Stop Nagging!

By Karen Holford, Family Ministries Director for the Trans-European Division

1 Comment

Stop nagging!

Pick up those wet towels!

Take those muddy boots out of my kitchen!

Don’t forget to put the bins out!

Turn that music down!

Don’t play with your phone when I’m talking to you!

Get down here now!

Nagging… We’ve all done it. Parents do it, partners do it, children do it, teenagers do it, and sometimes even the dog does it…  

Nagging is when I try to control your repetitive, negative, frustrating and annoying behaviour with my repetitive, negative, frustrating and annoying words. Hmm. So maybe that’s why it’s not very effective?

The alternatives: What can you do instead?
Prioritize the relationship – not the undone task. Whenever you feel a nag coming on, stop and wonder ‘How can I ask for help in ways that strengthen our relationship, rather than in ways that put the other person down and damage our relationship?’

Appreciation is the best anti-nagging device! When you appreciate someone for helping you they’ll be much more likely to help you again. Don’t mention any mistakes. Just thank them warmly and fix anything they missed when they’re not around. 

Explain calmly and politely what needs to be done, say why it’s so important to you, and then ask your young person or partner when would be a good time for them to do it. Involving them in the decision can help them to feel less resentful about being asked.

Ask your partner or young person, ‘What’s the best way for me to ask for your help when I need it? Or to remind you when there’s something you need to do?’

Write down your ‘nag’ as you’d normally say it, and then write it again as a simple, clear and polite request. ‘Will you stop walking all over my clean kitchen floor with your dirty shoes!’ might become: ‘Please can you take your shoes off and leave them on the doorstep so that we can keep the kitchen floor clean.’ Or, ‘Never mind. Here’s a cloth so you can wipe that up.’ If you’re not sure what to say, imagine you’re talking to your boss or a guest. 

Make it funny! Jen bought a couple of fabric cats that can be written on with washable pens, and then tossed into the washing machine to wipe them clean again. ‘I know it’s a bit wacky,’ laughs Jen, ‘but I write ‘Please can you…’ messages on the cats’ tummies and leave them next to whatever needs doing. Just seeing the cats makes us smile and we feel more like doing the job. Sometimes we race to see who can find a cat and finish the job first!’

Give up your job of being ‘The Reminder’ (AKA ‘Nagger’) for a whole week, and see what happens. Notice what other people manage to do well when you’re not reminding them. 

Be surprising. Instead of nagging about something, do the job yourself. Stop complaining about your son’s bedroom and spend a generous, non-critical hour helping him to tidy it. A little kindness goes a long way. And it’s a very effective antidote to toxic nagging!

What about you?
– What are you most likely to remind/nag others about?

– Which of the ‘anti-nagging devices’ would you like to try?

– What alternatives to nagging have you found useful in your family?


Visit the Association for Family Therapy Scotland website.

Karen Holford, Family Ministries Director for the Trans-European Division

Karen Holford is a qualified family therapist. She currently works across Europe training all kinds of people in how to nurture healthy, caring and peaceful relationships. And she’s still developing her listening skills! She has been married for 36 years and has three adult children and three grandchildren.

1 Comment

  • Avatar
    Paul burns July 31, 2015

    Hi sorry I haven’t got round to commenting till now.
    Reading this was interesting because I mediate between young people and their parents and you are talking about an issue that comes up again and again. You are coming at it from a different angle as a therapist and dealing with just the parent in your example, but there are many similarities as well as a few differences
    In mediation young people complain of being nagged and parents that young people never clear up behind themselves or tidy their rooms etc.
    Parents say they start by asking reasonably then get gradually frustrated as time passes and have to ask again and again. Young people say they don’t like how they’re asked and are expected to do it there and then and feel nagged. Some say it makes it less likely they will do the thing at all.
    Both say they spend far more time arguing and feeling bad afterwards than it would take to do the thing.
    Like you I try to put emphasis on their relationship being good , rather than practicalities. I’ve found if they know they love each other, often they’re easier on each other and it make the practicalities easier to deal with.
    A typical agreement would be to agree what is expected of the young person and what the timescale of it would be. For example: tidy your room every Saturday before bedtime
    There’s often a part about reminders , when is it reasonable to give a reminder, how often, in what tone of voice ? and what length of time is reasonable to wait for that thing to be done ? For example: if it is not done by 8.30 your mum will remind you once, in a nice, calm tone of voice, and you have agreed it will then be done by 9.00pm
    Helping good communication is important in forming an agreement. Young people can input about what is expected of them e.g. I just forget but you just have to remind me once in a nice way not a 100 times with a really nippy voice
    Parents can say why they want the young person to contribute e.g I want you to learn how to do things yourself and I feel taken for granted if you do nothing at all
    I agree spending positive time together and noticing positive thing is also important. I know when doing a task myself I sometimes enjoy it more if I’m doing it with someone I want to spend time with and young people often say if what they do isn’t noticed it makes them feel like not bothering.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact us

0131 475 2493
Norton Park 57 Albion Road EH7 5QY Edinburgh