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How to Encourage Without Nagging

You think you’re encouraging him; he thinks you’re naggy.  Take a step back and assess your motives.

You want your primary schooler to complete tasks on his own, such as tidying his room or finishing his homework, without needing constant reminders from you.

But chances are he doesn’t keep his room as neatly as you would like, he doesn’t clear up the kitchen the way you want him to after he has made himself a snack, and he’s never fast enough when you are trying to get him to school each morning. So, you have to encourage him. Then, one day, he begs you: “Mum, stop nagging!”

Suddenly, you realise you are constantly on his back, always urging him to improve his standards. You have become the sort of parent that you promised yourself you would never turn into! It’s not that you want to be a nag (and you certainly don’t get any pleasure from going on at him the whole time), but you have let yourself drift into that way of relating to your child.


You should ask yourself these questions:

Do I expect too much of him?

 Maybe it is unrealistic to assume that a disorganised eight-year-old will remember to put his clothes in the cupboard each night instead of dropping them on the floor. And, perhaps, it is normal for a tween to forget his allowance some days. Perhaps the standards you set for him are too high.

Does my child try hard?

There’s no point in hounding him about, say, his untidy homework if he does the best he can. Repeatedly asking him to do better when he gives it his all sets you against each other.

Is my nagging a waste of time?

It doesn’t produce the desired effect. And the fact that you have to keep at it suggests that this approach does not work. An alternative is appropriate. Bear in mind that not only does your kid hate the grating sound of your badgering, you probably dislike it, too.


Ready to break the habit? Here are some suggestions:

Have reasonable expectations

For instance, if he is disorganised, don’t expect him to keep his bedroom spotless. Perhaps a starting goal of putting his laundered clothes in the cupboard each night is sufficient.

Focus on successes, not failures

Nagging is negative and concentrates on failure. That’s why it’s better to say: “I’m really pleased you washed your cup today. The next time, let’s see if you can wash the plate, too.” This is better than saying: “There’s no point in washing your cup if you are just going to leave a dirty plate there.”

Involve him in setting standards

A tween who has no involvement in setting targets is less likely to show enthusiasm for them than one who feels he has participated in making them. So instead of harassing your child because he is never ready to go to bed at the agreed time, ask him what time he thinks he should sleep.

Trust him

As he grows up, you have to let go of the reins a little, so that he can start to take responsibility for his actions. You need to trust that he is a competent individual. Does it really matter if he doesn’t do everything exactly the way you want? What matters more is that he tries hard to do what you ask, even if the result falls short.


Dr Richard C. Woolfson, Young Parents, June 2015

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