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The Negative Effects of “Nagging”

Moms and dads often engage in nagging techniques because they need their children to do something and because they believe their persistent requests, demands, reminders, and threats of negative consequences will influence them to do what they want.

What most mothers and fathers fail to realize is that even when nagging does work (which is always just a temporary ‘fix’), it usually ends up leaving both sides with negative feelings about the whole matter.

“I told you to pick that up.”
“How many times do I have to remind you?”
“Will you stop it?”
“You need to have a better attitude!”
“If I have to tell you again, you’re going to your room.”

Chronic nagging will chip away at a youngster's self-worth over time. Studies show that nagging does not improve behavior – it actually worsens it. Nagging is especially defeating in kids with a poor self-image. Nagging and repeating commands make kids nervous. Some kids exhibit more than their fair share of negative behavior, but constantly reminding your children produces more negative behavior. It is better to purposely pick out some redeeming qualities and concentrate on the positives (e.g., "I like the way you ignored your brother when he was trying to pester you”). You will see the “negatives” melt away.

It's really important to understand how nagging affects everyone involved. For one, nagging says to your youngster that he is either unable or not responsible enough to do what you've asked of him without being reminded. It may be true, but what happens is this: children will start to internalize this belief and live up to the expectation that they are irresponsible. They begin to believe that they can't do it rather than they won't do it.

The other thing about nagging is that it sounds more like a demand than a reasonable request. Demands are inherently inconsiderate because it tells the person that her feelings absolutely don't matter. It's also very disrespectful. You're effectively "pulling rank" and making the child feel powerless and inferior. If you can imagine having a superior at work demanding rather than requesting something of you, then you will understand what negative feelings this might bring out in your youngster. Rebelling and defiance become a natural reaction to nagging.

In addition, nagging can give children a false sense of power because they learn they can make you upset and amplify your nagging to ridiculous levels by holding out. The longer they wait the more powerless and upset you feel because your words continue to lose influence. You react by nagging some more, which causes them to wait even longer, and the vicious cycle goes on and on.

There are a few things you could do in the place of nagging that might benefit everyone involved. The first is to come to a reasonable agreement on what needs to be done and when. Make sure that an understanding of the consequences is communicated clearly but gently and be prepared to follow through with those consequences if the agreement is not met (which will likely occur often at first). Many children will make agreements too easily just as a way to postpone what needs to be done. They may also get defensive or upset even at a simple request. Rather than reciprocate the negative attitude, make it easy for them to discuss their objection so that an agreement can be made. Once you've come to an agreement, resist all urges to hint, remind, re-ask, or demand.

The key to end nagging is to change your own attitude to certain situations. Repeating the same request over again does nothing for you or your youngster. Try these tips for a new perspective:

1. Are you expecting more of your youngster than he can reasonably deliver at his stage in life? Listen to other moms and dads when they discuss everyday life. You’ll learn about what other children are doing and can use this as a guide. Of course, every youngster is different, but knowing roughly what to expect will help you pitch your expectations accordingly.

2. As with other areas of parenting, “positivity” can go a long way when you’re caught in the nagging trap. If you can’t avoid mentioning what your youngster didn’t do, try to counter-balance this with acknowledging a good thing that he did. Perhaps he forgot to brush his teeth again, but he did wash his hands. Make a big deal out of what he did well and your nag can just be a sideline.

3. Everyone likes to receive praise. Instead of concentrating on what your youngster isn’t doing, focus on the times when he does cooperate. Implement a star chart, with a small reward after a certain number of stars are achieved. If he forgets to hang up his coat as you asked, mention that next time he hangs up his clothes, he’ll get a star on his chart. A star chart is a positive, visual incentive to good behavior.

4. If all else fails and you really want to make a point, refuse to get drawn into any other discussion until your youngster cooperates. The prospect of being ignored is often enough to spur him into action.

5. If you always nag your youngster to get dressed after breakfast, change things around. Encourage him to dress first then have breakfast. With the prospect of food, he might be more likely to cooperate.

6. If you don’t listen to your youngster’s wants and needs, you can’t expect him to consider yours. Nagging stems from a youngster not listening to a parent, and that parent feeling frustrated. So, when your youngster has something to say, give him the attention you’d expect him to give you. Then, when you want to ask something of him, you’ve already set a positive example.

7. If you feel your youngster no longer listens to you, it could be that he has simply become immune to the same demands. If you’re constantly asking your youngster to tidy up, put things in a more positive way. For example, instead of saying: ‘Tidy this room, it’s too messy to move in here.’ Try: ‘Shall we tidy up together, and then we’ll have more room to do this jigsaw?’ If you get involved yourself, the task may seem less overwhelming to your youngster.

8. Pick your battles. Driving home the idea of road safety is never wasted. But do you really need to make a point about every crumb dropped on the floor? Decide what issues are most important to you as a parent and concentrate on these.

9. Remember that a youngster can’t always see the reasoning behind the things a parent wants him to do. So, if you want him to get dressed in the morning, explain that once he’s dressed, he can go outside to play. Or if you’re constantly asking him not to step off the sidewalk, tell him that you wouldn’t want him to get hurt by a passing car.

10. Sometimes a bit of light relief is all that’s needed, rather than repeating your request for a tidy room yet again. Stage a pretend fall over a toy which has been left on the floor. Most kids love slapstick humor and the distraction can be enough to get the job done.

‘Stopping nagging’ is hard for some moms and dads to do because they actually fear what would happen if their youngster does not come through for them. This could range from something as minor as the dishes sitting in the sink longer than they should to not filling out college applications before the deadline or taking their medication. The fear or frustration may be so strong that mothers and fathers will either give in to the urge to nag – or end up doing it themselves. This is probably the worst thing you can do since all it does is reinforce the irresponsible behavior and teach children that they can get out of responsibilities by just waiting long enough. Instead, be patient and show that you have confidence in your youngster even at the risk of her not coming through. You may be surprised.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents


Mark Hutten, M.A. said...

My son is in 7th grade and is failing most classes, not because he doesn't understand the work, just because he does not turn it in. When he does turn in his work he normally gets a good grade on it. I have been giving or taking away priveleges when I see the grades going up or down each week (I can view them online). I am in contact with his teachers most days via email to try to find out if assignments were turned in or if make up work was done. He had some large assingments due today and I have not seen evidence that he has been working on them, and I told him that if they were not turned in then he would not be able to stay at a friends house over the weekend and he would lose the use of his computer. I actually wrote down what I expect to see from him at the end of the day.

Am I too involved - should I just let him get whatever grades he gets, and let him learn by failing? Even if he doesn't care if he fails? What I have been doing does not seem to be working at all. He cares about priveleges and freedom, but I feel I can't give those to him when he does not care about schoolwork.

My son is very angry, goes into rages, has started lying, and has even cut himself. This is not just because of grades, there are a lot of issues in his life. His biological father is not involved, only pops in every few months. His step father and I are seperated.

Things just seem to be getting worse. He has been diagnosed as depressed and ADHD. He is currently taking medication for both and is in counseling.

Anonymous said...

My daughter Selena has got herself into the wrong crowd, lying, want to spend all her time with her friends, wants to spend every weekends out, arguing to no end, wants to do everything her way these are just a few things. At the same time she does good at school, have no problem in waking her up for school, does her chores, doesn't do drugs, I did test her randomly several times and came clean.

I have tried reasoning with her, Selena has been suspended and got several detentions from school for rudeness and missbehaving, wanted to fight with other girls, had anger problems and can't control her temper. She refused to go to counsling because she said it won't help, and it's non of anybodys business to tell them her life story. She doesn't respect me and talk back to me and some times says hurtfull things. She also thinks everyone is against her and she can't do the right thing no matter what!!

I am worried she is gonna wreck her education if nothing is done now for being known as a trouble maker. when trying to discuss issues with her she argues to no end and always say I didn't do anything!! and when something happen and I want it to talk with her about her respond will be I don't wanna talk about it and i'm annoying by keep bringing the subject up!!

when talking things with her all she wants is to be with her friends and she defends them every time.

when trying to tell her rules she just digs her heels in and makes things harder to talk about them and we always ended up fighting, I tried to follow your instruction and to calm down and talked things out with her but I feel I'm not getting anywhere.

she also does like talking about things and you try and she gets very defensive. She used to play baskeball but since she didn't make the team she gave up all sports and I feel she even gave up trying. All what she wants is to be with her friends 24/7
In away she's good but in other way I feel she's out of control.
I'm open to any advice, please help me I want to gain my control back, I want her to like staying home and not wanting to be out all the time

Anonymous said...

With or without Aspergers, nagging does not work. It only promotes resentment and a poor attitude for the next time something is requested. I'm not sure what the answer is to encourage our special kids to do something. It's a lot easier to figure out what NOT to do then what to do.
April 27 at 10:59am · Like
Parenting Aspergers Children - Support Group The "what to do" is catch children in the act of doing things right -- accuse them of 'being successful" time, they will WANT to live up to your expectations.
April 27 at 11:11am · Like
Joanne Lewis How true.

Axsta said...

My mum keeps on nagging about everything wash the dishes , clean the table, do your homework and if i am done wid all of that she finds new things to nag ... Secondly if i am ever depressed usually i dont open up to anyone like i cant trust anyone but if its gets too hard to contain i just tell it to my mom and then she uses it as a taunt the next time i dont fulfil her demand . Its like she nags everyday and its gets so irritating that nowdays ihave to scream to put forth my point of veiw and yea i get myself hurt with the guilt of shouting at my mom while it doesnt even matter to her . How do i stop this once and for all ?

Anonymous said...

There sounds like presence of nagging in this situation. It seems like your son is expressing control and freedom by NOT handing in his work. The more negative reinforcements (“if you don’t turn in your assignment, then you will not be able to stay at a friends hour and lose your computer”) only causes him to get angrier. Since you’ve upped the “control and power” anti on him, the only way for him to up his anti is to get angrier at you and turn in even LESS assignments.

It would be healthy for your son to have somebody who can sit down with him and ask him “hey what’s going on? What’s really going on? What are some of the feelings that are arising? What is the root issue? What is his true reason for not turning in his assignments? How does he feel powerless?”

Since there is already a negative wedge between your relationship with your son, the best thing you can do is to either involve a good solutions-based therapist (SBT) or if it’s too expensive, then hopefully there is another member in your family or community who your son trusts to have a heart to heart chat with him.

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