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I have a 15 month old little girl who up until now has been a very easy baby. Over the last month or so, she has begun whine nearly constantly. There are a few ways to stop her. Usually these involve picking her up or taking her outside to play. Both work well, but there are certain times when they are not an option, like if I am the only parent around and I am cooking dinner or something.

Any suggestions on breaking this new behavior?

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It gets her what she wants. You can shift her on to a better strategy to get what she wants by deciding some other way for her to ask that's within her capabilities, and responding to that and not to the whining. Our wonderful daycare lady wouldn't pick up a crying toddler (unless they were hurt, of course). She's tell them "No crying babies", then pick them up immediately when they asked or walked over with outstretched arms. –  Marc 2 days ago

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Right around 15 months, according to the book The Wonder Weeks, comes Mental Leap 9. The authors of The Wonder Weeks describe mental leaps as the bounds in development your child makes where he goes from one way of understanding the world to another, more mature and adult-like way of understanding it. As your child ages his leaps build on each other and he learns more and more about the world.

During these mental developmental leaps, however, your toddler's world is being rocked. He's learning that there are whole new layers to the way the world works. This is incredibly disruptive to his experience of life. During mental developmental leaps toddlers often have difficulty sleeping, may eat poorly, are clingier, are crankier, cry more, act a little more like babies, and the symptoms go on. Generally every time my 17 month old has hit a rough spot in her infant and toddler life I've found when I checked the calendar that she's in the so-called fussy phase before one of these leaps. The fussy phases for most of the leaps last 3-6 weeks. In between the leaps are a period of 1-6 calmer weeks, depending on the leap. During these clingy, cranky, fussy phases a little extra understanding may go a long way for both you and your toddler.

Mental Leap 9 is the one where your child gains the skills to begin to manipulate and try to get his way. So he's not only crankier, he's also practicing his new skill of whining to get his way. And this is where you have to decide how your family wants to handle whining.

Depending on your overarching parenting philosophy you may chose something very different from what the next family will chose. Whatever you decide, you want to make sure that it is consistent with your principals and family rules. Some parents do prefer to, for example, pick up a child every single time that he indicates he wants up. They do this because they believe that it is critical to a child's development to be that responsive. These parents tend to consider themselves Attachment Parents, at least in the US. Most AP parents use devices like soft structured baby carriers and wraps to provide closeness in situations such as cooking, even for toddlers. Other parents believe that now that the child is gaining a rudimentary ability to understand reactions to actions and consequences for behavior now is the time to begin teaching patience by asking that a child not get his or her way every minute. For example Janet Landsbury sums up the Resources for Infant Educarers view of how to handle whining by suggesting that you calmly tell your child you understand they are upset, but that the whining hurts your ears and you want them to speak in a normal tone. RIE also emphasizes that by giving your child your full attention during every day activities such as feeding, dressing, diapering, and other mundane parts of life you can stop whining before it starts.

As you have already noticed, taking your child outside tends to quell whining. In both Your One Year Old and The Happiest Toddler on the Block I noticed that the authors suggested that the best way to minimize tantrums was to maximize your toddler's outdoors time. While I agree that parents cannot have their child outside playing every minute of every day I do find that my 17 month old is less likely to be throwing a tantrum or whining at me if we have spent a good deal of time outdoors every day. So I do tend to structure our day with as much outdoor time as my schedule allows in order to head off later whining, or in my daughter's case loud screaming as she usually alternates between sunny and full-out furious with no intermediate state.

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For our 16m/o, a "No child, none of that" in a disapproving but not angry tone, as often as necessary, gets the point across; while we aren't ignoring her, what she's doing for attention is not kosher. If she persists, it's usually because:

  • she's bored (this seems to be your child's primary complaint, as a change of scenery does the trick; maybe you can step away from your other duties for a little while and indulge her),
  • she's hungry (offering her an animal cracker is a good gauge; if she wolfs it down we get out something more substantive for a snack or meal, while if she plays around with it it's boredom), or
  • it's naptime (there will be other signs like droopy eyelids, face rubbing, and the fact that when we lay her down in the crib she doesn't argue the point).

You might be tempted to try Pavlovian methods here; reward the good, ignore the bad. This is IMO a mistake; your daughter is trying, in her own way, to make sure you still have her back, and to ignore that can be damaging. It can also lead to escalation to a behavior you cannot ignore, which will reinforce this path of behavior as something that will eventually get your attention.

You should be responsive to your child. If this behavior seems engineered to get a particular response (she has, for instance, learned that whining will get her picked up and maybe even carried outside), then break that cause-effect relationship by consistently providing a different response to that behavior that she doesn't want (it doesn't have to be a punishment per se), and encouraging a different behavior that will get her what she does want (if that's within your power).

Just don't be too responsive; there are parents who take the exact opposite tack and respond earnestly to every movement and sound their child makes. First, this is impossible to keep up, and second, if you are always watching your child, they get the impression that something's up and maybe they're not as safe as they think.

By the same token, don't ignore destructive or overly disruptive behavior. As a parent, listening to whining is in your job description (Section II, Paragraph 3, right next to "being indispensable one moment and an embarrassment the next"). However, if she escalates, respond, this time with a firm "no" and/or a time-out.

The whining, the wanting to be held, the wanting Mommy (or Daddy) around all the time, is all part and parcel of the "clingy phase" that happens around this time. As babies learn to walk, run, climb, and generally push the envelope toward independence, they're also redefining their "comfort zone", and sometimes that will involve a regression or two back to "mommy needs to be with me all the time or I don't feel safe". Your child will outgrow this. In the meantime, giving her a response, but not the result she was after, is the order of the day for behavior you want to discourage.

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Here is one more thing in addition to KeithS's great answer.
You can just involve your child into your tasks simply by showing what you do and describing it to the child (i.e. "You see, now I'm putting the plate on the table, then I'll wash the dishes", "I wash the dishes with water").
Every new word, every new concept will have an impact on your child. By the way it will learn new things. Later the child will want to help you with your tasks, as it will know what to do and how.

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For the non-mobile younger baby, say the 5 month old, this is a really great idea. For a 15 month old, though, I think it's unlikely to help nearly as much. Toddlers are very action-driven. I actually do let my 1 year old "help" unload the dishwasher once there are just things like spoons in it and she loves it. –  justkt Aug 6 '13 at 12:47
    
I have 3 children, and it just works. Later he will help you on your tasks (as he will know how to do it) and it will be the action that you looking for. The first times he will help you, he will not do it perfect, but with your advice (i.e. "when we cleaning the table, is easier to hold the rag this way...") he will learn it fast. –  Alexander Aug 28 '13 at 6:22

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