A lot of parents find ourselves nagging because it feels like the only way to get anything done. But it’s not how you want to be communicating. It’s a lousy strategy for fostering independence. You know it’s starting to ruin your relationships. And seriously – you just want to stop nagging your kids!
So, how do you say things in a way that your child will respond?
Giving your kids directions without triggering a reaction is an art form – and you can learn how to make it happen. You can get them to do their homework without starting a fight. You can remind them to do what you’ve asked without sounding like a nag. You know the challenges – the list could go on all day – and you CAN do it!
First, Apply an “ACE” Bandage
If you haven’t already, check out our 3 step method to improve your communication with your kids, called ACE. ACE fosters connection and cultivates independence. It’s magic, really.
But sometimes, before you can apply ACE effectively, you also have to break some old habits – yours, not theirs. It is every bit as important to pay attention to how you’re speaking to your kids, as it is to what you actually say.
Why Are Kids Reacting Negatively
More than likely, when you generate negative responses from your kids, there are two things going on.
- First, kids with ADHD and other complex challenges often hear neutral comments as criticism. Constantly corrected and redirected, they are hypersensitive to negative feedback.
- Second, there may well be an underlying message that you are not saying directly, but they are hearing loud and clear, like “you messed up again,” or “I feel like I can’t count on you.”
Even when our intentions are good, we say things in a way that accidentally puts our kids on the defensive, or sounds judgmental. We don’t mean for that to happen, of course – but seriously, we all do it. So when your child responds negatively, you may get triggered in return … and a vicious cycle continues.
What’s Beneath Your Questions and Comments?
Changing your tone starts with becoming aware of the unintended messages you are actually sending, so that you can choose the messages you want to send, instead. For example, consider classic parent statements like:
- “why can’t you just?”
- “why don’t you ever remember to?”
- “when are you going to?”
- and the most famous one of all, “how many times do I have to tell you?”
Now, take a moment to think about the messages behind those questions. What are we really saying when we ask most of these questions?
Usually, the unspoken message is some variation of “you’re failing” or – worse for your child than that – “you’re a failure.” It’s not exactly a strong motivator for your child to get up and do what you’ve asked.
Changing Your Approach
So start by shifting your own expectations. Get curious. You know there is a reason why he can’t just, why he doesn’t remember, why he hasn’t yet – what is it, this time?
Most of all, remember that you are very likely going to need to repeat yourself. That is a fundamental truth of parenting, even with typical kids. It is all the more likely for kids with ADHD and related challenges, kids who struggle with attention, working memory issues, impulsivity, and all the other challenges of executive function.
Expect that your child is going to need reminders and redirection. That is our job as parents. When we take away the nagging nature of the communication by making it routine, we are freed to help our kids learn, instead of judging them for what they have not yet mastered.
Instead of asking, “how many times do I have to tell you?” you might say, “it seems like you might need a reminder about this. How would you like me to remind you? And how many times do you think is reasonable?” Keep in mind that they may not know, but it can be a great place to do some detective work together!
If you understand and expect that your children are going to need reminders, then you won’t be disappointed when it happens. And you’ll be in a much stronger position to transfer the baton to your children over time. When you make reminders routine, your children will be more willing to set up reminders for themselves as they mature and are ready to take on new levels of responsibility.