Why Nagging Doesn’t Work – ESPECIALLY for ADD

don't nag

It is a common misconception in the world of ADHD that nagging is the “ONLY WAY” to get your kids (or your spouse) to do anything.

Not so.

In fact, nagging not only doesn’t work, it is counter-productive. While the tasks still don’t necessarily get done, nagging damages relationships, undermines credibility and fosters resentment. Seriously — it’s just bad for everyone.

For the nagger, it breeds resentment: “why does it always have to be my responsibility?” And it often sets up a parent-child dynamic in a relationship among equals: “I feel like I have 4 kids — the three kids and you!”

For the nagged, it undermines any sense of accomplishment, and perpetuates a self of failure. “Why should I bother, she’s just going to remind me,” or “she’s just going to say I did it wrong, anyway.”

But what’s a person to do if your spouse, or child, doesn’t hold up her end of the bargain?

Actually, there’s no quick fix to this dilemma. It takes time to unlearn negative patterns of behavior, and re-learn new ones. But the fundamental first step is to get on the same page.

CLEAR communication in advance makes the world of difference. Nagging is unnecessary when both parties:

  • Agree on what will be done
  • Set realistic expectations about who will do it
  • Are clear about when it will be completed
  • Identify what the rewards will be if they do, and
  • Identify what the consequences will be if they don’t

For example, before going out for the evening, I asked my teenage son to empty and load the dishwasher. I told him that I wanted it done before I got home that night, and we talked about what time I expected to be home, and how he could remind himself so he didn’t forget. If he got it done, there would be more Saturday nights home alone (a perk for a 13 year old boy) and he could sleep in the next morning. If not, he’d lose his phone for the next 3 days. There was no screaming or yelling, though there was some negotiation (I started with 5 days of no phone). At the end of the conversation, he was clear what I was asking, and by when; and I was clear that he had accepted the request as his responsibility.

Now, you don’t always have to go through all of those steps above to replace nagging with helpful reminders. When your kid “owns” her stuff, she might actually want help to hold herself accountable. My 17 year-old daughter, for example, has a tendency to space out during homework time. She knows it, and so do I. So we have a deal. Occasionally, I have her permission to check in with her. “Hey, are you on task?” It’s not nagging, it’s reminding — and its part of HER structure for helping her stay on task (not her only structure). If she is on task, she tells me. I get a chance to say “great job!” and she gets to feel her success. If not, she says something like, “oh, I got distracted, thanks mom!”

NO — I’m not kidding —it’s possible. She really thanks me. But its only possible because her desire to stay on task and get her work done is HERs, not mine. I’m helping her meet her accountability, instead of asking her to do it as some kind of a favor for me. Reminders can be helpful, but they must be mutually agreed upon.

But nagging? While it may solve your short-term need to “get it out,” it doesn’t actually get results. Focusing just on the task, without cultivating the relationship and fostering independence, leaves everyone feeling disappointed. And that’s what happens with nagging.

So the next time to feel an urge to nag coming on, assume best intention, set realistic expectations, and communicate as clearly as you can!

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