how to stop kids from whining

My kids — ages 9 and 12 — sometimes don’t want to do stuff. They dread showers. They drag their feet going to school. They don’t want to go bed (even with the stars!).

For a while, I dealt with complaints by cheerleading or trying to be strict or listening to their negotiation pitches — “Mommy, hear me out” is Anton’s famous line — but finally, after more than a decade of parenting, I figured out the approach that works best for us.

Basically, I remembered this handsome fellow:

As Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.”

how to stop kids from whining

Now when Anton or Toby complain about something, instead of saying, “You have to!” or “Stop complaining!” or “Just do it!”, I’ll shift the conversation and tell them “Well, you do have to do it, so how can we make it feel a little better?”

Suddenly, we’re not debating whether they have to do it anymore. Instead, we’re all moving forward. Bonus: I also like that it puts me on their side — instead of being the enemy. Now I’m the person making it BETTER, not worse.

how to stop kids from whining

Here’s an example: “You DO have to go to school, so how can I help it feel easier?” Then I’ll give some options: “Would you like to eat cereal in bed?” “Can I help you find your socks?” “Want to play Would You Rather on the walk to school?”

Another scenario: “You DO have to do your homework, so what might make it feel better? Would you like me to sit with you? Or to have a newly sharpened pencil? Or a glass of fizzy water?”

And a third: “You DO have to take a bath, so how would you like to do it? Should we light a candle? Get a colander to make it rain? Afterward, want to use my hair dryer to dry yourself off?”

toby anton

It works! My kids get into it. (We’ve had lots of breakfasts in bed!) And as they grow, I’m hoping that this style of thinking will teach them how to tolerate something they don’t want to do and make the best of it. Win/win.

What do you think? Have you tried this before? What other parenting tips and tricks have helped you lately? I always love love love to hear…

P.S. 21 surprising parenting tips, and three words that changed how I parent.