“Do your homework.” “Clean your room.” “Take out the trash!”
You think you’re giving your child helpful reminders; your child thinks you’re totally annoying.
In recent years, studies have shown that when teenagers are nagged or nitpicked, they block out the context of what is said – but take in the emotion behind it. So they understand that you’re frustrated, but not why, so they react similarly.
Diana Jennings, a limited licensed psychologist and the director of children’s services at Perspectives Counseling Centers in Troy and Novi, agrees that nagging can lead to power struggles. She has some insights on better ways to communicate.
Becoming a broken record
Nobody wants to be a nag. It would be wonderful if kids could just be responsible without reminders, but that isn’t always the case. If you often fall into a pattern of nagging, it’s likely because you haven’t practiced other ways of getting your point across.
“I think parents lead with frustration and it’s difficult to think rationally,” Jennings says. “But it’s also a result of alternative strategies not being something we’re necessarily taught. In frustration, we resort to what we know.”
Five factors can lead to nagging becoming that “default,” according to an article on parenting website We Have Kids: feeling out of control in your own life, feeling anxious about the competitive nature of the world, having too high of expectations, being too busy and having to “parent on the fly” and, finally, learning it from their own parents.
That final point is pretty common. Parents ask grandma and grandpa advice on everything from burping techniques to homework strategies. But if your parents nagged you during your childhood, it’s a good idea to look somewhere else for communication advice.
Changing your tune
There are many ways to get through to your teen to build a sense of responsibility and self-motivation. The first thing Jennings suggests is to cut yourself out of the conversation. “Don’t lead with ‘I.’ Nagging comes across as what the parent wants and how they will benefit. Even a simple change from ‘I’ to ‘you’ makes it their goal, not yours,” she says.
She also suggests slowing down the conversation and adopting a nonconfrontational tone.
For instance, if your child has an important test, don’t say, “You should really study for that test tomorrow.” Instead, break it down and give an open-ended question. Start with, “Hey, how’s homework coming?” Jennings recommends.
If they say, “Good, it’s all done,” respond with, “That’s awesome! I noticed you’ve been studying like crazy for that test tomorrow. Do you feel confident? Is there anything I can do to help you be more prepared?”
Make sure the focus is always on your child’s goals and how they feel and think about their situations. If they say that they feel prepared, trust them. And if they say they’re prepared but in reality they’ve studied the Kardashians more than chemistry? Let them experience the bad grade; kids learn from mistakes.
“Allow for natural consequences to happen,” Jennings says. “Allow your child to experience what happens and use those experiences as learning opportunities. Discuss what happened and what they think could have been done better.”
When something’s off-key
Jennings suggests that once you change your conversation patterns, it still may take 30 days to notice your teen reacting differently. However, there are cases where you may need to do more.
“If household peace is being impaired, seek help to create better communication,” Jennings says. “Parents want to look for changes from their children’s normal functions. Changes in mood, behavior, interests, sleeping patterns, appetite, an increase in worried questions or talk of self-harm.”
These behaviors are not normal responses to a lack of communication or nagging.
Make sure to treat all teens with patience and show them you trust their ability to grow in responsibility and independence.
If your teen isn’t only withdrawing from you but also from their friends and interests, seek counseling to try to rebuild an open relationship where they can share their feelings and be supported.
This post was originally published in 2019 and is updated regularly.