Why Nagging Doesn’t Work: Raising Responsible Children

So they’re bedroom is untidy, their music is blaring out, their friends have left drink cups everywhere, dirty clothes aren’t in the laundry, the lid is off the toothpaste, the toilet isn’t flushed, fresh air hasn’t hit their bedroom in months and the smell is seeping out under the door, homework isn’t done or being rushed, they are spending too much time on the computer, at friends, out in general, the sibling rivalry is out of hand, they haven’t helped with the washing up, not fed the dog they promised to feed or failed to fulfil any commitments obligations or generally pay any respect or take any responsibility full stop!   You’ve tried asking politely, you’ve tried the adult discussion route, you’ve tried the reward tactics and the punishment lines and you’ve even tried outright bribery and nothing has worked and at the end of the day exhausted and tired by your futile efforts you have simply resorted to nagging and guess what this has either worked in the short term or simply not worked at all!  You go to bed at the end of one day of nagging and wake up the next determined to get a breakthrough but the wicked cycle starts again with no hope of a break in sight and your propensity to nag increases as do the grey hairs, the worry lines and the general feeling of complete and utter hopelessness that you’re never going to get through!

Thousands of us will read that and to a greater or lesser extent connect to it and the reason is, because teenagers are just that  – teenagers – and, on the whole, parents want the best for their maturing children and want them to become respectful and responsible adults.  And what’s wrong in that?  The answer is absolutely nothing!  However, the ways of getting there vary considerably and sadly those of us who resort to nagging them into submission never really understand why we continue to fail and fail again in nurturing the responsible adults that Jo Bloggs next door has brought up!  The key lies in understanding that no amount of nagging will work.  It maybe provide a short term answer, much the same way that a request for an action, will or even the offer of a reward for fulfilling a certain task but ultimately all of these options fall far short of the ultimate goal of most parents of autonomous responsibility and respect in the longer term!

Nurturing a child or even teenager to take responsibility for their own actions, behave respectfully and truly operate out of a centre of autonomy is something that can only be achieved when the child or teenager is in charge of his or her own destiny.  That’s not to say that the parent doesn’t have a part, a vital part, to play in bringing them up – of course they do.  But critically the parent encourages their children to make their own decisions, motivate themselves and forge their own autonomy in a carefully handled and guided process.  The outcome of course is that nagging becomes a thing of the past, parenting our children becomes an enjoyable experience once again and believe it or not a lot of the niggles highlighted in the opening paragraph of this blog and more pale into insignificance as parent and child work together in equilibrium rather than from opposing quarters.

If this all sounds like a pipe dream – it isn’t!  Thousands of parents have pushed the reset button, turned their backs on “nagging syndrome” and started to enjoy the benefits of such an approach! But often if will take a monumental step of courage by the parent to realise this.

Listed below is therefore RESET PARENTING’s ten point plan to de-nagging:

  1. Be honest with yourself.  Ask yourself what is really important – not just what is important to you but also what is important to your child.  Both aspects are important.  It’s not about thinking how you can manipulate your child to think like you but rather how you can all co-exist and develop responsibility and respect!
  2. Talk to you child about your concerns and ask them what concerns they have too.  Be open to receiving criticism but try not to give any in a judgemental way.  Key to securing trust is to back off from blame.  This is still part of the process of understanding and honesty.
  3. Draw up a list of what you both agree on, what you disagree on.  Disagreeing over something should not be seen as a problem – being in conflict over something, however is!  Don’t demean your child for holding certain ideas even if they don’t automatically sync with yours.  Look at the list of disagreements and try and reach compromises – that’s a two way street where parent compromises and hopefully child will also.  There may be some items that you disagree on that you will not come to any compromise over – see if you can agree to disagree and if not continue to work it out over time until a compromise is reached.
  4. Moving forward, check yourself every time you feel the need to nag about something and revisit points one to three above.  If repeat behaviour becomes a problem sit down and talk about it proactively.  If it’s a contentious issue, go out for a walk or coffee or lunch and talk about it on neutral territory.  That way you give the message that you’re actually prepared to give your child time to understand what’s going on.
  5. Always start with them – how they are feeling about something and genuinely be interested in what they have to say.
  6. Where you need to make a point, try to avoid being pointed!  Basically don’t go in on the attack!  Try to take the “you” out of it and make references to the third party.  Rather than “you make me mad when” use the phrase “it can be rather annoying when people …” or better still ask them how they think their friends or friend’s mother/father would feel in a certain situation (remember teenagers will sometimes revere their friends’ parents in the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” scenario).  Ask them how they think they would handle it.
  7. Don’t talk too much!  Lectures can have a propensity to be boring.  When you have a conversation with your child make sure it is exactly that and encourage them have space to talk and air their views as well as you!  Have an eye on helping them focus on what is important; to set goals and motivate themselves in an all rounded helpful and proactive way.
  8. Don’t set ultimatums and time limits either in your own mind or out loud!  Ultimatums come from an egocentric agenda which do not involve anyone else let alone your child.
  9. Don’t ‘bitch’ about your children behind their back!  Offloading to friends and family is a natural part of life, we all know that, but be careful how you do it.  Offloading is one thing but moaning and complaining about your child, particularly in their earshot (remember walls have ears) or on facebook etc, will only make your child more defensive and build up walls between you.
  10. And finally, and most importantly, enjoy the new relationship that has been fostered with your child free from the energy draining exhaustion of nagging instead propelled by the reinforcement of autonomy, responsibility and respect!

Why Nagging Doesn't Work

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