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Managing Crying,Whinging,Clinging Children by Denise Thornton

Children learn how to manipulate their parent's emotions from an early age. Sadly, many parents do not recognise the manipulation for what it is and cannot deal with it as effectively as they might.  They find themselves becoming irritated, giving in to their children or even find themselves powerless to deal with this behaviour.

Whinging and whining is an excellent example of the way children can get their own way with parents.   Whining has been defined as a verbal complaint given in a high pitched singing voice.  It is not so much what the child says that is the problem, it is the way he says it.  Whinging and whining tend to peak at arounf the ages of three or four.  However, if children get into a habit of whinging because it generally gets them what they wanted, the behaviour can last much longer.

Initially most children whinge and whine to get attention because they are not able to put their frustrations and unhappiness into words.  If theyg et enough attention they are rewarded and the chance that they will use the same tactic again increases.  There is no reason why chidlren should have to resrt to whining to get attention from their parents unless their parents do not take notice of them unless they whine!

The most effective strategies for stopping whining and whinging behaviour generally focus on the chnage in the tone of voice the child uses either refusing to respond unless the child speaks properly, saying you can't understand because of the way the child is talking;or trying to get to the root of the problem.  Being clear with children certainlt helps e.g: "I will help you if you talk properly, otherwise I will just ignore you".

Typical reasons for children to start whinging include - feeling ill, falling out with friends, wanting attention, finding tasks too difficult, feeling left ot or picked on, being bored, not having enough time, being tired etc  Giving children the chance to explain what the problem is usually eases the situation.  However, some children need to have the chance to make choices or take responsibility to feel more in control before they are able to stop whining.

Ask yourself if your child is more likely to get what they want by whining or by asking nicely? If whining works for your child, you need to change before you can expect your child to.  Whining has to be unsuccessful before it will stop.  You have to be aware of the situations that prompt the whining and make sure that you give your child good attention without the need for whining. 

Dealing with clingy children is similar but in this case the child's strength of attachment to one person is linked to the level of involvement that person has with the child.  Sometimes this leads to a preference for one parent, sometimes it is triggered by a carer leaving the child e.g: at nursery, with a babysitter etc.

Many new parents find it difficult to leave a baby who cries when they are put down or when someone else tries to look after them.  Picking a child up everytime they cry obviously increases the chance of the child crying.  However, this is a stage that most parents get through successfully.  The problem starts when a parent lacks confidence, is ambivalent about leaving their child or feels guilty about separating from their child.

If a parent does not want to relinquish their child to someone else and worries that the child will not be cared for properly, their anxiety is usually unconsciously communicated to their child and the child often becomes more nervous and clingy.  This makes the parents feel worse and a cycle is set up which can become very persistent.  If the parent is unable to walk away and leave the child, they may feel even more reluctant to leave them the next time or even put off having to leave the child for a long time.  This uncertainty allows the child to play the crying and whinging approach to great effect.  Problems often start, if a parent tries to leave a child just at the point when a baby has established a real preference for them, at about 7 months of age.  For young children thi is the most difficult time for a parent to leave.  By 12 months of age most babies prefer to be picked up by the person who cares for them most of the time.  They will show separation distress if their mother, father or carer wlaks our of the room only, to greet them enthusiastically when they return.

Often babies will try to follow the person or cling onto their clothing as a way of stopping them leaving.  Most babies also develop a negative reaction to strangers at about the same stage so that they might cry if a stranger approaches them or tries to hold them.  This makes it even more difficult for a parent to leave them in the care of someone else if that person is a stranger.

What should parents do?

There is no right way to leave a baby or child.  It depends on the child's age, personality and the situation.  It helps if you can;

  • Get used to leaving your baby with someone you trust for a short time whilst they are under 3 months of age.
  • Try to leave your child with the same person each time or at least establish a small number of people your child is familiar with, who can look after him.
  • Increase the time the child is left gradually so that you both become more confident.
  • See that your baby and their carer are enjoying each others company.  Don't be in too much of a rush to leave when you go to collect your child.  Watch them together and give them chance to get to be together when you are there.
  • Make sure your child is comfortable being left with at least one other person before you try to leave him at a playgroup or nursery.



Regardless of the age, children can only develop independence with the help of the adults who care for them.  Most babies will cry when they realise that you are going to leave them but they will soon get used to the separations.   Children need to learn that there are other people in their world besides the one person they are clinging on to.

It certainly helps if you can begin leaving your baby with a trusted adult whilst they are still quite young.  Many children are happy to be left with their grandparents for short periods of time. 

With older children, clingy behaviour often follows a period of instability or a change in the child's circumstances.  The death of a close relative, the break down in a parental relationship or a change of school, house or carer can prompt clingu, whinging r whining behaviour.  If delat with reasonably, most children go through this phase relatively quickly.  However, anything which prolongs the situation, such as parents giving in, may lead to longer term problems or recurrent problmes which can be triggered by an ever increasing range of situations.