“Pack your lunchbox!”
“Brush your teeth!”
“Put your shoes on!”
“Put your shoes ON!”
“PUT. YOUR. SHOES. ON!”
This familiar script plays out in homes around the world every morning as families with young children try to get out the door.
In fact, the dialogue is so predictable it may be easier just to record it and push play each morning. It would be about as effective.
Why don’t kids listen to us? Why do we have to nag?
It really is a catch 22, a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. Kids don’t listen to us nagging… because we nag.
They simply tune out. Or they dig their heels in because they resent being nagged.
As a mother of 3 young kids, one of whom has executive functioning issues and another who is a pre-schooler (which is pretty much the same thing), it has taken me a while to work out the secret of getting kids to do things without nagging.
I should say secrets, as there are a number of tricks that can help.
1. One step at a time
It wasn’t until my son’s ADHD diagnosis that I really took the time to understand how a child’s brain works. Regardless of whether they are neurodiverse or not, kids work better with easy to follow instructions – preferably delivered one at a time.
If you say to a young child: “I need you to wash your face, brush your teeth, get dressed and put your shoes on.” They are likely to hear either the first or last instruction and miss everything in between.
I would often find my son standing exactly where I left him after rattling off a list of to-do’s, with a bewildered look on his face. It was just all too much to process and it basically made him shut down.
With younger kids or those that struggle with multi-step instructions, you need to take it one step at a time.
2. Visual cues
For us, these have been an absolute game changer. Visual prompts can help your child’s brain register what they need to do next.
For example, I have invested in a hall stand that now houses school bags, musical instruments etc. It sits right inside the front door. When the kids get home this is where bags used to get dumped. Now they go to dump their bags but see the hall stand and remember to hang them on the hook.
Likewise, I leave anything that may need to go to school with them the next day on the hallstand so it prompts them when they grab their bags. This goes for homework, lunches, permission slips, library bags etc. It’s magic!
I also use this technique with my 4 year old, by laying out her clothes each morning. She sees them on her bed and knows the next step is to get dressed.
Charts and checklists are another great visual prompt which are great for kids who like to measure their progress.
My son has a watch that sends him reminders for certain chores at certain times. I set it via an app and at the required time an icon pops up reminding him to take out the bin or feed the dog. I don’t have to nag him and he gets a sense of pride for doing his jobs without being asked.
This is pretty self explanatory but definitely very helpful when it comes to keeping kids on track. Its an acknowledged fact that children respond well to structure, as it helps them know what’s coming next. A good routine can help your child become more independent and confident.
That’s not to say they won’t need prompting – the morning routine is a perfect example! But it does help.
One routine that I have found very effective is a dedicated homework time. Like every household, our life is hectic with after school commitments, work and sport. Unfortunately, this lead to homework falling by the wayside and ending up being a last minute rush, with me nagging for it to be completed.
As we are fortunate enough to have weekly homework rather than nightly, we have made Mondays our official homework day. I try to keep the afternoon clear so the kids can get their homework done and out of the way. They know it is expected so I don’t have to nag and we eleviate the stress of the “have you done your homework?” a thousand times leading up to Friday.
4. Prompting vs Nagging
This one takes a bit of extra patience and is more suitable for older kids to help encourage independent thinking.
Rather than telling them to do something, start a conversation to get them thinking about what they need to do.
For example, rather than “You need to finish your assignment!” try “How’s that assignment coming along? What do you have left to do before it’s due?”
This non-confrontational approach encourages dialogue but put the onus on them for being responsible for the completion of the assignment.
After all, if someone is always going to be there nagging you to the end. Why bother thinking for yourself?
These tips are by no means foolproof. My household is evidence of that! However, they do help you reduce your need to nag and help demonstrate to your child you have confidence in them to get things done.
This confidence in turns help their independence immensely and helps them develop good habits for the future.