Structure Deters a Child’s Whining

If you add this element to your day, you will help prevent your child from whining. If you have a child who whines, this is how to stop it.

Whining child

No one likes to hear a child whining. It can really lead you to lose your patience quickly as a parent when your child whines at you.

Of course we as parents need to reflect what we expect, so we need to keep our cool even if circumstances don’t lend themselves to being calm.

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This means you can accomplish so much more with a mere ounce of preventative effort than the pound of effort it will take to fix the problem.

Anything you can do to prevent whining will help keep peace and harmony in the home.

So let’s talk about a simple tip to stop this whining.

Make sure you have structure in your day.

Structure Deters Whining

First and foremost, let’s be sure we recognize that the title says structure “deters” whining and not “banishes” or “cures” whining.

But deters is better than nothing, right?

Structure actually does a lot for avoiding, or preventing, whining.

On the simple and obvious side, if you have a structured day, you will have nap time, a bed time, and regular meals. Structure lends itself to naps, consistent bedtimes, and regular meals.

A well-rested child whose tummy is satisfied is going to whine less. We all get that hungry, tired people are not as pleasant to be around.

But structure moves beyond that.

Structure Builds Attention Span

Adding the right structure to your day builds attention span. 

You don’t want to spend the day jumping from activity to activity as your child desires. There is a place and value to free play, but the entire day should not be free. 

On Becoming Preschoolwise says the parent should choose not only the activities of the day, but also the starting and stopping times of the activities.

“Left to choose for himself, a preschooler will generally spend too much time flitting from one activity to another or following Mom around expecting her to entertain him. Flitting and following generally lead to whining and discontent”. 

(page 119)

Preschoolers need guidance and encouragement to stick with activities longer than their natural tendancies desire.

For example, you might be working on a craft project with your preschooler. She might want to stop after about five minutes (not all would–some live for craft projects).

You can help encourage her to stick with it and finish the project.

This is great for a preschooler to do so she can learn to build her attention span for school and further learning. 

You need to choose age-appropriate activities and require an appropriate amount of time–neither too much nor too little.

“As your child grows and matures, work on increasing the length of time he spends happily engaged in each activity. This will increase your child’s attention span”.

(page 119)

Structure Provides Predictability

Structure also adds the element of no time spent wandering and wondering what to do. If you have independent play, meals, nap or rest time, learning time, family time, sibling time, outside time, chores, etc. planned into your day, your child won’t have to sit and wonder what to do next.

That leads to less whining.

Again, free time is valuable and should be a part of your structured day. It should not be your whole day. With structure, your child knows what to expect and feels secure in the day. There is no point to whining about wanting to go watch TV right now if you know every day, this is the time of day you do independent playtime.

Always remember, if your child whines and you acquiesce and change things up because of the whining, your child will learn that whining works to get what he wants.

Children are excellent scientists and he will quickly learn how to get what he wants. If you do not want it to happen, don’t let it work.


If you find your child is whining a lot, spend some time analyzing the structure in your day.

Do you have enough of it? Are you working to develop your child’s focusing and independent skills? Is your child getting the rest and food she needs?

Address this simple area first when trying to troubleshoot a whining problem.

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This post originally appeared on this blog January 2011

Structure deters whining with a picture of a whining child

14 thoughts on “Structure Deters a Child’s Whining”

  1. Structure does so much! It deters whining and also helps with discipline. Many times, when Avery is being disobedient, it is because I am faltering on our structure and routine.

  2. This is not 100% related to the post, but the topic is mentioned.Question for anyone with more experience than I. As the parent of a 5 month old, at what age is it appropriate to push through the whining/fussing and make your child continue the activity?For example, sometimes he's playing under the 'swing set' of toys and gets fussy. I know it depends on how long he has been playing well, but I definitely don't want to start pattern of responding to his every 'whine'. I do think about the fact that he can't really move himself away (he doesn't roll yet), so 'telling me' is the only way he has to let me know he's done. Just curious of others thoughts or if there is already a post about this.

  3. Hello Valerie, this is Janelle from Malaysia with Abby aged 8 months 5 days old 🙂 For the past week Abby's afternoon nap has been wonky – she is on a 4 hour schedule starting at 7.30am. She takes her solids pretty well but is still a big fan of breastfeeding. Over the last week after a 2.5hr waketime (following her sleepy cues as well) she has been sleeping for 1.5hrs instead of the usual 2. I shortened her waketime to approx 2hrs and yesterday she only slept for 45 minutes! She is not interested in an evening catnap (won't settle at all) preferring to stay up til bedtime at 8.15pm. My question is, should I extend her waketime to more than 2.5hrs? Today I watched for sleepy cues and put her down after 2hrs 20 mins, we'll see how it goes! Also her morning nap is great so its just the afternoon one. Thanks and God bless

  4. to janelle,I think you should decrease the wakeful time to 1.5 hrs…really watch for the sleepy cues at 80 minutes…and start to soothe…u may be surprised that her naps extend in length. check out the book by dr polly moore..90 min sleep program.

  5. I really need to get on it with my son's daily routine. I've scheduled time for nap, mealtimes, reading time, bath, and roomtime but that's about it. I completely agree that structure will deter whining. He whines all day as he's following me around and this has got to be why he does it!But here is my question: What should I do when he refuses to play with whatever it's time for? That's my issue. I will say it's time to color. He will color for 5 min and be done with it. I will tell him do stay with it a bit longer and he will refuse. Now what? If it's something I am doing with him it's easier to keep him engaged but if it's something he has to do on his own, forget it. Say free play – I will tell him to pick an activity to do for the next 15 min or so. I may even give him 2 or 3 choices. He will either say none or if he does pick one he will not play unless I am with him. He would rather follow me around! Do I give a consequence? What do I do?

  6. Hi, now I need to modify my question – what do I do with a 1.5hr nap where Abby wakes up crying or unhappy babbling? So far she has not fallen back to sleep, and her current waketime is at 2hrs 15 minutes. Her morning waketime is 1 hr 45minutes (she sleeps for 2hrs 15 minutes in the mornings) but the afternoon nap is stuck at 1.5hrs. If she wakes up happy, no problem but she hasn't woken up happy so far. Thank you in advance! ps. To Nilu, thanks for the advice, I haven't spotted any sleepy cues before the 2hr mark though 🙂

  7. Sarah, that is a really good question and honestly not one I have sat and pondered. What I would say is when he starts to fuss to let you know he is done, go ahead and get him. If you start to see a pattern in that as soon as you put him down he starts to fuss, change that up. But if he has been there 10-15 minutes or more, I would get him.You might take note of how long he stays there before starting to get fussy. If it is 15 minutes, maybe set a timer for yourself and get him at 14 if you are concerned about teaching him whining works.Another thought is I know that my girls had to get used to waiting a bit sometimes past the point when they wanted to be done just because I had other kids to take care of. So I would talk to them, "Just a minute. I will be right there. I know you are done" etc in a soothing way until I could get them.

  8. Janelle, If things were working well for the nap at 2.5 hours waketime (for at least two weeks straight), and then have started getting shorter naps, I would extend it a little. I would do it in five minute increments. I wouldn't go beyond 3 hours for sure though. If things haven't been good for that nap with the longer waketime, I would take it back to a two hour waketime, try that for a few days, then slowly extend in five minute increments until you find what clicks. Good luck!

  9. LEM, For something like coloring, I would color with him until he enjoys it (which might be years). Not all kids like coloring…to be honest, coloring was never something I really loved. For something like a 15 minute free play, I would set the timer for that amount of time. Tell him to pick something to do and he needs to play with it until the timer goes off. You might want to give him a physical boundary too so he can't just come hang on your legs or something 🙂 Have him play until the timer goes off, even if he is crying, and you remain happy and calm even if he is crying. If 15 minutes is hard for him, start smaller and work your way up. He will learn the timer, not the crying, stops free play, and he will likely start to enjoy the free play, too.

  10. Hi Valerie,Thanks for the advice – I went through a bit of a rough patch, tweaking Abby's morning nap and that going haywire (I should leave well enough alone, I know) but the morning naps are fine now, thank God, though her morning waketime had to be extended by 5 minutes. I will do as you suggest, start with a 2 hour waketime and extend it if necessary. I think I was confused because Abby's morning nap is over 2 hrs long and I wondered if she'd need an afternoon nap *only* 2 hours after waking! Thanks again and God bless you 🙂

  11. hi Valerie its Janelle again! Quick question about early morning waking. Abby is great, her waketime is 7.15am every day but this morning she woke at 6.30! She wasn't crying, just babbling, and she dozed off for 10 minutes before waking at 7.15 as usual. My question is how do I count her waketime – from 6.30 or from 7.15 as usual? I watched her *very* closely and found sleepy cues all over the place, so I ended up giving her bath 15 mins earlier and putting her down 15 mins earlier than usual. She's taking that nap right now, I'd really like your opinion on how to calculate waketime if this occurs again (its the 1st time in ages). Thanks and God bless! 🙂

  12. Janelle, Once a baby hits about 8 months, I usually move to having the same napping and eating schedule each day despite other factors. So most of the time, I would just put her down for her first nap when she normally goes down.However, I would do as you did and watch for cues and if the child is tired earlier than usual, I would put her down.What I would have done exactly is let her sleep an extra 15-30 minutes in the morning, then put her down at the usual nap time in the morning.

  13. Thank you once again Valerie, i have actually noticed that Abby seems to be settling into a set time for both naps so your advice is timely!


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