Nagging – the Grudge Work of Parenting

Who will give up first? This is the struggle between parent and child daily, and parents who don’t want to nag lose the battle.

“Nagging is insistence over resistance,” said Dr. Carl Pickhardt, author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Positive Discipline.” “Nagging is the grudge work of parenting.”

Pickhardt said there are two parts to parenting: “One side of parenting is care taking, and the other part is training. Sometimes you’ll get one parent who is better at the care taking or the training,” but this creates a “good parent” and a “bad parent,” which marriages cannot survive. Pickhardt said both parents should make efforts to act in both roles.

With discipline, “parents should aim for about 90 percent instruction and about ten percent correction. If we say, ‘Don’t do that,’ we need to say why. Otherwise, parents get in to a cycle of negative corrections.”

When children are young, these ratios are easier to achieve. However, “with adolescence, a reversal starts taking place,” said Pickhardt. “All of the sudden the ratio gets reversed. The more negative we get, the less positive there is in the relationship, and the more negative behavior we get.”

To counteract the inevitable corrections, “We’ve got to make positive contributions. You’ve got to find some ways to positively engage. We can get trapped.”

When children seek out more freedoms, they must be shown that freedom comes at the price of added
responsibility, said Pickhardt.

“Once the kid separates from childhood to adolescence, the only thing that is going to protect them is responsibility. We’re trying to shift that responsibility over to them. We’re not going to be able to be there to comfort them all the time. They have to have some self-comforting ability. You want to reassign that responsibility.
Responsibility is the power we want the child to have.”

He said, “There are lockers in this school stuffed with completed homework that was never turned in. It is adolescent logic – ‘You can’t say I didn’t do it, and you can’t make me turn it in.'”

He said, “We have to let them know freedom is not free. It has to be earned. Freedom is built in to the implicit contract you have with them, and they have to meet their end of the contract before freedom is granted. You are no longer in the business of automatic giving.”

Pickhardt said to tell kids, “You’re going to need freedom from me. This is what I’m going to need from you to give you that.”

With granting new freedoms, parents should encourage second-step thinking.

“Parents are always trying to teach the child second-step thinking – taking time to make the choice/consequence connection. That is our fundamental job with our kids – to teach them to become second-step thinkers – to literally think twice before they act.”

He said, “At adolescence, we don’t have to re-teach, but we do have to slow them down to think. They get caught up in the ‘now.’ They’re not going to think about the ‘later’ unless we help them.”

For example, “Suppose your kid wants to go to the mall with three kids on a Saturday afternoon.” Pickhardt said to ask “What if” questions to make the teen think about possible situations. “When you want a new freedom from me, we’re going to have to ask a
‘What if’ question. We’re trying to get the person to think ahead.”

And if the teen has not fulfilled some required responsibility, Pickhardt said to say, “I would love to take you, I would love to, but âÂ?¦ ”
Pickhardt said parents have to keep themselves in step-two thinking, or they will provoke step-one thinking in their child – not thinking beyond the moment.

“The problem with most parents is that they don’t think, at least not often enough,” said Pickhardt, instead acting in the moment, on emotion or based on how they feel.

“Parents are vulnerable to step-one thinking if they are anger prone, stress prone or alcohol prone. It all comes back to us. We are the instruments that allow us to influence our child. It’s very, very easy to get caught in giving a step-one response. In an ideal world,
you and I would be in step-two thinking all the time, but in the real world you and I get caught up in step-one thinking. That’s just the nature of the job.”

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