Nagging, what to do instead!

I often hear parents say things such as, "Put your coat! Do you want to freeze to death?" Or "Don't forget your lunch! I swear he'd starve without me." Nagging is one of those behaviors that many people feel they have to do, even though they say they don't like doing it. The problem with nagging is that it produces resentment, rebellion, anger and a passive-aggressive response in others. Frequently, rather than actively helping out, the person who is nagged will do everything possible to avoid the task or do as little as possible just to frustrate you and show that he/she cannot be controlled. This leads the nagging person to nag even more which leads to further irresponsibility and rebellion and the cycle is perpetuated. In actuality, there are other things one can do instead of nagging which are much more effective, but usually require some thought and consideration.

First, and always most effective, one can simply let the person experience the consequences. For example, if a child starts to walk out in the cold without a coat, just let him go. What will happen? The child will get cold and come back in for his coat. When they come in all blue and cold crying about his problem, don't shame them and blame him by saying, "You should have remembered your coat, what were you thinking?" If you feel the need to say anything, you might just sympathize and allow him the opportunity to figure out what he needs to do to correct the situation. You might say something like, "Gee, I'm sorry to hear about that. What do you think you will do next time to avoid getting so cold?" The child will then be able to state that he would take a coat and also take responsibility for himself. This same plan will work with a number of situations. If the child forgets his lunch, don't nag him, just let him experience the consequences. When he comes home complaining of hunger, you could just say, "Given that experience with hunger what do you plan to do tomorrow to avoid such problems?" And the child will learn to take responsibility for himself. Sadly, the whole lesson is usually lost because the parent rushes in and rescues the child, then shames and blames him. This leaves the child feeling resentful and rebellious rather than seeking to learn from the experience. If the child calls home during lunch and asks you to bring them food, many parents will rush to school give them lunch, then lecture and shame them saying, "You should have remembered. Look at the trouble you've caused." This leaves the child feeling guilty and angry and he blames you for his problems. The one thing he doesn't learn is how to take responsibility for himself. Another example, the child never puts laundry in the basket. Instead of nagging him, inform the child that you will only wash laundry that lands in the basket. When the child complains about having no clean underwear, simply say, "I'm sorry to hear that you're in this difficult position" and leave it at that. If you scurry around and try to save him by quickly washing his underwear and saying he should have put it in the basket, the whole lesson will be lost. Many nagging parents repeatedly enable the child to avoid consequences then shame and blame the child for not behaving responsibly.

Second, encourage and invite the person's assistance. There are times we cannot or it is not practical to allow the person to experience the consequence. For example, the child sets his grape juice on the edge of the coffee-table over your nice white carpet. Any time you are tempted to nag, simply ask questions to invite the person's assistance. Instead of saying, "Johnny, bring that juice here now, you know you'll spill it and ruin my nice carpet." You could say, "Johnny, what might be the hazards of drinking your juice over the carpet? What can you think of to do that could help avoid getting juice on the carpet?" Or "I would greatly appreciate it if you could please drink your juice in the kitchen." Then when the child responds appropriately, sincerely praise the child for his efforts. You will always find a more willing and helpful child when you invite their assistance and provide praise and encouragement, than when you nag him and shame him for not complying with your demands.

By the way, these same principles work in marriages also. Anytime you nag a spouse you foster a rebellious, angry, and passive-aggressive response. For example, money is often an issue that spouses feel they have to nag each other over. I knew of a wife that was constantly nagging her husband about spending money. She would immediately confiscate all his money that she could, then attack, nag, and shame him anytime he spent money. What was the result? The husband became completely irresponsible with money. He would get credit cards and buy useless or extravagant gifts. He would steal money from her purse to buy cigarettes and soda at work. She constantly nagged him about every penny and was convinced that if he were given the monthly check they would starve and be evicted. Their relationship suffered. She asked me what she could do about the situation and I encouraged her to allow him to experience the consequences. With my help, she decided to allow him full access to all money and give him the opportunity to pay all bills and handle the finances. She braced herself for complete financial ruin, to have no power, water or food that month. Much to her surprise, her formerly irresponsible husband ended up paying all the bills, using the money relatively wisely, and within two months even nag her once or twice about her spending. Needless to say their relationship improved dramatically. What she had forgotten was that her husband had lived independently for years before she married him, but her nagging and controlling had fostered the rebellious response in him of irresponsible spending.

In Summary Whenever possible, allow the person to experience consequences for himself. Exceptions being rare instances in little children where judgment skills are not developed and real harm is involved. Do not shame blame or criticize the person when they fail. If necessary, kindly ask a question to help the person figure out what they can do to avoid the problem in the future. Use praise and encouragement to foster cooperation.

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