Whining is one of those behaviors that drive parents nuts! After an afternoon full of whining, it’s easy to snap. But kids don’t whine just to push our buttons or make us head for the hills. When children whine, they’re letting us know that they need some extra attention and that all is not well.

Feelings of powerlessness or loneliness often lie at the bottom of that whiny tone. Giving a child what they’re whining for might stop the complaint for a moment, but it doesn’t get at the root of their discontent. And telling them in an exasperated tone to cut it out can flame the fire under their helpless and unhappy feelings.

What whiny children need is connection. One way to provide that connection is through the technique of “playlistening”—a tool I help all of my clients get good at. By acknowledging the whining through silliness and laughter, we give them the love and connection they’re looking for, and help them stop using that irritating tone. Here are two stories of parents who used playlistening as a cure for whining. You can adapt these same silly games with your own little ones in their whiny moments—or make up your own!

No-Uh is Back!

The other day one of the moms in a group I run shared a great story of something she tried when her daughter wouldn’t let up on the whining. The moms in this group have new infants and an older child as well. Five to eight weeks into life with their new sibling, some of the older children are letting their parents know, “I need a little extra attention!”

One mom in the group said her four-year-old daughter had been whining more than usual since the birth of her eight-week-old brother. And lately the girl had added a special sound to her whine—she didn’t just say “no!”, she said “Nooo-uh!” And at the end of each complaint, she put an “uh” sound. She said things like (read this in your whiniest voice), “I don’t want that for dinner-uh, I don’t want to go to school-uh.  Nooo-uh, I don’t want to be quiet because the baby is sleeping-uh! I want another cookie-uh!” It was grinding on the mother’s nerves in that special way that whining can!

So one afternoon, instead of getting mad, the mom tried something different.  She tried a playlistening game. She said, “Gee, that’s strange, I think there’s a NoUh in the room. Hey, NoUh, where are you? NoUh?!”

That brought a big smile to her daughter’s face and she pointed to herself. “NoUh is here,” she said, pointing to her chest. “Oh, there’s NoUh!” the mom said with delight. “I think NoUh might need a hug.” She gave her daughter a hug and the girl nestled into her arms. Fortunately, that was the last whine of the day.

The next day, the mom picked her daughter up from school (baby in tow) and her daughter said in a somewhat soft and sad voice, “Mommy, I think NoUh is back today.” So her mom leaned in and said, “Oh! I think it’s time for more hugs for NoUh.” And her daughter giggled. Now it’s become a catch phrase for her daughter. Every now and then she says that NoUh is back and the mom knows just what to do!

Whingy-Whiny Bugs

Another mom I know was on holiday with her three year-old daughter one summer. Because they were always on the move from one thing to the next, surrounded by both relatives and new faces, it was hard to get any one-on-one time together.

One day was especially busy and exhausting, and by the afternoon her daughter was whining constantly and nothing seemed to make her happy. So the mom took a deep breath and said, “Oh, these whingy-whiny bugs are everywhere! I need to get them off of you,” while picking invisible little creatures off her body. She caught them behind her ears, in her nose, and on her belly. Then, she popped the pretend bugs in her mouth and chewed with delight. “Mmmm…delicious”, she said, “I’m glad we got rid of those whingy-whiny bugs!”

Her daughter laughed with glee. She wanted more and more of the whingy-whiny bug play. After that she was much more cooperative and easygoing—and so was the mom!