how to stop your child’s whining

how to stop whining children This post is dedicated to my mother-in-law, Maxine Helgemo, who tried desperately to get rid of my husband ‘s whining. Yes, it’s gone. Thank goodness. 

When Ben (my husband) was around four years old, Maxine was losing her mind. Ben whined. It was legendary, according to not only her, but all of those who knew Ben. Alisha, Ben’s aunt, still recalls it with annoyance.

“When it was raining outside…..he would whine, ‘I wanted to go outside to play and now it’s raining.’

When it was all rainbows and sunshine, he would whine again, “I wanted to wear my raincoat, but now it’s not raining.”

Get the drift? It grates my nerves just thinking about it.

Then, Ben had children….our children. There are four of them. All benefitted from his mother Maxine’s “bean jar” method of extinguishing this same annoying behavior.

It’s a token economy–with a twist. 

Here’s how it works: 

* Use a baby food jar or other very small container. (If you use a larger one, use proportionately sized objects to fill it.)

* Buy some big beans (Lima, not split peas)

* Decide on a reward for the child when the jar is full. “Full” means you can’t put one more bean into it or it spills over. This serves as a visual reminder. Small children have trouble with counting to high numbers.

For two of my kids, the reward was a remote control car. Ben was a boy in the late 60s. He wanted purple pants for his reward. Fancy ones. His favorite color is still purple. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

* The first 1/2 of the day, for every 30 minutes that they DO NOT exhibit the undesirable behavior, they get a bean in the jar. In essence, they are rewarded for the desired behavior. Continue this for the first full day if needed. I have modified this approach by using larger objects in a larger vessel, like poker chips in a small bowl. Since you want them to be successful from the get-go, it’s important to start with small increments of time in the beginning.

* Extend the time in larger and larger increments, 45 minutes, 1 hour, 2, 3…6 etc. until you start seeing them have success.

* When the jar is full, give them the reward.

* Start another jar if neccessary.

This method may help extinguish any undesirable behavior. It can be used for everything from whining to picking their nose in public.

Bless you as you try and rid the world of one whining child at a time. You will be loved and admired by many. 

As I am writing this, I am contemplating doing it again for my teenagers. This time I think I might try to get rid of the sibling arguing.

Pray for me. And my kids.

Also, there may be a sudden market shortage of Lima Beans at grocery stores around the country. 

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About Kathy

Kathy mothers four kids ranging in age from late teens to early elementary years. With three boys and one girl, she has tackled many issues confronting moms – from breastfeeding to prom. She started out as an English teacher after graduating from Florida State University, moved through various other jobs and landed in her current one as a freelance writer from home.

She is also a Monthly Contributor to More To Be, a mentoring site for mothers and teen girls. Kathy and Melinda are co-authors of Mothering From Scratch: Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family. It will be released by Bethany House Publishers in January 2015.

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  1. This sounds like a great idea! My 4 of 4 is my whinner, yikes! I think I will try this for whinning and if we are successful, I will try it for potty training as well. Thank You for the great tip!!
    The Cocktail Lady recently posted..Passion CocktailMy Profile

  2. I have a six-year old whiner who is instructing his three-year old brother. I may have to give this a try!
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted..Ask Away Friday with Melissa from Home on DerangedMy Profile

  3. This sounds like something I should try with my son…. His whining drives me insane!
    Ashley recently posted..No longer NaiveMy Profile

  4. LisaMarie says:

    My friend’s mom made them sing their arguments. They could say pretty much anything they wanted
    except profanity) so long as they sang it. For my 3 year old I always deliver an immediate reward/consequence. If she whines I tell her it is not acceptable behavior. If it continues she is removed from the room. If we are at a play date/park/birthday party I tell her we will be leaving if it doesn’t stop immediately. This also works if she is crying about something ridiculous. I will tell her we can’t stay if she cries/whines etc and ask her if she is ready to go. If she keeps up the behavior, we leave. If we are somewhere I need to be- grocery store, Dr appointment etc I will tell her the behavior is not acceptable and needs to stop. The grocery store is easy, they give cookies, she doesn’t get one if she is naughty. At the DR’s office I make sure I have something to entertain her. If she complains I take it away and she sits there doing nothing.

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Immediate rewards/consequences are so important. I always needed some sort of structure to help me stay on top of it. As far as singing their arguments — that is a riot. It would be like Bohemian Rhapsody meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles……

  5. I can not wait to try this with my almost 4 year old. He whines all the time about the most random things. He did really well with a sticker potty chart so I am thinking a visual reminder like this will work well with him too. I like the idea of putting a picture on the jar of what he wants to get once it is full. Once established, I think this would work great for outings, you can earn xx amount of beans for not whining with we do xxxxx.

    I have also found that reminding them how to ask the “right” way before I will answer any request. It frustrates my husband to no end that we have to constantly remind him to ask the “right” way, maybe we could use this method too. Every time he asks the “right” way the first time, you get a bean. He loves money/coins, so I am thinking I will use pennies.

  6. We have a marble jar very similar idea. When they fill it they are able to pick an outside activity w either mom or dad. It works great.

  7. This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing it =)
    Do you think this will work with a 2 treat old?

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} These type of techniques work best on a child that is older than 3. Modeling proper behavior to them directly and correcting as you go with a two year old is best. They are, after all, 2.

  8. First Timer says:

    Ok, is there some kind of age requirement? My daughter is 2 and starts every conversation in whining…no matter the topic. I would love to try this if it’s age appropriate, but since she is my first, I don’t know if she is old enough to understand “long term” rewards (using the term loosely). I also don’t want to underestimate her mental capability. Would putting a small picture of what she wants on the container help her remember that’s what the beans are for?

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} A two year old is too young, in my opinion, to use an elaborate reward system. Three and older is the ideal age for this technique. They understand it much better. For a two year old, I found that establishing a “nice voice” verses any other voice is the key. For example:
      (In an annoying, nasal whining tone….)Mooommmy, I want some JJjjuiceee!!!
      You: “How about (in a normal tone, with manners), “Mommy, may I please have some juice?”
      Modeling the correct behavior and having her “parrot” the acceptable voice is the most important thing at 2 years old.
      By the way, she doesn’t get the reward, oh I mean juice, unless she uses a polite, nice tone.
      If the whining is so bad that she can’t seem to get control and needs to be removed from the situation in order to get herself together, that’s where time out happens.
      Time outs are a whole other subject…..
      But always modeling the “correct” tone for her to copy is the best strategy. She will be very please with herself when she can make you get her juice with her “pretty voice”.
      Also, look around and see who or what she IS modeling that whiney tone from. You may be surprised!!! I once found out it was me….Oooops.

  9. I am not a mother yet but I had a thought for you with your teenagers that my mom did. I am the oldest of 4 girls and we are within 5 years of each other and boy would we argue. We still argue. But my mom being a single parent couldnt sit there and referee every argument we had we each other. So we would have to sit in an uncomfortable place. (For us it was usually the piano bench or if it was more than 2 of us than the fireplace.) And we would have to work it out on our own. I remember there was a time we were arguing about a piece of clothing and we had to sit on that bench for 3 hours because we couldnt work it out. Once we had resolved the issue and were friends again we would have to hug it out then we could be on our merry way. We learned real quick to not argue or disagree on something while mom was home. My youngest sister even made us do it once when mom wasnt home because she was tired of the arguing. It worked well for us, and really cut back on the arguing! Maybe this will help you!

    P.S. She chose and uncomfortable spot so we would work it out faster. After the time it took us 3 hours to work it out (we were sitting on the couch) she decided to make it a little more painful so we would get up and do house work faster.

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Thank you Bri! Your mom was one smart cookie. What would happen if you decided to walk away from the bench? I’m just curious.
      Sibling arguing is something which, I have observed, goes in cycles. It has to start SOMEWHERE. Whoever is the first person to make the decision to argue usually is the one who needs to apologize in the end.
      All in all, teenagers just baffle me with how much they are willing to go to bat for their individual “causes”. I realize that this passion will be useful someday, but it is exhausting!

      • We would get a privlage taken away for rest of the evening or day whatever time it was. When we were on the bench we werent allowed phones etc. not that we really had them too much. But if we got up we would get a privlage like I said. So I got up once and i had a party thing that night and i got it taken away because i wasnt willing to follow the rulrs. sometimes it was more minor like no tv etc. But we learned quickly not to get up!

        • Mothering From Scratch says:

          {Kathy} Brilliant. This is why we need collaboration with other mothers! I would have not thought of that one on my own for a million years. It’s too logical. Ahem. I’ll let you know if I use it.

          • On the same theme…We have young children and arguing ensues on a regular basis. So, they now serve each other together by working together until they can work the disagreement out. We have a sock box (a large bin for all clean children’s socks). They must match and fold and put away socks appropriate to their age but always until they have resolved the issue. Most often they have to serve the other sibling by doing their socks. I am always close by to supervise and to make sure it is resolved correctly but besides being a training tool I never have to match kids’ socks and there is always a home for the ones that don’t have mates when they seems to get eaten by the washer/dryer. :-) I borrowed and adapted this idea from a friend but it works so well for me I will most likely expand on different household jobs needing two or more players as our children reach middle and upper elementary ages!
            I am always encouraged to find good ideas and input and enjoyed reading your post!!!

          • Mothering From Scratch says:

            {Kathy} Thank you Jan! What a wonderful idea–serving the squabble out!! Sibling rivalry is also the other on going habit that seems to get the best of families. It can be exhausting for everyone. Again, the ideas that are passed on from other mothers to those of us who need creative solutions help so much.

    • Interesting reading everyone. :)
      I was just reading about the arguing siblings and thought I’d share what I did with my eldest two daughters the other week.
      They are 16 and 14, they were arguing and can get quite physical with kicks and punches. So I had to get involved though its hard to sort out as they always think and claim that the other person started it. This time I asked them if they wanted to stand in opposite corners of the room and think about it (as they were told to do when young) or they could sit together and explain why they felt the way they did towards each other. I told them to take turns, do not raise their voices and do NOT interrupt each other.
      I left them to it, happy that their voices were not raised. Then after a few minutes I went back to them and asked if they’d finished. They had. So I then told them to each take turns and say three things that they like about each other. I left them again and could hear they were doing it. Silent laughing to myself! ;)
      When I thought they’d finished I told them that maybe they should not involve me in their arguments as this is what happens. RELATE for teenagers. Lol.

      • Mothering From Scratch says:

        {Kathy} Goodness, Claire! You are so lucky that this worked with two teenage girls! I have played “judge and jury” between teenagers on occasion. They need a little mediation sometimes…..

  10. Naysayer says:

    Sad. Posts like this make me sad sad sad.

    Why not treat your child like a rational being instead of a like a dog? What’s wrong with validating your child’s feelings rather than teaching them to shut up about them so they can get a treat? This is such a weird concept to me and will result in a child who becomes extrinsically motivated.

    This post needs an infusion of Alfie Kohn.

    • I don’t think it’s about telling them to stay quiet about their feelings. It’s about teaching them the proper way to act, and teaching them to properly communicate in an appropriate manner and not in a whiney tone. My daughter starts whining and I tell her when she can talk to me like a big girl, not a baby, I will gladly listen. Same thing. I’m not telling her to keep her feelings in, I’m trying to teach her how to communicate in an effective way.

      • Mothering From Scratch says:

        {Kathy} Ashley, the boy (my husband) in the original “bean jar” scenario, is one of the most sensitive, caring men who communicates his feelings very, very well. In fact, learning how to temper and control the communication of those feelings is what I believe my mother-in-law always taught him. I appreciate that so much as his wife.
        What you have described is “the big picture”—communicating in an effective (non-annoying, non-selfdepreicating) way.

    • Mellissa says:

      Children are amazing emotional beings learning to become rational beings.
      We also have to learn to respect one another’s space, including mental.
      Whining is demotivating to the people on the receiving end. When the child has a valid desire, they can learn to make a valid request, and will ideally be validated. This skill will help our sweets be able to accomplish much in life from society. I see plenty of appropriate motivation in discouraging whining. Not the least of which is learning to be happy in unchangeable circumstances, such as raining vs. not raining.

      • Mothering From Scratch says:

        {Kathy} Melissa, this is a wonderful explanation of what the true root of this technique teaches. “To be happy in unchangeable circumstances” can be taught. So can sitting and wallowing in our misery of life’s “rain”. Thank you for your reply.

    • I completely concur with you. It’s sad this is what parenting boils down to today.

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} I really appreciate this comment. However, I would like to clarify a few things: dog training and child rearing are two completly different things. Children are not just a higher form of animal, rather, they make conscious choices. When they are younger they need age appropriate rewards and punishments that help them form this conscience. That’s where the parents come in.
      This particular technique helps stop a bad habit, mostly. When kids experience the reward, they are indeed extrinsically motivated—-until they feel the comfort in knowing they are acting socially appropriate.
      I have found that teaching social skills (i.e. responsibility, manners, interpersonal communication) is one of the most difficult challenges in our self-centered society.
      After looking up Alfie Kohn, I can see that if you are a fan of anyone who writes articles with titles such as “Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide,” “How Not to Teach Values: A Critical Look at Character Education,” and “Why Self-Discipline is Overrated”, this technique may not appeal to you and your parenting style.
      I has worked for our family for two generations and my 4 kids.
      Thanks for the spirited banter!!!!

  11. another jennifer
    Twitter: anotherjenb
    says:

    My son’s 2nd grade teacher used this trick! She put “jewels” in a jar every time the class did something well – behaved at a school assembly, cleaned up quickly after a project, etc. When the jar was full, they got ice cream during snack time! Worked like a charm. :)
    another jennifer recently posted..Philanthropy Friday: Fresh Air: Open Your Heart and Your HomeMy Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Yes! I have seen teachers use this technique tons of times. My boys’ first grade teacher had the word “compliment” on a bulletin board. Each time the class was complimented, as a whole, either from another teacher, parent or administrator, one of the letters was “glittered” gold. When all the letters were used, they had a party.
      She used positive peer pressure to keep her class under control. Brilliant.

  12. Such perfect timing that I chose to read this today. We took our kids to watch my husband in his first triathlon today. A friend and her two children met us out there. Between her 4 year old and my 6 and 3 year old, there was so much whining it was unbelievable. We kept asking ourselves – HOW do we stop this?? I just shared this article with her on Facebook. I think this trick may work!!
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  13. Great idea! Do you take away when they whine? Or do whatever bad thing you want them to stop?

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Cassie, at first, your goal is to extinguish the behavior as much as possible. They start to become aware usually within the first day. You have two choices after that: 1. If you, for instance, give 2 beans for “non-whining” time, then when they accidentally use “a whining voice” take 1 bean out.
      2. You can also just do the “tit for tat” method. One bean in for non-whining, one bean out for whining.
      Gauge this by what is working with your child. Most need overwhelming success in the beginning to continue on with even wanting beans. Some are devastated by the thought of having a bean taken away, etc.

      Remember, whining (or whatever bad habit) has not happened overnight. Be patient, yet unyielding when it comes to getting rid of it.

      • Catalina says:

        Hello! I just wanted to say that I LOVE this post my oldest is only 2 1/2 but he has started to whine a tiny bit so once he is mentally ready for this I will deffenetly give it a try! Howeve… I am currently studing to become a n elementary school teacher and the “take away rewards” had been brought up in class several times… basically its not recomemded. Put youself in a similar situation, you work very hard at your job…. but one day you wake up late , what happens? Does your boss say well you were late I cant give you your pay for the work you did yesterday? No they just dont pay you for the time that you have missed… also I learned that punishment should be fitting to whatever they did wrong likeyou were late so u have to stay in extra now, of course that is up to the parent but this way seems to work best… at least for me lol but point of my ranting is do not take away what they earned.. makes them feel like.. eh whats the point .. and sad … other then that I love your actual post :)

        • Mothering From Scratch says:

          {Kathy} Catalina, I am following you….How about having an alternate behavior that is associated with little “slip-ups”? Or, three beans for every hour you don’t whine and 1 taken away if it happens? I have found with my four kids that unless there is a consequence other than “you don’t get punished” for an undesirable behavior, it will just continue.
          I really appreciate your thoughts on this issue. Thanks for commenting. I look forward to some follow-up discussion.

  14. Kristina says:

    Do you think this tactic could be used for overall good behavior? Or is that asking too much? Time outs don’t phase my son, nothing does that is considered “consequences” for unwanted behavior. He is 3 & a half and I’ve reached my patience limit. He’s out of control and I’m scrambling on how I regain the control in our house.

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Kristina, I have always heard that you should focus on one behavior at a time. It then becomes a ripple effect. I also recommend the book, “Have A New Kid By Friday” because it outlines the basics of behavior modification. Also, seek some professional assistance to get some other suggestions for your specific child. Disciplining children is not a skill or a talent that you are born with—it is something that you can learn. Find good people to listen to regarding what you are experiencing with your child. You can gain control again.

  15. I like the idea of using this for sibling rivalry – especially since we are now in summer vacation. Maybe one big container; we add a marble (or something) when they are getting along; jar is full=something fun for everyone! Might have to give it a try!
    Lisa @ The Golden Spoons recently posted..Mornings – Bah Humbug!My Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} OOooo. I like the idea of doing this for sibling rivalry. That would probably work. I swear I am going to try that with my teenagers! Thanks for coming by, Lisa.

  16. Tamara
    Twitter: TamaraCamPhoto
    says:

    I love this idea. My nearly four-year-old is the biggest whiner ever! No matter what we say, she does it. I’m doing this..
    Tamara recently posted..A Tale of Six Grandparents.My Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Four years old seems to be when whining peaks! I’m serious. It’s also the best time to squash it like a bug. Let me know how it goes, Tamara! I would love to hear how it works for you.

  17. I like it! I can see an array of situations that this would work for. Thank you for the idea…I’m off to buy some beans (and find some jars)!
    Kim recently posted..Magic MudMy Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Kim, thanks for visiting. It does work for a variety of situations…mostly to get rid of annoying or inappropriate behavior. Let’s see. How long is that list in my house right now?

  18. I love the dedication to your MIL! And thanks for sharing her good idea.
    Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom recently posted..I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar – Kindergarten StyleMy Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} She is still dedicated–to my husband, her other sons and ALL of her grandchildren. Maxine has a style of mothering that we can all learn from: no nonsense, loving and effective.

  19. Hope
    Twitter: defininghope1
    says:

    I think this is a great idea. My daughter’s preschool use to do something similar with pennies in a jar. i tried to mimic it, but didn’t have the full gist of what was done. I love this post. Out to get my Lima beans.
    Hope recently posted..“Getting to know you” Liebster AwardMy Profile

  20. What a great idea! I know two of my kids would benefit from that type of jar. I’m going to try it!

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Angela, let me know how it goes. It’s a little difficult to get started, but once it clicks, it stays clicked.

  21. HappyMomSusan
    Twitter: happymomsusan
    says:

    As I look back at the teen years of a “friend” I have a suggestion:

    Lock up your beans. Mark your beans. Control your beans.

    Your teens will get creative and find “extra” beans to put in the jars when you aren’t looking.

    My “friend” said it was really easy to do, but that may be because her dad used pennies instead of Lima beans.
    HappyMomSusan recently posted..An apology to the third gradeMy Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} Yes Susan! Kids are smart. This is the equivalent of an adult cheating on their taxes! The laws are in place to protect the government, however, there are still watchdogs!
      The jar must be HARD to reach. It’s a good point to make.
      Thanks.

  22. Crystal
    Twitter: MommiFried
    says:

    Love this idea! Think it will come in handy as my 16-month-old has just developed a habit of whining (all day long)! UGH! :)
    Crystal recently posted..My Favorite Pins of the Week: Express YourselfMy Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} 16 months old is a tricky age. They really don’t understand what they are doing that is driving you batty. I encourage you to speak to your child as you wish to be spoken toward and help them have do-overs as often as possible. It will be gone before you know it if you can nip it in the bud now.

  23. Karen
    Twitter: mrs_KarenC
    says:

    oh, I like that idea… might have to use that on my hubby.

    Thankfully son doesn’t whine but he does complain when he doesn’t get what he wants. I wanted a yellow cookie or I wanted the purple drink not the blue one. I remind him to say thank you. It may not be what you wanted, but someone bought it for you and need to show them gratitude. If you don’t want it they won’t buy you anything anymore.

    Does your MIL, have any tips on gratitude? LOL
    Karen recently posted..Thankful for my Small SpaceMy Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} I shall ask her! She is awesome. She raised 3 boys with so much courage and creativity. I often ask her what to do when it comes to boys. Her only granddaughter is my daughter and it has been fun watching her navigate the world of girls!
      I know that thankfulness and gratitude is a straight up virtue that we can teach our children. Mostly we learn this when we go without—-
      For example, I was just helping my college boy move out of his dorm room yesterday which flooded my memories of my own dorm life school. I remember very distinctly being thankful for my kitchen sink when I got home. You just don’t have one at school. You brush your teeth and wash your dirty dishes in one sink.
      I don’t know how old your son is, but I always find it interesting when children try desperately to exert power in every way they can—even if it’s choosing one colored drink over another. Powerlessness is a hard state to be in 24/7. Three year olds are notorious for these “three-year-old particulars”. If he is older, than the old concept of “keep it in your head, not out your mouth” is the one to enforce. Yes, you may not have wanted the blue cookie, but keeping that to yourself is a learned trait.
      Good luck!

  24. Crystal Green
    Twitter: tidbitsofexperi
    says:

    I think this is a solid idea. However, with my kids it wouldn’t work because I have people in their lives who get them what they want regardless of how they behave. So, they wouldn’t have anything to “work towards.”

    I live in a catch 22-22 situation often.
    Crystal Green recently posted..Where’s The Desire to Have Sex???My Profile

    • Mothering From Scratch says:

      {Kathy} That is an interesting quandary. I sometimes have to search long and hard at what my kids’ “currency” is on any given day. What has worth in their life? It may not be anything material. Sometimes it is time. Time to do what they want, where they want, etc. Sometimes it is choices. They get to choose in a situation they might not otherwise get to do so. I encourage you to always find out what matters to them. Good luck.
      Thanks for visiting!

  25. Mothering From Scratch says:

    {Kathy} I completely understand!

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