42.9 F
Tuesday, February 7, 2023
HomeFamilyParenting AdviceEliminating parental nagging — Good Parenting

Eliminating parental nagging — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

How can I get my kids to do what I ask the first time without nagging?

Broken Record

Don’t miss last week’s column Encouraging leadership skills in kids — Good Parenting

Dear Broken Record,

Family life has inevitable conflict between parents and children, however one of the primary roles of the adults is to direct the children. Why? Because adults are more skilled and knowledgeable about so many things, such as how many minutes until dinner is ready and how important it is to wash hands before eating.

To balance the equation, a primary drive of children, from the very beginning, is to have their needs met through their caregivers. As a matter of survival, children become masterful at pulling parental strings — employing carefully honed tactics including ignoring, whining and tantruming. Good parenting recognizes that adult actions influence children’s behaviors and vice versa.

To answer your question, there are ways you can get your children to comply instantly to a request — without whining on their part, or nagging on yours. Parents and children can create more positive patterns of needs and expectations to support one another. Here are some tips for getting quicker cooperation from the younger generation.


There are many abilities that children are interested in learning without any parental encouragement. Then there are the tasks that parents end up nagging about. Let’s say the task you have set is for your children is to wash their hands before dinner. This is usually something that has to be ingrained with adult effort. Toddlerhood is the best age to instill good hand washing practices. Expect to spend a few minutes guiding little ones through the steps several times each day until the habit catches hold. A hand washing song, your smiling face and a hug or high five reinforce its acquisition.

If you have a reluctant hand washer past this age, a review lesson may be in order. Spice things up with some new soap or towels. As children grow in height and independence, be sure that equipment and supplies are always within reach. At some point, school-age children can share or take over the task of re-stocking the depleted soap and dirtied towels.

Along these lines, view each requested task as a skill that your child may not want to do nor know how to do. A little investment in showing him how to do it and supporting his efforts can go a long way. By the time he becomes a parent himself, he will understand why it needs to be done.


The easiest jobs to do are the ones we are ready to do. This may be what’s missing when you present your requests. What is each child doing when you tell them to go wash their hands? How easy is it for him or her to disengage? You might limit the children’s before-dinner activities to those which can be abandoned easily. This can be accomplished with one-on-one discussions of the various pursuits each enjoys — swinging in the back yard, drawing, watching TV, playging video games, construction toys, etc. — and which are best for that time of the day. Have good weather and foul weather options. (Playing in the backyard sandbox may be one of the best before-dinner activities since toys can be left in place for tomorrow and the sand is visibly — and therefor convincingly — removed at the sink.)

Depending on their ages and understanding of time, you can introduce the notion that dinner time, and therefore the hand washing that precedes it, is predictable. A clearly observable clock or an audible signal can communicate to children that it is time to wind down their play. When you call out, “dinner is almost ready” or your cell phone timer goes, “ding!” the children are alerted that hand washing is coming soon.

What competes for your attention at the time you are requesting something of the children? Consider fatigue or disinterest. Including children in some of the preparations for dinner could advance their hand washing by as much as half an hour. A little timing adjustment can make it easier for children to comply with things that have to be done sooner or later.


To be heard you need to speak less. There’s a Dennis the Menace one-panel comic in which Dennis and Joey are sitting in the tree house. Joey says, “Isn’t that your mother calling you?” Dennis replies, “She’s only on 11, I have until 17 before she comes looking for me.”

To get a child to do what you want, your request needs to be more focused, not scatter shot. Your current pattern is probably multiple unanswered appeals.

Once you’re convinced that what you’re asking is reasonable and well-timed, then approach the child with a clear and concise directive: “Sweetikins, wash your hands and come to the table.” If you didn’t succeed in catching his attention in one shot, you need to review your approach. Your child’s name or pet name, eye contact, a touch on the shoulder and or a comment about what his attention is currently on (all timed after the appropriate advance alert) will draw you into his awareness. You only get the one appeal, not 17. Now you need to make your request happen.

Quickly decide what your assurance of compliance will consist of. (It’s best to think this through ahead of time). Bring a soapy wet washcloth to him. Or hit the pause button on the remote. Or quietly go on with dinner without him.

Your children will quickly get used to this new mom who says what she means and only once.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Tips From our Sponsors

Stay Connected


Most Read