It’s funny how often I have parents complain about their kids not listening, and the solution is often the same: repeat the message over and over again (otherwise known as nagging).

  • Hey guys, please pick up your toys for me.
  • Why do I have to keep reminding you to pick up your stuff?
  • PLEASE clean up your toys for me. I am asking nicely.
  • Didn’t I ask you to pick up your toys? Why do I have to keep doing this?
  • How many times do I have to ask you to pick up?
  • Why haven’t you picked up those toys? I am not going to repeat myself.
  • Look! I am tired of asking you to pick up. DO IT NOW!
  • I am NOT going to ask you again! PICK UP YOUR STUFF!

Of course, we could change this to be putting away a cell phone, or picking up a room. The formula doesn’t change much. However, if this does sound like your home, then an easier, more cooperative future is just a brave step away!

In my work with families, I often ask parents to hide their phones and record a “typical” afternoon or evening at home. I do this when parents are reporting lots of frustration and making little progress when they should be making more headway with the negative behaviors in their home.

Here’s what is often revealed. When mom or dad reports that they have to remind the kids a few times, the video reveals that many instructions are repeated five to ten times! And, as you would expect, each repetition comes with an increase in parent frustration, an increase in volume, and an increase in threatening language.

Again, this is not a system of parenting. This is simply nagging, and it will only lead to frustration. Let’s try a better approach.

LIFE RULE #1: If mom or dad repeat their messages, children keep repeating their behavior.

Let me explain. When your only parenting tool is to keep repeating the same (or similar) words over and over, you are destined to keep getting the same result over and over.

If you keep repeating requests that have no consequence attached, then you will find that your children often learn that your words simply mean MORE WORDS ARE COMING!

You might be thinking that your children should listen to your words. Yet, you find that they don’t (this is another discussion).

So instead of clinging to a ‘should’ that has no basis in the reality you live at home, why not notice that your strategy is not working. It’s a losing strategy if your desire is respectful and easeful cooperation at home.

If you want your words to be heard by your children, it will be important to lead with action, not words. I repeat: Lead with action…not words. This translates to a simple message: stop nagging now! No excuses.

Just test what it’s like turning things around. Instead, lead with your actions, and let words follow. When you do this, your words will then take on meaning with your children. You won’t have to keep repeating yourself over and over. Let’s quickly make this concrete, using the example above.

Solution: The Ask Once…Take Action Approach.

Explain to your children, “I will ask once, and give you a few minutes to pick up. If you don’t pick up, I will pick up you without complaint- but you lose all of it for 2 days. No second chances.”

Again, this rule can apply to anything, including phones, computers, video games, etc. However, when you do this, you must follow with consistent action. And, you must ignore the drama that unfolds after you put the toys (remote, video, etc.) for two days.

Also, you take this action with no anger or frustration. You have explained the new rule, and now you simply honor it with quiet resolve.

Then watch what happens over the next few weeks. You will find your words begin to have meaning, and your repetition drops dramatically. More ease and peace will follow.

The short version is quite simple: Stop nagging. Ask once, and then… give it a few minutes. If no response, take action by removing the valued item for two days. Don’t warn or negotiate. Soon, you will have a responsive home without all that frustration.