Stop Nagging—and Get Your Child to Listen


"Day after day, I remind my nine-year-old not to leave her dirty clothes in the bathroom after taking a bath, to put the milk back in the refrigerator, and so on. The problems are minor, but they add up to a lot of frustration. Why don’t my words sink in? Help."


ADDitude Answers

As you’ve discovered, repeating commands doesn’t work well. Children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) do better with concrete reminders. When it’s just talk, many children interpret it as nagging! They tune out—fast.

Sounds like a behavior chart would help. Explain to your daughter that both of you are going to work on an improvement plan. You are going to nag less, and she is going to need less nagging. Select three behavioral goals, such as “put clothes into the hamper.”

Have your daughter help you make the chart. Agree ahead of time what the positive and negative consequences will be. If she puts her clothes in the hamper, she gets a star on the chart and a reward, such as extra time before bedtime to play a favorite game with you. Leaving her clothes on the floor might move her usual bedtime up by 15 minutes.

Try to “catch” her putting her clothes in the hamper, and express your appreciation “in the now.” When a behavior becomes a habit, remove it from the chart and decide what you’ll work on next.

If you want to develop the sense that the two of you are a team, chart your nagging, as well. Let’s define nagging as repeating a command or request more than twice without giving the child a negative consequence. “Catch” yourself nagging, and acknowledge it. As you nag less—and see your daughter make progress—you’ll feel less aggravated and stressed.

Posted by Mary Fowler

ADDitude Answers

ADHD individuals have an interest-based nervous system. They often lack intrinsic motivation to do something just because they have to. It is a tough hurdle to overcome.

Chores are tough! My 11 year old whines and complains the entire time he’s emptying the dishwasher, every single night. Kids with ADHD often can’t tell themselves that they have to do something they have no interest in or don’t like.

At 7, my son was responsible for setting the table for dinner every night. Other chores that are good for around that age might be: feeding pets, wiping the table and/or kitchen counters, or dusting.

Here’s an article on using chores to help with behavior modification over on too: Teach Better ADHD Behavior Through Chores.

And here’s a great article on the types of rewards and systems that work for kids with ADHD: The Power of Motivation for ADHD Children.

Change your thinking about your daughter's behavior. It’s not that she “will not” do her laundry or put away the milk, it’s that her mind is not organized enough to remember these things regularly. Help her set up routines so that these tasks will become habit. For example, a morning routine where she brushes her teeth first thing after rolling out of bed. Set a specific day of the week for certain chores, say, Saturday is laundry day. Help her set up routines, strategies and systems that will remind serve as her reminders in the future: Structure: The Cure for Chaos

Posted by Penny Williams
ADDconnect Moderator, Author on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

My son is now 10 but he has been doing chores since he was about five. Surprisingly he complains less about it than his siblings, when I give him choices that is. He is able to:

> Take out the garbage/recycle

> Clean the counters

> Wash the front of kitchen appliances

> Make his bed

> Feed the animals

So, I have the list of things he can do and I ask him which chore/chores he wants to do. He does much better when he has the option even though most of the time I would give him the same chore he picks. But if I say, “Clean the counters and feed the animals today,” he would have a fit and complain. When I say, “What chores are you doing today before you go play?” he doesn’t usually complain.

Posted by cheroyley

A Reader Answers

Choose what bugs you most, then work on that first. Dirty clothes on the floor is what I’m working on with my son. I told him this is an issue and detailed what he is to do with his dirty clothes before and after each use. It may take a while, but start with full supervision then wean the support. When your daughter starts to do it automatically, go on to the next thing. It won’t happen overnight. It might take a long time to get your daughter into good habits. But even if one thing improves it’s one less thing you have to nag about!!! We are all going through this. Keep at it and find a parent group so you don’t feel alone.

Posted by SmartKids

A Reader Answers

It can be very difficult when we have kids with ADHD as it is hard to separate what is ordinary kid stuff and what is due to the condition. Either way, we have to find ways to deal with it, as it is probably both. I too have this problem and have become absolutely merciless. I use many of the strategies found in the Celebrate Calm CDs and newsletters, which is all about us as parents staying calm, in control, communicating what we want, and enforcing consequences. We can’t control our kids, we can only control ourselves.

For example, I gave my daughter 2 days warning that if she did not pick up and put away her toys/clothes/towels/whatever, I would start to confiscate them. And I did. Not much drama about the clothes and towels (or the homework/lunchbox etc) but knashing of teeth with the toys. MUCH knashing of teeth and frothing at the mouth, general stomping around and slamming of doors.

I have just stayed calm and said to her, "This was your choice." No nagging. No, "Well, I told you so..," or "If you’d done as I asked this wouldn’t happen." Just a simple, "This was your choice." It takes all my willpower to stay calm and sometimes I need to go and have a glass of my favorite wine just to settle myself because I’m not feeling calm on the inside although am acting that way. If she tidies up after herself for 2 days in a row, she gets her toys back, if not, it keeps happening.

Try visiting the Celebrate Calm website - it has turned my life and my family’s life around. Staying calm really models the kind of behavior we want - if we can’t control our emotions, why should our kids? Anyway, good luck! Your daughter is lucky to have a parent committed to finding a way to work this out.

Posted by StatsMum

A Reader Answers

Our kids with ADHD have struggles with working memory, so it’s tough for them to remember what to do in the moment. And complex directions (like clean your room or pick up your stuff) can often be lost on them. Short, concise instructions work best (put away your clean laundry, or pick up the dirty clothes on your floor) work a lot better. Even better if you can break it down into simple steps that kids can cross off one at a time—and incorporate short breaks as rewards in between steps. Of course, it makes it a little more fun if they’re trying to beat a timer or racing against someone else. I’ve made the mistake many times of telling my son (now 16) with ADHD to go clean his room. I can tell my 12 year old daughter (who does not have ADHD) to do that, and it gets done. But if I tell him that, it completely overwhelms him and shuts him down. Now I’ll say, “clear the dressers first” and he can do that because he’s older.

When he’s cleaning the bathroom, for example, I have a checklist on a piece of paper that stays in one of the drawers for him to refer to. I gave them a wipe-off marker so that they can write what needs to be done on the mirror. The last step, of course, is cleaning the mirror! It makes it a bit more fun for them, which also helps.

Posted by ADD_Coach_Lynne

A Reader Answers

I have been reading Smart But Scattered and I have to say it is the BEST book on parenting kids with ADD. A big chunk of the book is devoted to templates for teaching children to complete daily routines, such as getting ready in the morning, bedroom cleaning, completing chores, bedtime routines, and about a dozen other of the common challenges that trip up our kids. The templates describe how to talk to your kids before implementing a new routine (getting their feedback on the routine itself, consequences for not completing routine, etc), how to supervise the routine, and how to fade out your supervision.

For me, as a parent with ADD, struggling with slightly different issues than my kid, there’s a chapter just about conflict between parents with different attention issues from their kids and how to deal with that better. I’m also learning how the various types of executive function weakness impact behavior—that understanding helps me be more patient and also troubleshoot when things are not working.

Posted by pdxgreengrrl

A Reader Answers

I had a “Saturday box.” If toys, books, etc. were still on the floor at bedtime, they went in the box and couldn’t be retrieved until Saturday (EXCEPT for schoolbooks). Those were put in the backpack and a chore was assigned for the person who didn’t pick up. My daughter especially hated cleaning the toilet, so that was the chore she was given. She disliked it so much, she never forgot to pick up her schoolbooks again.

It’s important for you to act calm, even if you’re boiling. Yelling is more stimulation, resulting in more brain shutdown. Just tell them to clean up the room before TV or bedtime. If it isn’t clean by then, no TV until it is, or earlier bedtime the next night. They need clear, constructive limits. If they want to fight and fool around, let them pay the consequences (see above), not you!

Posted by patwriter

This question was asked on the ADDConnect forums. Read the original discussion here.


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Writer, educator and advocate Mary Fowler is author of Maybe You Know My Child and Maybe You Know My Teen.
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