Why Nagging Our Kids Doesn't Work and May Actually Backfire

Updated on December 19, 2017
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I love being a mom and teacher and sharing what I've learned about raising confident, creative, and compassionate kids.

“Remember to wear your glasses...Don't put in your ear-buds...Slow down in the school zones...Look for pedestrians...” My 16-year-old son had just gotten his license and these words tumbled from my mouth every time he picked up his car keys and headed out the door. My fear and worry was getting the best of me and making me nag my kid when I knew I shouldn't.

When parents nag, children tune them out and a vicious cycle begins.
When parents nag, children tune them out and a vicious cycle begins. | Source

Nagging Doesn't Work and Makes Your Child Feel Incompetent

Parenting is a challenging job and along the way, we may pick up some bad habits without realizing it. One of these is nagging. In an effort to protect our children and prevent them from suffering the consequences of their behavior, we moms and dads begin to hen-pick, scold, complain, and kvetch. As our youngsters grow into teenagers and start making their own choices, we feel a loss of control that causes us to turn it up a notch. But, the simple truth is: Nagging doesn't work. In fact, it can actually make our kids become overly dependent, stop listening, and feel incompetent

Nagging Makes Teenagers Feel Manipulated

According to Dr. Robert Myers, a clinical psychologist who has dealt with children and adolescents for 25 years, nagging poisons the parent-child bond. Because it's so unpleasant, kids simply tune it out and “the more you nag, the less they hear,” he says. When it's time to have a truly meaningful conversation about an important topic, parents may find their youngsters don't want to listen.

Dr. Myers cautions that teenagers are especially turned off by nagging because it makes them feel manipulated. Wanting to assert their independence and make their own decisions, teens become strong-willed and even defiant when parents pressure them to do something. Instead of feeling threatened by this, moms and dad should see it as a normal, healthy part of growing up and separating from parental authority.

Dr. Myers believes nagging harms the parent-child relationship because it's negative: parents point out what the child is not doing instead of noticing what he is doing. He cautions parents: “Nagging is a way of finding fault, and it tends to wear people down instead of build them up.” When parents nag too much, children decide they can't do anything right so they might as well stop trying. They begin to feel incompetent.

A more effective parenting strategy is to catch kids when they're doing something right and praise their good deeds. As the saying goes: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Parents can increase extrinsic motivation by offering rewards based on the child's age: stickers, little toys, a trip to the park for younger kids and extra television or computer time for older ones. Parents should never underestimate the power of a simple compliment, especially with teenagers: "I noticed how you filled my car with gas after borrowing it. I really appreciate that!"

Teenagers: The More You Nag, The Less They Listen!

When you nag your teenager, you give him the impression that you think he's incompetent.
When you nag your teenager, you give him the impression that you think he's incompetent. | Source

Parents Nag Because They're Fearful of Losing Control, but They Alienate Their Teens in the Process

Parents nag their teenagers, in large part, because they're scared. They see their teens making mistakes – not studying, arriving late for an after school job, or drinking alcohol when they're under-aged – and want to shield them from the harsh consequences of receiving a bad grade, getting fired, or being arrested. They know these consequences have the potential to hurt their kids in serious, far-reaching ways so they, understandably, want to prevent that.

When they nag, parents feel like they're exerted some control over their teenager's fate. As their kids get older, parents feel like they're losing control so they nag even more about trivial matters instead of picking their battles more carefully. Mike Nicole, author of “Stop Arguing with Your Kids,” says parents are making a common mistake when they try to control things they don't need to control. He argues, “When parents nit-pick their teenagers over little things, it just makes the children feel alienated. They may argue, they may 'yes' their parents, but whatever the outcome, they feel disrespected, they feel put down and they become antagonistic.”

Nobody Likes to Listen to Nagging!

If kids get in the habit of blocking you out when you nag, they may continue to do so when they really need to listen!
If kids get in the habit of blocking you out when you nag, they may continue to do so when they really need to listen! | Source

Nagging Is a Quick Fix That Offers No Long-Term Solutions

Some parents nag because their parents nagged, and they fall into that same old familiar routine. Some nag because they're unacquainted with alternatives so they go with what they know, and some nag because they get a thrill from it, feeling powerful while towering over their children and barking orders. They feel in charge when they're nagging even though it's ineffective. Others nag because they're feeling anxious about their own lives and futures. They're fearful about their children making the same mistakes they made. Nagging their kids is an escape from their own problems and insecurities.

More often than not, however, parents nag because it's quick and easy and requires little thought or effort. But, when moms and dads commit to making a change, they will see that it pays off in the long run with less family strife and more responsible children. Nagging doesn't work, but collaborating with your child does.

Let's say that a mom has a 7-year-old girl with a messy bedroom. She's nagged and nagged, but the place is still a pigsty and she's getting angry. One day she decides to try a different approach and sits down with her daughter to brainstorm and make a chart. On this chart, they list what the girl needs to do to have a neat and tidy room, being as specific as possible: put dirty clothes in hamper, return books to the shelf, put toys in the trunk, make the bed with pillows on top, put dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. They make a clear plan: the daughter needs to do these tasks every morning before she goes downstairs for breakfast. For each task done well, she gets to place a star sticker on the chart. When she gets 10 stickers next to each task, she gets a reward: a movie night, a sleepover with a friend, or a trip to the zoo.

Too often parents make the mistake of thinking children already know how to do chores and are simply being lazy. In reality, cleaning a bedroom is a huge undertaking for a little kid and seems overwhelming. Parents need to break down big jobs into reasonable chunks so they seem doable. Children 6 and under probably need a parent to stay in the bedroom and clean with them. Turn on some music, dance, clean, and cut loose! Make it fun. Parents with reasonable expectations are less likely to nag and feel frustrated.

Cleaning a Room Is a Big Undertaking for a Little Kid. Breaking It Down Into Little Steps Will Help. Nagging Won't!

Parents may assume that little kids knows how to clean a room. They don't. They need help, not nagging!
Parents may assume that little kids knows how to clean a room. They don't. They need help, not nagging! | Source

Parents Need to Ask: Will Nagging Help Us Reach Our Long-Range Goals?

Parenting is a marathon. Moms and Dads need to look at the long road in front of them and understand their jobs are to prepare children for adulthood, not protect them from making mistakes. According to Debbie Pincus, a family counselor, parents need to set up healthy boundaries between themselves and their youngsters so they'll be less likely to nag. She says: “When you move your focus off of your child and onto yourself by taking responsibility for how you act, your child will likely learn to be more accountable for his behavior.” She advises parents to ask themselves an important question before they start to nag: “What's my responsibility here, and what's my child's?”

A parent's goal in rearing a child is to bring forth an independent, responsible human being. Moms and Dads accomplish this by letting their kids make age-appropriate decisions and learn from the consequences of those decisions. This will prepare them for life on their own. If Moms and Dads accept that making mistakes is not only okay for kids, but essential, they can stop trying to control through nagging and start enjoying their family. Because what we know for certain is, nagging doesn't work!

This Book Helped Me to Start Listening and Stop Nagging!

Stop Arguing with Your Kids: How to Win the Battle of Wills by Making Your Children Feel Heard
Stop Arguing with Your Kids: How to Win the Battle of Wills by Making Your Children Feel Heard

As my sons approached their teenage years, I turned to this book for some practical advice. I needed some effective tools to communicate with my boys and stop the cycle of nagging and arguing. I highly recommend this book for helping parents develop a new dynamic that creates mutual respect. This book is easy to understand (no psychobabble) and the ideas are simple to put in place. It brought peace to our home and made me look forward to the teen years, not dread them.



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