How to Stop Whining with Preverbal Toddlers

I’ve written about modeling and whining for verbal kids but I wanted to zoom in on whining with our preverbal kiddos. Grace is 16 months and while she has far more language than Keener had at her age, she’s not yet able to clearly explain her wants and needs. Therefore, she often resorts to whining and pointing to show me what she wants. This post is about how to reduce whining behavior for the times when these preverbal kiddos GET what they want. Teaching a preverbal child to cope with not getting what they want in a post to come.

Grace has really upped her whining game in the last month. I know this comes with a developmental leap as she has increased awareness of what is going on around her. This has also been a reminder to me that birth order can have an impact on development. Grace will see Keener get something – food, a book, a sticker, etc. – and now knows that is something she wants. She knows an injustice when she sees one!

For these times when Grace is whining when she wants something, I redirect the whining by making her say please.  When Keener was her age, I taught him sign language to help him communicate his needs but Grace has the verbal skills to say “peas.”

Things I consider whenever I see a behavior that is undesirable:

  1.  Try to think about the skill that is missing. For Grace, she is whining because she doesn’t have language and she doesn’t have patience, both of which I can help her develop. It won’t be overnight, but change will come.
  2. Reinforce the desired behavior. We are often tempted to reinforce the whining because it makes it stop. However, this approach is actually teaching our children to whine and carry on. They start to think, if I carry on like this, my mom will give me what I want.
  3. Teach the lagging skill. Whether you are teaching a sign for more or please or modeling the verbal language, teach them exactly what you want them to do instead of whine. I feel like I’ve been a broken record the past few days, Gracie, say please. We say please when we want something. Please. Try again. Please. Even Keener has joined me in this endeavor and is helping to deliberately model please for her as well. Oh, my heart.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the public. Even when we have been out in a restaurant which makes whining even more unbearable than in the privacy of our own house, I still have been making her say please.  I’d rather have her whining a few times right now than whining forever thinking that is an effective way to get what she wants.
  5. Reinforce right away on that initial attempt. Now when Grace says, “peas,” I try to quickly give her what it is she is asking for (see note above about times when the answer is NO. Will write more on that later). This allows the verbal skill of saying please to solidify and for her to realize that saying please is the appropriate way to ask for something.

I have been working on this with Grace diligently for the last few days and at breakfast this morning, she finally resorted to saying “peas” when she saw something she wanted instead of that dreaded whining sound. Cha-ching! While I still need to teach her patience, at least she is now repeating “peas, peas, peas,” over and over instead of whining. Next up, teaching her patience which is no small task. Waiting is hard to do!

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