“I’ve told you to clean your room 1,000 times!” Why nagging your child, yelling and repeating yourself don’t work—and how to talk to your kids so they will listen.
Here’s the truth: nagging and arguing with your child doesn’t work. We parents often get in a rut—out of stress, frustration or just not knowing any other way—and so we do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. It’s important to understand that yelling and nagging won’t get you anywhere—and will ultimately create a negative pattern in your relationship. When you do this, all your child will learn to do is tune you out. This allows them to gain more power and control, rather than becoming more responsible.
“In order to change behaviors, don’t try to take on too many things at once. It will just overload both you and your child.”
Let me stop here and say that I know firsthand that parenting isn’t easy. Parents today experience stress in all parts of our lives—–financially, at work, and with a host of family demands. The idea of having to deal with difficult issues with your child can become overwhelming, especially when you feel like you’re yelling and repeating yourself and no one’s listening. When that happens, our frustration just spills over and we become even less effective. Sometimes, even if you realize that nagging and arguing with your kids isn’t getting them to do their chores or be more responsible, doing things differently can feel like it would take too much energy and time. It just becomes easier to go back to the default system—even if it doesn’t work.
The reason nagging doesn’t work is because kids understand that we are just going to say the same thing over and over and not follow-through or hold them accountable. Little by little, kids push our limits, responding more slowly to the request, ignoring the “or else,” or just ignoring us altogether. We nag more, they disregard us more, and it becomes a vicious cycle. The good news is that when you can stop nagging and do things a little differently, your child will take notice. This new way of doing things may take time to be effective, but it will definitely capture your child’s attention. (I’ll tell you more about that in a moment.)
When you come to the point where you are sick and tired of getting no results with your child, you are probably sick and tired enough to try something else. There are techniques to get our kids to do chores, homework and their other responsibilities that work, and others (like nagging and fighting with them) that usually don’t.
There are some tips to getting our kids to do things without nagging and arguing with them:
Maybe your child is slow to get out of the house when you need to leave, and you find yourself saying (in an increasingly loud tone), “Get in the car, get in the car, get in the car right now!” Instead, you can try saying, “We’re leaving now and in order for me to do the things I need to do today, we need to go. If you delay us, I will need to take that time off your computer time.”
In the grocery store, you might be in this habit of saying to your younger child, “Don’t touch that—I said don’t touch that! I mean it!” Instead, you could say “If you touch that food again, we’re going to have to leave the store and go home.” Then—and here’s the important part—you have to be willing to go home, if it comes to that. (Don’t worry about your cart…someone will put things back, especially if you have a chance to let a store clerk know on the way out.)
I had an experience with my son when he was young where he really wanted a plastic sword at the grocery store, and he became quite demanding. I said, “Stop it” and “no” a few times, to no avail—his screams just got louder and louder. When I saw it wasn’t working, I thought about how I could respond differently. I decided to be honest and tell him why he wasn’t getting the sword – because I had already bought it for him for Christmas. He really didn’t want to know that, as it spoiled the surprise, but he immediately stopped demanding it and still remembers that interaction to this day, as a fully grown adult.
The point is, instead of our nagging and arguing becoming louder, harder and more intense, we can find alternative ways to communicate our expectations. After doing this for a while, you will see your child take notice and begin to show that they know that you mean business. It’s important to remember that our kids really want structure and limits from us because it makes them feel safer. We also become more comfortable as we gain success and realize we can have an impact on our kids’ behavior without resorting to nagging and arguing with them.
If you’re having trouble establishing your authority as a parent, you may even go so far as to plan where you sit to reflect that you’re in charge. A single mother I knew planned to tell her kids the new clear expectations at the dinner table after dessert while sitting at the head of the table. It was her first step toward taking charge of her family again, and it set the tone for future positive interactions and a better relationship with her kids.
It’s important to remember that the goal with setting expectations for our kids and holding them accountable is to make them responsible, successful members of society. Always ask yourself, “What does my child need from me right now?” Nagging and arguing won’t help you get to your goal, but setting clear expectations and following through will.
Janet Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years. A veteran social worker, she specializes in child behavior issues — ranging from anger management and oppositional defiance to more serious criminal behavior in teens. She is co-creator of The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide To Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™.