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Make Visits to the Clinic Easier – Dealing with Whining

    Recently, while reading a book in a snack bar area while waiting for my granddaughter to finish her soccer practice, I found myself at a table beside a mother and her beautiful ten-year-old daughter. The ten-year-old had her homework spread out in front of her while her mother was on her mobile phone.

    About an hour before the practice was to end, my thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of the child whining about something and her mother attempting to reason with her in a low voice that would not attract attention. However, the whining persisted. And, persisted. And, persisted.

    For at least an hour, this lovely little girl simply would not stop her whining in spite of her mother’s attempts to appease, cajole, and bring the whining to a halt. I became irritated, distracted, and even amazed that this was being allowed to go on for so long.

    As I looked around in search of another place to sit, I marveled at this mother’s “patience” as well as her seeming inability to bring the whining to a stop. I did not hear her ever give her daughter a flat, “No” nor enact any consequences for her daughter’s behavior. All I could hear was her “reasoning” with this ten-year-old over and over again.

    I couldn’t help but wonder how this behavior had come to be.

    Reasoning is not a bad thing between parent and child, ….to a point…. But children must understand there is a limit to reasoning. Accepting that ‘No really means No’, will help them live in this world where “no” often the answer.

    Whining is learned when a child wants something, asks for it, is denied, then continues to ask for it while denied repeatedly until finally the parent relents and gives in.

    Whining is stopped when a parent gives a meaningful consequence to their child’s whiney behavior. The purpose of the consequence is teaching the child what “no” means, and that whining is NOT the way to get what they want.

    Children learn that ‘whining works’ the moment their parent gives up and gives in. They realize the power of whining and it slips into their subconscious: “When I use that whiny voice and keep using it persistently until I get what I want, guess what? IT WORKS!

    Children are not being bad when they whine, nor are they purposefully trying to drive you crazy. Rather, they are applying what they learned from how you responded, “the last time,” and will be even more persistent the next time.

    Parents teach their children to whine by rewarding it. Used successfully, it then becomes a habit. It’s normal that most children whine now and again, it’s a human behavior, and the child’s initial attempts are a test to give them information about how it will work for them. So, how a parent handles it when it first begins will dictate how it develops into a habit over time.

    When I hear from a frustrated parent, “My child’s whining drives me crazy,” I must admit, my first thought is, “Well, YOU probably taught them how to do it!” I know. That sounds harsh, but it is more the truth than not. I know that ten-year-old girl was not born with a natural whining skill to get what she wanted. She learned it.

    Before I retired from my social work position, I often witnessed children whining when receiving prescribed, required medical treatment. This was true both at home and in clinic. As you well know, medical treatment often involves painful procedures Generally the pain is short-lived and necessary to make them healthier and over time to even feel better. Usually, the actual treatment procedure itself only lasts about 5-10 minutes, if that.

    Whining can stretch treatment 45 minutes to an hour longer.

    “No!” “Stop!”
    “I’m not ready yet!”
    “I want a drink!”
    “No! Not there, not there.”
    “I like butterfly needles that are yellow, not green.”

    And, on and on. The treatment is not a frivolous action on the part of nurses or parent. The doctor did not prescribe it for no reason. It is necessary, and in spite of all efforts to negotiate, be kind, patient, gentle, and understanding, everyone knows it is going to be administered (eventually), no matter what.

    There is always a point when one or all of the adults in the room put their foot down with the child, and treatment time finally arrives. At that juncture, everyone involved is upset and exhausted. It isn’t pretty.

    But it doesn’t have to come to that. Parents of children with medical problems can integrate new ways of dealing with the certainty of treatments, and other medical procedures. Parents can diminish if not eliminate whining during treatments. Parents can shorten treatment times and ease their child’s anxiety.

    Developing a few positive habits helps both parents and children make treatment time smoother and quicker. Here are a few tips.


    1. As the parent, come to terms with and teach the message: “This medical condition is a part of our lives, and is what makes us who we are!”
    2. You know your child will have to accept the reality of their medical condition and their treatments. As with the natural color of their skin, hair, and eyes, etc., the necessary medical treatment is just a fact of their life to be accepted and coped with, with positive coping and acceptance being more comfortable and productive than negative coping.
    3. Stop the whining. Impress upon your child that you will not tolerate whining in any situation, and especially in the treatment arena, and that there will be consequences they will not desire —– then deliver.
    4. Teach that whining is not helpful in the treatment situation. Demonstrate your parenting skills by administering discipline to whining behaviors while rewarding them for cooperating which will result in rewards and feeling good/happy.
    5. Be prepared to say “no” and mean “no” by administering consequences for whining. This applies to not only the medical condition but in all situations.
    6. Assure and impress upon them that treatment is only a part of their life and is only to help them.
    7. Teach that you, their parent, are in charge of making treatment decisions until they are trained and experienced in making those decisions themselves (Age of majority – or age of maturity.)
    8. Teach that holding still is a good thing when being treated and will result in treatment going more quickly and comfortably.
    9. Use distraction activities with your child to increase the probability they will be cooperative. Practice together, or use dolls or teddy bears as patients your child can “treat.”
    10. Discuss and learn distraction techniques from the medical staff, and/or develop your own.