Menu

It’s science: whining really is the most annoying sound (for a very important reason)

We are wired to hate whining, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. 

It’s science: whining really is the most annoying sound (for a very important reason)

When our child speaks their first words the sound of that little voice is the most beautiful thing in the world, but later, when they’re whining at us, it’s probably the most annoying thing we’ve ever heard. And that’s not just the opinion of frustrated parents, that’s science.


Studies have shown that the sound of whining causes stress responses in adults, and is more distracting than other sounds.

According to Rose Sokol-Chang, one of the co-authors of those studies, there’s an evolutionary reason why we just can’t ignore whining: attachment. From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, whining is meant to draw parents to a child, and as anyone with a toddler at home knows, it works.

FEATURED VIDEO

“People tend to think that whining is a bad behavior, something that need to be squelched, but it’s something that is very integral to attachment relationships, much like baby cries are,” says Sokol-Chang.

We know that when our babies cry, we’re impacted on a physical level, and the same is true of whining. Researchers tested the effects of whining on adults by playing two dull recorded stories for people, one in each ear. The participants were asked to repeat one story, and ignore the other. That story was interrupted with whining, and proved hard for participants to block out.

“They also have a galvanic skin response, so they have a spike in the measure of sweat in their fingertips, which is usually associated with stress or heightened attention,” Sokol-Chang notes.

The other study compared how well people could focus on a math problem when listening to whining sound, or listening to a machine noise. “The machine noise was a pretty high pitched table saw that kept catching on wood, so it kind of had the same properties of whining,” Sokol-Chang explains, adding that the saw noise turned out to be easier to ignore than the whining.

Basically, we’re wired to find whining intolerable, but Sokol-Chang recommends parents try to look at whining as an attachment behavior rather than an annoying behavior, and see whining episodes as a reminder to connect with our kids.

“The whining usually is not about the candy or whatever’s being asked for, it’s usually a sign that you need to tune in and give some attention. There’s a different need than what’s being expressed,” she explains, adding that proactive parenting can help stop whining before it starts.

“Tune in more often throughout the day. Make sure you’re giving the child attention before it gets to the point that he or she is whining,” says Sokol-Chang.

When that doesn’t work, and the world’s most annoying sound comes out of your child’s mouth, remember that it’s a sign of the bond you share with your child. Humans don’t make that noise at people they’re not close with, according to Sokol-Chang. It’s a kind of communication that happens between parents and kids, and between partners.

“You don’t just whine to anyone, you whine to the people that you love. So if you’re being whined to you are probably loved,” says Sokol-Chang.

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

    Our Partners

    It’s science: Vacations make your kids happy long after they’re over

    Whether you're planning a quick trip to the lake or flying the fam to a resort, the results are the same: A happier, more connected family.

    Whether you're looking for hotels or a rental home for a safe family getaway, or just punching in your credit card number to reserve a spot in a campground a couple of states over, the cost of vacation plans can make a mom wince. And while price is definitely something to consider when planning a family vacation, science suggests we should consider these trips—and their benefits—priceless.

    Research indicates that family vacations are essential. They make our, kids (and us) happier and build bonds and memories.

    Keep reading Show less
    News

    Dear 2020 baby: Thank you

    This year has been a mess. But you've been the light in the darkness.

    Sweet 2020 baby,

    I just want to say thank you.

    Because in many ways, this year has been a mess.

    A bit of a disaster, really.

    But you.

    You've been the light in the darkness.

    Keep reading Show less
    Life