VIDEO

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

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Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Happiest Baby: Baby sleep solutions designed by the experts

Created by renowned pediatrician, baby sleep expert and (as some might say) lifesaver Dr. Harvey Karp, Happiest Baby has been helping new parents understand and nurture their infants for close to two decades. Building on the success of his celebrated books and video The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block he's developed groundbreaking, science-based product solutions that conquer a new parent's top stressor—exhaustion.

WSEL Bags: Dad-designed diaper bags that think of everything

WSEL stands for work smart, enjoy life—an ethos we couldn't agree with more. Founded by a stay at home dad who struggled to find a diaper bag that he not only wanted to use, but one that would last far beyond the baby years, these premium, adventure-ready backpacks are ideal for everything from errands to week-long getaways.

Codex Beauty: Exceptionally effective sustainable skin care

Codex Beauty's line of sustainable plant-based skin care blends the science of plant biology with biotech innovations, to create clinically proven, state-of-the-art products for all skin types. They're all vegan, EWG and Leaping Bunny verified and created in collaboration with Herbal Scientist Tracy Ryan who uses concepts dating back to the 8th century leveraging plants like sea buckthorn and calendula flower. Not only are we totally crushing on the innovative formulas that are in the packaging but we're in love with the sustainable sugarcane-derived tubes as well.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

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