Ditch the Nagging: Here’s a Better Way to Get Your Message Across

Tips to Keep Your Cool AND Avoid Flipping Your Lid

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Ditch the Nagging: Here’s a Better Way to Get Your Message Across

Written by: Morgan Hill

We do it because we care. We do it because we’re frustrated. We do it out of fear that we’ll fail to raise them right. We all do it… we nag. But if it worked, we wouldn’t have to do it more than once, and we’d all have perfect kids. But we do, and we don’t.

Picture this… your daughter blows off your request to empty the dishwasher and you start nagging. You’ve been asking your son for days (or maybe even weeks) to clean his bedroom and he offers up excuse after excuse. So, you nag. And who can blame you? Teenagers can be frustrating!

But… nagging can become a bad habit and it can take a serious toll on your relationship by causing resentment for both you and your teen. And, considering the fact that it rarely works, (in fact, research has proven that nagging can actually trigger our teen’s brains to tune us out), it’s up to us to find other ways to communicate our concerns… ways that actually work.

While it might be harder to do initially, these alternatives will get your message across without getting cross. The result? Your teen will be far more likely to respond positively and you won’t come across as an annoying, nagging, mean parent. Here’s how to ditch the nagging…

Ditch the Nagging: Here’s a Better Way to Get Your Message Across


1. Avoid Broad Statements

“You never do your homework!” or “You always wait until the last minute!” Instead of sweeping, generalized statements that do nothing more than put your teen down and knock their character, thoughtfully tailor your words to specific scenarios, such as “I need you to clean your room, it’s a mess. You don’t have to do it now, but I need it done by Saturday.” Or, “I noticed you’ve been having a hard time staying on top of your homework. When is your next big test and how can I help you prepare for it?” This helps you stay focused, deliberate, and calm AND offers your teen productive, helpful solutions without them feeling attacked.

2. Constructive Vs. Destructive Criticism

Giant generalizations and only pointing out the negative will lead to a defensive kid, and, in turn, you reciprocating defensively, which can trigger a vicious cycle of unproductive communication. Instead, flip the conversation.

Kick off with the good and then point out a non-judgmental point of concern. “Hey, I noticed you put the dishes in the dishwasher for me. Thanks! Next time can you rinse them a little better before putting them in?” Or, I was really happy to see you cleaned your room! Wow… I can see your floor now! When you get a chance you need to pull your sheets off your bed and wash them, too.” 

3. Catch Them Doing Something Right

Yep…this is an old elementary school technique, but it works just as well for teenagers. As soon as they do something positive, whether it’s rinsing a dish unasked, or completing their homework for the night, pounce on them with a solid, specific compliment.

Bolstering their self-confidence and having them notice that you notice the good in them will open the door to deeper conversations. 

4. Be Specific

“I want you to finish your school project by Friday night” is better than just yelling “Do your homework!” This makes the goal clear to your teen with little room for interpretation. It also forces you to think specifically about what you want from your teen instead of nagging in a way that may seem overwhelming or vague. 

5. Break It Down Into Bite-Sized Chunks

Yes, they’re well on their way to being grown and capable. But try to remember that their brains aren’t fully formed, and executive function may be, well… not functioning very well yet. Breaking down instructions, requests, or concerns into bite-sized chunks instead of overarching mandates will help them achieve what needs to be done by making it digestible. Instead of giving them five requests at once (which might just go in one ear and out the other), give them one or two at a time. 

6. Put Them In the Driver’s Seat

Teens often feel less of an urgency to get things done on a strict timeline and they like to be in control of their own schedule. So, give them the time they want and the control they crave by setting a longer goal or deadline instead of an immediate one. Accomplishing something by, say, the end of the week, or even the end of the month gives your teen more control over their schedule yet still gives you the hard deadline you need. They have plenty of time to handle whatever it is that needs doing, and you lose the need to constantly be on their case.

7. Switch Up Your Delivery

Does face-to-face conversation create high conflict with your teen? Do they feel like you’re jumping down their throat every time you ask them a question or ask them to do something? Instead, ditch the nagging and try a different mode of conversation. Maybe a “chill,” upbeat text will keep tempers from flaring and seem less threatening.

Talking on the phone across the house can also put a bit of space between you while still getting the message across. Or, just try a simple message on a sticky note which gets your message across without all the nagging and reminding.

8. Speak Your Kiddo’s Love Language

If it’s food, make them a special meal or order their favorite takeout. Then sit down at the table together and talk it out while feasting on favorites. Or, if their love language is quality time, plan one-on-one nag-free time together to just hang out and bond. When the time comes on another day to remind them of something or put forth an expectation, you’ll have a  stronger relationship and recent fond memories in place to work from. 

9. Recognize and Respect Your Differences

Everyone has their own way of doing things. And, even if the way your teen does things drives you absolutely nuts, it’s best not to try too hard to change them, unless, of course, it’s a real issue. Just remember that your teen has a lot of growing up and learning yet to do.

Don’t expect perfection. Don’t expect them to get it right every time. Repeat after me: “My teen is a work in progress.”

10. Ask Yourself: Why Am I Nagging?

Sometimes it’s obvious – their room is a biohazard, schoolwork is piling up undone, curfew is being broken on the regular. But sometimes you may be nagging out of your own fears, though well-intentioned. Pay close attention to your “triggers,” too. Once you identify what sets you off, you’ll be in a better position to catch yourself and redirect your messaging. Lastly,  consider whether you’re nagging about something that’s pressing or even valid. It’s easy to take our own frustrations out on our kids. It’s better to table it until you’re calm.

I know it might be a tough habit to break, but your relationship with your teen deserves better than constant unproductive nagging. Putting even a few of these tips into practice could make all the difference in the world in your relationship. 

About Morgan Hill:

Morgan Hill is an essayist and humorist. She has written for many online and print publications including Insider, Your Teen Magazine, Revel, and MASK Magazine. She is the mother of freshman and senior sons in high school. When not writing, she can be found at flea markets, in her garden, photographing architecture, taking cooking classes, or eating the stinkiest cheese she can find. You can also find her on Twitter @MorganHWrites or Instagram @MorganHillWriter

If you enjoyed reading, “Ditch the Nagging: Here’s a Better Way to Get Your Message Across,” you might want to check out these other posts!

How to Stop Being an Angry Mom: 10 Triggers that are Setting You Off (and How to Manage Them)

Here’s Why We Should Stop Calling Our Teens Lazy

How to Stop Nagging Your Teen: 10 Doable Tips to Create More Peace in Your Home

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