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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

The Nagging Parent

Let us recall the teaching in the bible that  says:   “Fathers, do not nag your children lest they lose heart.”   Most parents nag because they want the best for their children  and want them to change for the better.  They feel it is their duty as parents.  The problem is that the more they nag,the less the children change.  In some families, it gets to the point that if the parents tell the children to do something, they do just the opposite.  Nobody is going to tell them what to do, certainly not their parents.  In this scenario, the children and parents enter into power struggles and  nobody wins.   All involved  wind  up fighting and screaming and are left with bad feelings toward each other.

There are other children who do lose heart when their parents nag at them.  Some become so discouraged and upset that they cease to function.  They would please their parents if they could but they do not know how.  Everything they do is either not good enough or is wrong.  No matter how hard  they  try, they cannot  seem to get it right.  Some of these children  become so afraid of displeasing their parents that they cease to take risks or  withdraw  from  the  struggle altogether with displays of inadequacy. 

Obviously, nagging is not the way to help children to change
for the better.  There are some practices which do help children change, however.  It helps if parents learn these techniques  and  
put  them into practice when their children are young.   In  that
way,  they become automatic.  Some parents know these guidelines but  because  of their temperaments find it  difficult to apply
them.   I encourage you to try again as a new school year begins to
make it a year joy, rebirth and new beginnings.

First,  communicate with your children OFTEN when they are
doing things right.  By often, I mean at least once a  day.  It
can be something very innocuous like thanking them for noticing
and  picking  up a paper on the floor or telling them they look
nice.  Most parents assume that is what children should be doing
so  make  no  comment.  If you do that, you  will  find  yourself
communicating with them only when they have done something  wrong
or annoying. That is nagging. 

When  you  want  your  children to  do  something,  be  very
concrete  in your requests.  Children are concrete thinkers, but most parents’ requests are abstract.  Be Good.   Be  Neat.   Be
Smart.  Instead of saying: “Clean up your room.”  Say, “Put your
socks in the basket and your dirty clothes in the hamper.”   Make
your request doable and short.  Instead of saying, “Be Good”  say “When you are finished playing with the blocks, put them on the

Do not say anything against the child as a person or label
him.  You need to accept him completely.  That does not mean you
have to accept what he does.  That is called separating the deed
from  the doer.  If he takes money from your purse, do  not say,
“You  are a thief and will never amount to anything.  I am  going to ground you for a month.”   Say, “I know you took money from my
purse and I am very upset.  If you need money, talk to me  about
it,  but add a consequence which fits the offense like  having  him
pay you back by giving up some allowance or doing work around the

In all interactions with children, it is important to use
“I”  statements  not “You” statements.  “You”  statements  label, 
place blame and stop communication.  “I” statements on the  other
hand  tell  how  you  feel  and  how  the  child’s  behavior   or
misbehavior affects you. 

Try not to let your children lose heart.  I hope we have
learned something since biblical days and are more responsive  to
children.   They do lose heart easily, especially when they  feel
they  are  unable to please  their parents and feel they  are  in
danger  of losing their love.  Tell them often that they are  the
best  thing  that  ever  happened to you  and  you’ll  love  them
forever.  If you do that, you may never have to nag again.

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