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Does Nagging Work?

I was many years into parenting before I realized that the most powerful tool in my toolbox, masterful nagging, did not work.

I would remind, leave notes, cajole, tease, nag and harangue. Guess what? It didn't matter a bit.

In fact, they acquired an uncanny ability to tune me out. The more animated I got, the more my words fell on deaf ears.

Why? I finally figured it out. My way of trying to motivate them — nagging — came from a negative place in my own spirit — worry and fear. Worry and fear don't motivate kids who can't see beyond their noses. Worry turns them off and they tune you out.

If I was trying to use my pushing and hovering to motivate them to do or not do certain things, it wasn't working. If I had a more compliant child, they might sometimes go along with me to shut me up. But they were far from self-motivated.

The substantial external force of my nagging, fear for them and worry for them, did nothing to increase the quality I most wanted to see grow — self-motivation. Their compliance or lack-of-compliance due to my nagging was merely an emotional reaction. There was no growth or maturity in it.

So, I began to think about things to do instead. Here's what I came up with:

1. I read a phrase somewhere that revolutionized my relationships. I wish I remember who said it, but the phrase was, "Grace attracts, judgment repels." As I looked at the way I was relating to my children, I was always judging, judging, judging. They were or weren't being good. They were or weren't doing what I asked of them. Of course I would meet resistance.

What if instead of imposing I tried inspiring? Instead of imposing my way of doing things, I began to try to inspire them to discover their strengths and the wonderful things about them. They might do things differently, like sitting upside-down on the couch to read, but they were motivated to read. They might draw under the blankets with a flashlight when they went to bed (within reason!), but they were creating. What a difference!

2. Give them choices instead of forcing my own choices down their throats, then let them enjoy the consequences. If they draw under their blankets with a flashlight a little too late, they will be tired in the morning. They still have to get up. If they choose to not do their homework during the week, they have chosen to have no entertainment over the weekend until it's done. It's easy when they are younger. It gets much tougher when they are older.

You may spend a few bleary-eyed mornings with your midnight artist, but eventually she will choose to go to sleep earlier. Your homework-avoider might jealously watch the family van pull away for a Saturday of amusement without him, but eventually he will choose to complete his assignments on time.

It might be hard, but do it now — while the stakes are smaller.



By Christine Field

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