Ask the Experts

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.”

As you’ve discovered, repeating commands doesn’t work well. Children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (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.

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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.