No one starts out wanting to be a nag — it just seems to happen. If you’re the parent of an ADD or ADHD child, it can even become second nature, since these kids get distracted easily and are often forgetful. It may seem like reminding your child to do his homework is a good thing, so why doesn’t it work? Here are some ideas as to why this traditional method of motivation is anything but motivating.
1. It creates resentment. Nagging may produce an angry response in your spouse or kids, and make them resent you. The task you are nagging about becomes the last thing they want to do.
2. Nagging is unpleasant, so you will get tuned out. No one wants to hear the same old nag over and over, and your spouse and kids will simply stop listening. The more you nag, the less they hear.
3. It’s negative reinforcement. Nagging says, in effect, “I will stop punishing you with this annoying nagging when you do what I want you to.” And the person being nagged feels that as soon as he does one task to make you stop nagging, you will just nag about another one.
4. Nagging can make you feel controlled, and no one likes to feel that way. Being nagged feels like you’re being manipulated, and tends to make the “nag-ee” feel like digging in his or her heels instead of doing what he or she is being nagged to do.
5. Talk is cheap, and nagging simply comes down to words. Kids (and spouses, for that matter) find it pretty easy to “duck” annoying words. They have learned that you are just talk, and you’ll eventually end up doing the task yourself; all they have to do is weather the word storm to make you go away.
6. When it comes to kids, nagging models behavior that you probably don’t want to deal with. After all, nagging is something we can often dish out but not take! If you constantly nag, you may find that your kids begin to communicate with you the same way.
7. Nagging focuses on what a person is not doing. Once again, it has a negative focus. Nagging points out all the things that are wrong with the person, and implies that he or she is not worthy because he or she has not done certain tasks. Nagging is a way of finding fault, and it tends to wear people down instead of build them up.
So instead of nagging, state the rules clearly and give consequences. This actually gives your child some control, because in effect, you’re saying, “It’s up to you. If you don’t do your homework tonight, there will be the consequence of no TV.” I also think it’s important to make a commitment to focus on the positive — in other words, catch your child being good. You may be surprised at the results you get from these two small changes you make.
Dr. Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 30 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD - ADHD) and learning disabilities. Dr. Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. "Dr. Bob" has provided practical information for parents as a radio talk show host and as editor of Child Development Institute's website, childdevelopmentinfo.com. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.