It can be very hard to be kind to a child who continually pushes our buttons. I know; I just spent the last two hours calming myself when my youngest son woke me up early then proceeded to throw things, hit me, then not eat the cereal we fought about making for half an hour.

It isn’t surprising that parents on my facebook page were quick to comment when I wrote, “Wow. Three-year-olds can be crazy making some days.”

Children’s brains are growing when they are freaking out. If we freak out too, the part of their brain that is reactionary will grow. If we can stay calm, the part that governs rational thought will grow. I do realize this is easier said than done. Learning to calm down when tension rises is a skill worth learning and practicing.

In order to increase cooperation and grow a positive relationship with our children, it is wise to support more and nag less. I know this can feel particularly challenging on days when we have fallen out of “like” with our children or we just need tasks to get done.

Children will choose to cooperate when they feel connected with us so adopting a low-nag parenting strategy helps our children listen better. In order to do this, consider what your nice to nag ratio is each day?

I can say that every family who has come to see me in my psychotherapy practice with “misbehaving children” has had a very LOW nice-to-nag ratio. In some cases, the nice is almost zero. Children use behaviour to communicate until they can find the words to express themselves, and misbehaving children and their parents (and teachers) can get into a pattern where the bulk of any communication to that child is corrective.

When we’ve had it with our kids, it’s easy to start saying:

“Stop it!”

“Why are you doing that?”

“Why won’t you listen?”

It can be hard to be nice to a child who, in your mind, is always blowing it.

Your ability to enjoy your child may be the most important factor in his development.” Laura Markham, PhD, author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids.

I remember staring at this quote in Dr Markham’s book. She is so right. Children push away from their parents when they stop enjoying being around them. Do you like to be around people who are continually on your case? Neither do your children.

An exhausted, sad mother of a “rebellious teen” looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “I wish someone would have told me this when my daughter was little. How can I possibly take back all those days I constantly nagged her? HELP me get her back.” Thankfully, I can report that after a year of that mom’s conscious decision to communicate with her daughter openly, she is well on her way to getting her daughter back.

In order to set the foundation for a positive relationship with your child, constantly be mindful of this question:

What is my nice to nag ratio today?

In order to shift the ratio into a positive relation, turn your instructions into firm, neutral comments rather than dramatic, negative or accusatory ones.

For example, that means turning:

“Go back outside and come in this house without slamming the door, Mister,” into:

“Wow. You must be really mad to have slammed the door like that.” Pause to let that feeling word be heard by your child. Continue with, “I wonder what happened today. I’d love to hear about it.” After your child explains what happened, remind him, “It’s okay that you were mad, but it’s not okay that you slammed the door. What can you do next time to prevent that from happening. You’d better go look to see if the door got damaged.”

In this example, taking time to acknowledge the feelings and hear what happened before reminding your child that slamming can’t happen, will draw your child closer while still establishing the rules of the house.

Other examples for younger children are:

Instead of, “Hey! Slow down—stop running,” say, “It is running feet time.”

Rather than, “I have told you ten times to pick up your socks! Why won’t you listen to me?!” Try, “After your socks are put in the wash, then I can play catch with you.” Another way to say that one is: “When your socks are in the hamper, then I know you are ready to play catch.


At the end of each day, consider how you might increase your nice to nag ratio. When we are mindful of how much we nag versus how much we are nice to our children, as each day progresses, it will become easier and easier to redirect rather than nag.