I feel like I’m ALWAYS Nagging. Help!

17 Comments

nagging-kid

One of the most difficult challenges of parenting is the conflict that occurs when our children don’t do what we want them to do. As parents, but I think mothers especially, we have certain expectations of both ourselves and our children. We often times will carry the burden of raising our children to be a certain way and embody certain characteristics or qualities, such as being responsible, respectful, kind, and courteous.

Whether it’s teaching our children manners, following directions, or basic hygiene like brushing teeth, our illusion of control and efforts to “teach” often end up interfering more with our children’s ability to learn. We encourage, explain, lecture, and remind ad nauseum but it seems to do no good; they still aren’t behaving the way we would like them to.

Why is this?  The hard pill to swallow, and I often upset other parents when I say this, is that we don’t actually have as much control over our children as we think we do. The reality is, our children are their own little beings, with their unique personalities, and they are going to make the choices they make of their own volition. We cannot control who our children become; at best, we can hope to influence them.

Getting clear with ourselves about how much and what we actually have control over can alleviate a lot of angst and frustration that comes with parenting. So, what do we have control over? We have control over our own attitudes and actions. We have control over our own boundaries, deciding what we are okay with and what we are not, and we have control over upholding the consequences that come when these boundaries are not respected. We get to assert these boundaries, but whether or not our children abide by them is up to them.

The 13 year old girl who still isn’t making the effort to brush her teeth may finally give in and go brush just to get mom to stop nagging her, but she hasn’t really internalized the importance of dental hygiene. Imagine what might happen if, instead of lecturing and reminding her to brush, mom let her go to school with dragon breath and she felt the discomfort or embarrassment of her friends’ rejection.

I know this probably sounds harsh, and as parents, the last thing we want is our children to hurt, which is why we expend so much effort into trying to teach them to behave a certain way. But in the example above, which do you think will do more to actually motivate this young girl to take responsibility for herself: her mom’s nagging or the natural consequences of peer rejection?

As parents, we want to take responsibility for what we will and will not do and let our children deal with the natural consequences. No lecturing, no criticizing, no preaching. It is important to respect our children’s ability to make choices, even if we don’t agree with them. And then it is our responsibility to respond to their choices from our own informed and appropriate thinking and action, i.e. setting a limit and sticking to it.

Some tips to help you move away from the endless frustration of lecturing, nagging, and reminding:

1.  Give Yourself a Timeout Just Before You Start Your Lecture. As soon as you notice yourself becoming frustrated, irritated, or worried about your child’s behaviors, take a moment to step back and breathe. This second between your child’s action and your response is a critical moment in parenting. When we have awareness, we allow ourselves to make more thoughtful choices, rather than reacting impulsively and emotionally. Take a step back and think about the bigger picture, reminding yourself that the lecturing, threatening, and nagging is not helping your child to grow. Although it can be sometimes painfully uncomfortable, taking this step back allows your child to make his own decision and then experience the natural consequences of that decision.

2. Move Your Attention Off of Your Child and Onto Yourself. Again, we spend far too much time focusing on what our children should or should not be doing and our time would be better spent instead focusing on what we can or should do.  When we shift our focus onto ourselves, we get to ask ourselves difficult questions, such as “What would a responsible parent do in this situation? What are my options and which do I want to choose?  Am I willing to live with the consequences of what I choose?”

A few weeks ago, my 3 ½ year old and I were grocery shopping and he decided it would be a good idea to knock over the display case of seaweed snacks and then keep walking. This trip to the grocery store was in preparation for a family meal we were having that night, at which his grandma would be joining us, and was a big deal dinner for him. I calmly asked him to pick up the seaweed snacks, informing him that when we knock something over, we have to clean it up, blah, blah, blah. The more I talk, the farther away he walks. I had to ask myself in that moment, what I was realistically willing to do. I wanted him to clean up his mess, and responsible parenting suggests that this is what he should do, but how willing was I to accept the consequences if he chose not to? So, I presented him with his choices, he could either clean up the mess and we could continue our shop, or he could choose not to and we would go home without the food and cancel our dinner with grandma. I gave him an appropriate timeline to make this choice, a count of 3, and I was prepared to leave with a screaming child in protest. Thankfully, this time, he chose wisely and cleaned up…but only because I’ve let him experience the consequences before and he knows that mommy doesn’t make empty threats, I take responsibility for my part in upholding the boundaries that I have set.

3.  Ask Yourself, “What Does My Child Really Need?” Infants have different needs than toddlers, who have different needs from school aged kids, who have different needs from teenagers. Additionally, different temperaments will determine different needs, as well as any special circumstances such as an ADHD diagnosis, a recent divorce in the family, or even simply a missed nap. Taking time to consider these questions allows us to really identify what a child actually needs and what our responsibilities are and are not.

4.  Learn to Recognize the Line that Determines Where You End and Your Child Begins. This is what we call boundaries and it is often times the hardest part of a relationship, especially a mother-child relationship. Far too often we are unaware of where these boundaries lie and we unknowingly, or even knowingly, cross them. Learn to see your child as their own person, separate from you, with their own unique personalities, likes and dislikes, and needs.

Additionally, make time to learn and understand yourself in the same way, separate from your children, with your own interests and needs.  Identify what your triggers are and what is likely to have you crossing their boundaries and invading their space.  It is very easy for the lines to be blurred between a mother and child, and it most often times stems from our very best intentions.  However, it is critical that we learn how to act in ways that respect our own personal values and principles and to promote a healthy emotional separateness from our children.

The more emotionally separate we are from our children, the more able they are to see us as our own person, with our own strengths and weaknesses, which in turn allows them to be better able to see themselves.  When we get out of their space and out of their heads, no longer telling them what to do all the time, our children are freed up to cultivate their own awareness of themselves and others, and to act from this place of self-awareness rather than just in reaction to mom.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to not control so much of our children’s lives, just imagine how nice your day might be, or all that you could get done, if you weren’t so busy nagging, reminding, and lecturing!

Comments

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  1. 1

    Mikki says

    This is fantastic advice! My daughter is only 4, but I’ve already started to notice that I have to ask her more than once to do things. I’m going to bookmark this to come back to, I know I’ll need it.

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  2. 2

    sammie says

    Such great advice! I don’t want to be a nag, and I don’t want my kids to view me as a nag either, but I think it is easy to fall into the trap without knowing it. We repeat ourselves, we get frustrated, we raise our voice, and the situation (and our emotions) escalate. Total shit show.

    I love #4. Establishing those boundaries you mention is hard, but so necessary.

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  3. 3

    Lorraine says

    I hear often from judgey people that the proper thing to do if your child acts out in the grocery store is to leave. That is absolutely ridiculous. Going to the grocery store is not some kind of treat for my kids. They come with me because I have to get it done. We have to drive a significant distance once per week to get to the grocery store. There is no way in hell I would leave the grocery store and waste the gas moneh I spent getting there just because people are sneering at me. If my child wants Lucky Charms, I will say no even if it leads to a meltdown and I will “nag” him until he puts it back on the shelf. There is no way in hell I would leave the store because the kid can’t handle a no. Usually my kids are pretty good because they know that they don’t get a special treat or anything for the normal life activity that grocery shopping is. I see a lot of really quiet kids stuffing their face with treats, but I’m not giving in to that even if it pisses people off.

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    • 4

      says

      Hi Lorraine~ I actually agree with you about not leaving the stores, it can very quickly become a manipulation technique for kids to get out of doing something they don’t want to, they aren’t actually experiencing a consequence. In the example I gave with my own son, the consequence for him was not leaving the grocery store, it was canceling the dinner plans we had made, which he was really looking forward to. And part of my work in this situation in addition to setting a limit and following through was that I had to tolerate some eye stares from passerby’s that were probably thinking I should of just taken him outside, or judging me and him, for the fact that he acted out in the first place! Thanks for your comment and sharing your experiences.

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      • 5

        Lorraine says

        I’ve just heard that a lot lately and it ticks me off. I feel like the expectation for children to be perfect in public often leads to appeasement. It also leads to increased isolation of mothers who may fear even leaving their house due to normal behaviors.

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        • 6

          QA says

          I think you are right, EVERYONE has been a child- when did it become expected that a trip out of the house needed to be a display or example of genetic/ behavioral perfection?
          Honestly, I like the opportunities that arise when we see kids being kids. I talk to those moms more, feel empathy, even pass on coupons to REAL mothers who may or may not need that extra boost. Maybe i’m a stalker. But you win my perks if you are carrying on like normal when kids are freaking out.
          And that makes me feel great bc my kid is easy. Oooooh I said kid. Yep, the one I have (by choice) is easy and that allows me to be a helper in general. To moms, dads, kids, whateve….

          not being smug, just sayin how i feel :)

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          • 7

            Lorraine says

            It is nice to encounter an empathetic person at the grocery store. The other day my kids ran around the corner to fast a almost bumped into an old man. I apologized, but he just looked back with sympathy in his eyes and said “I’ve been there and done that”. On another occasion, my baby boy was sleeping in my arms while I was trying to check out and I also had two toddlers in tow when a young teenage girl came up to me and asked if she could help me and started getting my groceries out of the cart and then helped me get everything and everyone out to the car. What a little angel she was.

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  4. 10

    says

    You need to like The Hands Free Revolution she will put you on a better path. I completely understand, I often find myself ashamed that I don’t appreciate the effort my little guy puts into the things he does and that he is to be celebrated for his effort not the perfect corners on the bed that I would like.

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  5. 13

    says

    Great read! But this is very much reality! It really is all about picking battles, drawing the line of unacceptable behavior, real consequences that follow bad choices, and providing less screaming matches & stress in each of our lives. Parents AND childrens.

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  6. 14

    Tonya Garcia says

    My 11 year old daughter is a slob. She just doesn’t care anything about cleaning up after herself. She leaves a path of clutter behind her everywhere she goes. If it was limited to her bedroom I might not fuss as much, but it’s the whole house! It drives me crazy! I’ve nagged, I’ve punished, I’ve rewarded for positive behavior. Nothing seems to change. I feel like all I do is gripe at her for leaving her shoes in the floor, or her plate on the table, or leaving food out on the counter, etc etc. I’m so afraid I’m going to ruin our relationship with my constant nagging, but I want her to learn responsibility and respect for her things and others’ space. Do you have any advice for me? I’m desperate!

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    • 15

      Lolly says

      It’s time to get creative Tonya! Hide her shoes every time she leaves them lying around. Pretty soon she’ll get sick of looking for them and place them in the same spot every time. Leaves dirty plates on the table? Take the plate and put it on her bed. If she leaves it in her room, keep placing dirty plates in her room. Allow it to get real stinky in there. She’s not changing her behaviour because there’s no consequences. Create consequences that make life very uncomfortable for her and she’ll have motivation to change her ways.

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  7. 17

    Love says

    Mom of teenagers here. I’m a reluctant nagger too. I hate it, but if that’s what it takes to get some movement happening, it’s either nag or yell. Or get evicted for the house being condemned. They would not care if the house actually looked like the inside of a trash dumpster, if it meant they didn’t have to expend any energy doing their chores. Taking things away gets us no where. They just don’t care, unless it means me getting pretty explosively irate. I even offered money (CASH) each week to everyone getting their chores and homework done timely and without me having to yell or nag. You know when was the last time I had to pay out? Over a year ago. And I repeat my offer at least every two weeks.

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