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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Whining in Class

Few behaviors are more annoying to teachers than whining. The student who constantly responds in a shrill, high-pitched voice can frustrate and exasperate even the calmest teacher. If you have a whiner in your classroom, you might find that as your patience wears thin, you spend more and more time responding to her. That added attention not only takes time away from your lesson, it actually reinforces the whining.

Children whine because they have learned that whining gets them more attention than speaking in a normal tone of voice does. But, if whining is learned because of others' reactions to it, it also can be unlearned by modifying your response to it.

Before taking any corrective action, consider the possibility that the student's whining is due to a speech problem or an extremely nasal voice. If you suspect that might be the case, refer the student to your school's speech-language specialist.


Establish a 'no whining' rule. As you discuss classroom rules with students, tell them that whining is not allowed because it is unpleasant to listen to and can disrupt classroom lessons. You might need to explain to younger students what you mean by whining, perhaps providing examples of both appropriate and inappropriate ways of speaking. Help students understand that they are more likely to get a positive response if they use a pleasant, grown-up voice, rather than a whiny one.

Gently correct the whiner. The first few times a student whines, say to her in a matter-of-fact manner: "I have trouble understanding you when you use that voice, but I'll be glad to help you if you speak in a normal tone of voice." If the student speaks normally in response to your comment, praise her and respond to her question or concern immediately.

Ignore the behavior. If the whining continues in spite of several corrections, you then might say in a neutral manner, "Sarah, you are whining," and return to what you were doing without further response. Even expressions of annoyance can be reinforcing to a student seeking attention, and could serve to maintain the behavior.

Identify factors that might be contributing to the whining. Observe the circumstances surrounding the student's whining; you might be able to anticipate when the behavior will occur and take steps to prevent it. For example, a student might be more likely to whine when she is tired, hungry, or frustrated.

Silently signal the student when she whines. The student might not recognize that she is using a whiny tone of voice. Arrange to let her know when she is whining by giving her a non-verbal signal that only the two of you understand. You might pull your ear or raise your eyebrows, for example. Or you might let the student choose the signal. The goal is not to embarrass her, but to help her become more aware of when she is whining so she can learn to monitor herself.

Teach the student proper communication skills. A student might whine because that is the easiest way she knows to get others' attention. If that is the case, meet with the student privately and teach her how to express a concern or ask for what she wants in a respectful, pleasant, non-whiny manner. You might role-play with the student; giving her common school situations and having her try different ways of responding to those situations.

Tape-record the student's whining. Consider taping the whining when the student is not aware of it. Find some private time with her and play the tape so she can hear what her whining sounds like. Let her know that you are not trying to embarrass her, but to help her overcome a problem that can cause her classmates to avoid her.

About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.