Communicating With Kids

10 Powerful Responses When Your Child Whines or Complains

Learn how to respond to your complaining child using “wants” and “wishes” phrases. Free printable list with the positive parenting phrases to stop a whining child. 

Learn how to stop a complaining child using a list of perfect (and positive) responses! Positive parenting approach to stop a whining child.

I arrived at my daughter’s daycare in the afternoon to pick her up. My son was with me, and as he exited the car, he picked up a gnarly-looking 5-pound rock.

I instantly got nervous.

He held it above his head like he was going to impulsively launch it in the street or at another car.


As I gut reaction, I desperately wanted to say, “What are you doing?! Put that down right now!”

Instead, I held back.

Through my Language of Listening® classes and training, I’m working on how I respond to my kids. In these types of situations, my response dictates whether we engage in an endless power struggle or build relationship and understanding.

Unsure about what to say, I told him that rocks weren’t for throwing and that I wasn’t okay with that.

He picked up a small rock and threw it.

Trying to recognize what he was doing right I said, “You picked a smaller rock because you thought that was safer.”

He wanted to keep the big rock and I told him that he could have it when we came back out. I was working hard to trust him with this.

Again trying to notice his strengths I said, “You want to show me how careful you can be! You want to show me you know how to be safe with a big rock!”

Do you have a complaining child?

In the past, my responses were very reactionary. And my son would complain and whine back with these types reactionary statements:

“But I want it now!

“I never get do to anything!”

Or “You’re so mean!”

Then I would get all huffy and frustrated because I viewed him as defiant and ungrateful.

Then my mentor Sandy from Language of Listening® showed me how to flip complaints into a “want” or a “wish.”

Using these responses, you immediately connect with your child’s inner greatness and center your child back with who they really are!

Sandy always teaches that the more you name behaviors you like, the more your children show you those behaviors. So smart, right?

Once I changed my response (and shifted my perception), everything fell into place.

Here’s a list of things you might hear from a complaining child and 10 positive ways you can respond using “wants” and “wishes” to change the entire interaction!

  • Child says…”You’re so mean!”
  • Try…”You wish I were nicer.” (Child who likes nice people).
  • Child says…”I hate this toy!”
  • Try…”You want a different toy.” (Child who knows what s/he likes).
  • Child says…”You never let me do anything!”
  • Try… “You wish you could make all the decisions.” (Child who likes to be in the lead).
  • Child says… “She’s always taking my stuff.”
  • Try…”You want her to respect your belongings.” (Child who appreciates respect and courtesy).
  • Child says… “It’s not fair!”
  • Try… “You wish things turned out differently.” (Child who knows what s/he wants).
  • Child says…”You’re not the boss of me!”
  • Try… “You want to be in charge.” (Child who likes independence.)
  • Child says… “I want it now!”
  • Try… “You wish you didn’t have to wait.” (Child who likes things prompt and efficiently.)
  • Child says… “I’m bored.”
  • Try… “You wish things were more exciting. (Child who likes exciting things.)
  • Child says… “I can’t. I can’t.”
  • Try… “You want to be successful.” (Child who desires mastery.)
  • Child says… “This is stupid!”
  • Try… “You wish this was more meaningful. (Child who likes things they understand.)

I put all these phrases into a handy printable for you. (and psstyou can grab your copy at the end of this post!)

How to respond to your complaining child. How to stop whining.

We came back out.

After picking my daughter up, we all walked back to the parking lot. My son immediately picked up the rock, held it over his head, and seemed like he was going to (gasp) throw it.

I was nervous again, but firmly said, “Show me how you’re careful with the rock.”

He started placing the rock down gingerly all over the place.

“Look here!” he would say each time he set it somewhere new.

“Like this, mom.”

“See. Here. Like this.”

He brought it all the way home and put it all over outside walking into the house and all over the house showing me how he could gently place it down. I continued naming those strengths.

“You know how to be careful.”

“You handled that.”

The rest of the day, his behavior was calm, relaxed and cooperative.

Looking for some SMART ways to teach kids to follow directions? These following directions tips are perfect and love the following directions activities at the end!

Instead of saying, “Put that rock down right now. How many times do I have to tell you to be careful?!” it was like I finally got the memo.

He was trying to be careful.

Now that I finally noticed, he didn’t need to test boundaries to prove to me the rest of the day that he was careful and trustworthy.

I’m not always perfect with using “wants” and “wishes” to respond to complains, whines, pouts or behaviors I don’t like. But when I do remember to pause and notice what’s really happening, it’s easy to discover your child’s inner greatness.

All kids are filled with greatness.

It’s only a matter of pausing, recognizing, remembering to draw all that greatness out. 

Grab your free printable!

Use this handy printable sheet to help you turn your child’s most common complaints into a “want” or “wish.” It’s such an easy way to shift perceptions and turn an interaction with your child into a positive one!

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  1. I like this article and way to reframe a child’s motives for you but I have one question about the scenario… Child picks up big rock. You tell him rocks are not for throwing and you are not okay with that. Child puts down big rock, picks of small rock, throws it. This is direct disobedience even though he DID choose a safer option. How do you handle that?

    1. Kari, this is such a great question. Most often what we see as disobedient behavior is actually a child’s reaction to not having autonomy or the dignity of choice. No one wants to be controlled or manipulated (that’s often a trigger for us, too!) and children are still developing the self-control and maturity to slow down and make a better decision. When we jump ahead and make the choice for them, as in “Put that down” or “Don’t talk to me like that” or any other demand, the child will feel trapped in a corner. The only way to reassert their autonomy will be to defy your command.

      Instead, if we, as the adults, can help decipher what the child needs or wants in the moment and voice it, then the child can feel heard and validated which often diffuses the situation. You might be able to offer a choice, such as “Rocks are not for throwing. Would you like to bounce this ball with me or catch this hacky sack? How many times can you bounce it?” or “Rocks are not for throwing. Would you like to look at it with me? What colors do you see?” Either way, the throwing ends.

      There is no “winning or losing” when it comes to your child learning and growing. You are both on the same side. This shift is essential when moving away from the typical “power-over” dynamic that most of us grew up with. “Power-with” is a much stronger and healthier relationship to develop. It doesn’t mean the parents are pushovers and give-in to their child’s every want. That would be unhealthy, too. The child doesn’t get to keep throwing rocks. While there’s no need to berate him for the small rock he already threw that didn’t hurt anyone, if the child keeps attempting to throw rocks, then it’s time to move away from the rocks. There are definitely still boundaries, especially around safety. The important thing is to hold boundaries in ways that still protect your relationship. I hope this helps clarify things.

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