Anyone else sick of nagging their kids?

By August 8, 2012General, Get Inspired


I’ve always known that nagging isn’t the way to go in parenting my kids, and I really do hate yelling at them. But, the reality is my kids often to not move until I’ve told them something three or four times, and they often wait until I get my mommy-is-getting-really-mad-and-if-you-don’t-move-NOW-you-are-going-to-get-in-trouble voice before they get going.


A vicious cycle, but one that I have felt unable to stop.

There is hope for getting out of the nagging cycle!

I read this short little ebook a few weeks ago, and I feel completely enlightened! Seriously. In her ebook Smooth and Easy Days, Sonya Shafer shares big-picture wisdom on how to establish good habits in our children.

Specifically, there is a chapter which hits on how a habit is formed, and it’s relationship to the neurons firing in our brains. I’m a science nerd—so neuron-talk excites me—but don’t click away, I promise this will be helpful!

 How to stop nagging my kids

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We know how to do things with ease because specific neurons have fired enough times that they become more automatic. Ever drive home only to think back and realize there were stretches of road you don’t remember driving? I have! Auto-pilot takes over on the way home. Very little effort is needed to think about where to turn.

So it is with forming habits. Our hope is to train our children’s neurons to automatically fire, so when they see a toy on the floor, they pick it up and put it away—without prompting from mom.

Seems like a dream, doesn’t it?

OK, so this is where the lightbulb has come on for me: when I go around, and tell my kids to pick up the toy while we clean, I am triggering the do-what-mommy-says-NOW neuron, instead of the there-is-a-toy-on-the-ground-I-need-to-pick-up neuron.

WOW! No wonder my kids are needing continual prompting. I have not been intentional towards firing the right neurons!

Sonya does a much better job at explaining all of this, in Smooth and Easy Days, and also gives ideas for how to trigger the correct neurons! I hope you’ll check it out. It’s free and an easy read. I read it in one sitting! (And, just an FYI, it says it is a homeschool resource but it is helpful for any parent, regardless of how you have chosen to educate!)

I am now digging into Laying Down Rails, which is a follow-up reference book with loads of practical tips for establishing good habits in my kids. Lovin’ it so far!

Are you stuck in the cycle of nagging? What have been some things that have worked for you, in leading your kids toward good habits?


Leave a Comment



  • Avatar Jennifer G says:

    Thank you!! This is great, and makes perfect sense to me with my background in psychology. I can hardly wait to start reading Smooth & Easy Days 🙂

  • Avatar Becky says:

    Just want to say that I’m fresh out of ideas, but your post came at just the right time. I spent an absolutely agonizing day, yesterday, (yes, an entire DAY) of trying to get my 5yr old daughter to clean up her toys. She not only dawdled, but flat-out refused unless I was standing right over her watching her every move, telling her exactly which toy to pick up and put where (even though she well knew). She lost privileges such as video watching and snacks… nothing worked. It was a miserable day for both of us. I just downloaded the book “Smooth & Easy Days” and will be reading it immediately. THANK YOU! =)

  • Avatar maddalena70 says:

    Thank you Katie….I am complletely in the nagging cycle…. so I feel the same as you regard this matter…

    I will read the free book hoping it can help me…



  • Avatar melanie says:

    I’m thankful for this timely post as well. Though I couldn’t have given credit to neurons, I’ve started intuitively realizing that I’m barking specific orders and my children are barely obeying. I’ve started saying, “There is something out of order in the bathroom.” And they have to go and figure it out instead of stepping over it like it’s invisible. – which takes an agonizingly long time sometimes… But they are starting to look at an area and figure out what’s “out of order” instead of having me tell them, which is hopefully triggering the “I’m going to become a responsible adult someday” neuron. Now I’ve got to learn to trigger the “just put it away instead of throwing it on the floor and save yourself some time and energy” neuron.

    Look forward to reading the ebook!

    • Avatar Katie Orr says:

      Great example, Melanie. Sonya suggests a similar way of doing things. Sometimes it takes a while for the “lightbulb to go off” in their heads, but when it does it is a big win toward developing new habits!

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Avatar RamFM says:

    One of the concepts I work on (perhaps this comes from my upbringing, I’m not sure..) is not encouraging my children to allow me to figure it out for them. We have 5 and I find, especially for some reason, our daughters want to ask us the most basic question that they surely can figure out themselves if they apply a little bit of neuron energy. This extends to the inability to pick up something they are sitting by in the living room, or the inability to remember to pick up after themselves but they can remember whatever playdate or invitation or party function coming up. So I began to say “what if I wasn’t here, what would you do? Pretend I’m not standing in the room and you need to answer this question yourself.” That can apply to picking up after themselves as well. I went to a women’s conference years year yeas ago and this gal had a great story about being a single mom & exhausted after working all day to return home to her teenagers constant request to go out with friends, but her room wasn’t cleaned, etc. She would nag, argue, etc. Finally she just set the rules in the house, if this was done, then the answer was YES! So the kids could answer their own question, the responsibility was on themselves so when they asked for a privilege she would say “I think you can answer your own question” or “you tell me what the answer is” and they would have to evaluate if they’d picked up the toys. I haven’t quite perfected that but it helps me a lot to remember that story and prompts a change at times in my own reaction. Sometimes I feel guilty at “expecting too much” out of the kids and I remember the story of one speaker who decided she was sick of her kids taking advantage, not helping out and she came home, plopped herself on the couch and opened a magazine. The kids of course started saying “mom, we’re hungry, when are you going to make dinner?” and were perplexed when she didn’t. She calmly explained to them that when they completed their part of living in the house (cleaning up), she’d complete hers. Of course, these are issues dealing with older children who need to start being more responsible but I don’t think it’s too early to teach self sufficiency and team building as part of a family. Our oldest just graduated, our 2nd next year and 3 more to follow so I’ll let you know when we’re done in 8 years how we did, haha! ;))

  • Avatar Sharon says:

    I love that it’s a free download – about to start reading it now. Thanks so much for telling us about the resource.

  • Avatar Elizabeth says:

    I was just thinking this morning that I need to get out of the grip & nag cycle. Can’t wait to read the book (and thanks for the schooling disclaimer!)

    • Avatar Katie Orr says:

      Haha! Well, I didn’t want anyone to be scared off when they saw “free homeschool resources”! It is applicable to every parent! Enjoy!

  • Avatar Melissa says:

    This post is an answer to several hair pulling, nagging God-type prayers, over the past few days! Thank you SO much! I will be immediately downloading that e-book upon leaving this comment!! : ) You are all great blessings to me, and my family!

  • This sounds like it will be an interesting and helpful read. For me, when I ask my children to do something I try not to ask them more than once, BUT I give them enough “lag time” after the request to get their thoughts together and act out what I’ve asked them. The thing that is most helpful, is to actually make sure that you have their full attention before I waste my breath on asking them to do something. Yelling for them to clean up from the other room is just not helpful.

  • I find ideas and articles like the one you mentioned so fascinating! I look forward to reading the ebook. Thanks!

    Chore charts, visual reminders and predictable routines really help lower the nag factor at our house.


    • Avatar Joyce says:

      Same here with the visual reminders. We did one for our morning routine and everything goes way more smoothly now!

      I will have to read the ebook for more ideas too. 🙂

  • Avatar Rachel says:

    Wow, thanks so much for the tip on the book. I’ve found myself recently at my wit’s end with one child in particular, though all 3 seem to be jumping with both feet on my last nerve lately. I will read this e-book and hopefully take away some nuggets that can help me with getting my kiddos on the road to great habits. Especially since we are starting homeschool this year! Yikes! Thanks again!

  • Avatar Jessica says:

    Wow, this post came in my inbox right after I sat on the floor and wailed to my husband, “What am I doing wrong?” in complaint about the challenges my 3 1/2 year old son has been throwing at me. This week we are definitely in the mommy nagging, little boy ignoring/defiance stage. Thanks for this!

  • Confession: I’m a total nag. And this post makes complete sense and is full of wisdom and encouragement! And I love nerds. End of story 🙂

  • Avatar Stephanie says:

    Cant wait to read the book! A great book that has changed the way I parent is “To train up a child” by Michael and Debi Pearl, it isnt for free but will really change the way you train your children.

  • Avatar Kim says:

    Thanks for the reminder to re-read this book!

    For me, I operate under the “ask once and then do it” mentality when they’re little. Like, REAL little, say beginning at 12 months. At that point I cheerfully say, “Could you please pick up your ______?” And of course, at 12 months the baby has no clue what I really mean, so I gently take their hand, pick up whatever it is and walk with them to put it away correctly. It’s all very gentle, very fun, like a game. By the time they’re older (2+ years) it’s just a habit that when Mama says “could you please pick-up/do X/etc” that it gets done.

    At four, my daughter is very good at listening the first time (most times) and getting things done when asked. She is moving into that independence seeking stage, and she detests having Mama help her. The times she doesn’t listen and I end up nagging (sigh) are usually at the end of the day when we’re both tired and irritable. I think at that point it may just be better to put everyone to bed and worry about whatever it is that I want her to do later.