Parents: it’s okay to nag
As a psychiatrist who treats children, I encounter behavior problems on a daily basis. By the time parents finally get in to see me, behavior problems are having a significant impact on their child’s function. Oftentimes, family function is also compromised. The dynamic between parent and child has been completely overturned.
This is starkly evident as they sit in my office for that first visit, and the child refuses to comply with a parent’s simple request, which is usually, “put the phone away.”
The child refuses, and I see the parent deflate.
It is usually at this moment that I inform both the parent and child of my office rule: In this office, mom/dad/grandma/grandpa is the boss.
The results are remarkable. Mom/dad/grandma/grandpa re-inflates. And, almost always, the child does what mom/dad/grandma/grandpa requested. They might shoot me a dirty look, but they hand over the phone.
Why is this happening?
My opinion is that parents have become reluctant to engage in power struggles. They are exhausted. They lack confidence. Many parents tell me they don’t want to nag. They are so afraid of nagging that they are jumping out of the behavior game altogether. Instead, they do things like reward, negotiate, using sticker charts.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe sticker charts, used in a limited fashion, do have their place. They are great for parents who have become so worn out they feel they have lost total control. They help those parents shift to a more positive outlook.
Sticker charts are useful when used for tangible behavior, like doing the laundry or cleaning out the cat litter box. Unfortunately, too often sticker charts or reward systems are used for ALL behavior. Stop arguing, and I’ll give you a sticker. Be nice to your sister, or you lose a sticker.
These techniques ultimately, from my observation, do not work. Countless parents have come to me after using sticker charts or rewards complaining that “now my child won’t do anything unless they get a reward.”
“Why should I do what she/he says?”
I’ve had many a child ask me this.
My response: because your mom/dad/grandma/grandpa is a person who works hard and cares about you. Because your mom/dad/grandma/grandpa loves you.
Because treating your mom/dad/grandma/grandpa with respect will teach you skills you can use in your life. If you learn bad habits, people in your life aren’t going to get so see what a great kid you are.
If I have a teenager in my office, I add: You’re going to meet someone someday you really care about. I want you to have some good skills so they don’t leave you and break your heart.
Engaging in power struggles with our children is part of the deal of parenting. Hurting our children emotionally or physically isn’t. But, it’s okay to nag. I explain to my families that someone has to care.
Engaging in and resolving conflicts is how relationships are built. It is also how children learn pro-social behaviors. Giving children rewards for pro-social behaviors (helping, cooperating, sharing) erodes the value of these behaviors. It robs children of the opportunity to learn how these behaviors lead to building bonds with other people.
As parents and guardians we need to be okay with emotionally wrestling with our children. This is how they learn about interpersonal relationships and intimacy. This is how they learn that people have a value that is based on intangible factors unique to each individual. It is how they will ultimately learn that we are not our grades/paychecks/possessions, that our value as human beings transcends all of that.
So, parents, it’s okay to nag.
Dr. Micaela Wexler provides child, adolescent and adult pscyhiatric services in Kansas.
Please visit Wexler Family Psychiatry to schedule an appointment.
Logo Copyright Debby Bloom
Appointment information for Dr. Wexler: wexlerpsych.com
Parents: it’s okay to nag