Raising Children With Character: Don't Nag. Do These 5 Things Instead

Neil and Nadia are a husband and wife team who live in San Francisco. They have four children (one daughter and three sons) who are all under the age of 8. They describe their family as "ethnic soup", a mix of Scandinavian, African, and Middle Eastern cultures. There is rarely a dull moment in their lives. They share their experience and insights of trying to raise their children to love the Lord.

In this four part blog series, "Raising Children With Character", Nadia discusses how to raise children with values. She writes about four values she tries to instill in her children. What does she write about this week? Self-Reliance & Responsibility!


Stop Nagging Your Child. Do These 5 Things Instead

So much of parenting is weaning your children from their dependency upon you.

I highly value self-reliance. I have four kids. An 8-year old daughter (Lana) and three 6-year old boys (Theo, Amani, and Zeke). I love that Proverbs 22:9 says ‘Train them in the way they should go...’ and not, ‘Train them in the way they should stay.’

Also, I HATE nagging. It’s the exact opposite of self-reliance. Nagging is to constantly HARASS someone to do something. It happens because the nagger and the "naggee" care about something very differently. The "nagger" cares enormously, and the "naggee" doesn’t. However, in small children there is still the slow and painful learning that has to happen around prioritizing your activities and (groan) time management. Until my kids learn to do those things better I’m the fallback. Cue the nagging.

Every weekday, I have to get the four of them out the door for school. My boys are easily distracted by each other, a toy, or a light breeze. My daughter functions as if she exists outside of time. Meanwhile, I’m looking at the clock fully aware of what each one needs before they walk out the front door. They don’t need to care because I’m there. Mostly, they are goofing off. It’s easy to fall into a habit of nagging, shouting, or bribing.

Three years ago in Africa, when Amani and Zeke came into our lives

I always had to care. From the time I was five, I walked to school alone- uphill both ways! (Ok, that's not possible- it wasn’t uphill on the way home). Both my parents worked, and I was a latch key kid. I left for school at 8am, prepared for the day. If I was able to do it, surely my children can be responsible with less, right? Since responsibility is an important value to me, I know I need my children to grow in this trait. It needs to be something they can master, albeit more gradually than I did. So I have devised a plan that would get them on board with me.

Five Ways To Develop Self-Reliance In Children.

1. Establish Clear Responsibilities

Lana, my oldest child, making lunch for her siblings (Thank You, Lord!)

When we get ready for school, they know that they are responsible for themselves and their backpack (putting in their homework, water bottle, snack, and permission slips for field trips). They get dressed by themselves and when they want to. But by 8:15am if they aren’t dressed, I’m taking away whatever "carrot" I’ve decided on- be it gum, free play, or a TV show. Before my children were fully capable of doing something all by themselves, we modified or accommodated tasks. They did as much as they could, and slowly I would wean them off of my help. The only way to learn responsibility grow into it.

2. Give Them Space To Do It Their Own Way

My children are like party trail mix- each one is different and full of life!

Each child in unique, so I give them space that honors their differences. Lana is very particular about what snack she wants. Theo could care less about having a snack, and Zekey always seems to grab the easiest thing available (an apple or banana). Amani patterns himself after each of his siblings depending on the day. Each of them is created in the image of God. Each of them values things differently than one another and differently than I do. I don’t force each one to do things the same, or even to do it at all. I don’t say, “Get a snack!” I say, “If you want a snack you have 15 minutes to get one.”

3. Reward Them When They Succeed

A reward of going crabbing with their father!

If you get this done early, you can get something you want. If you’re ready for school by 8:15am, then you get to have free play or a piece of gum or a tv show.

4. Show Tough Love

Sigh. Tough love doesn't always mean happy faces

My children need to take responsibility for remembering things or choosing not to bring something. When they lose items, they experience the consequences. These days I see kids are often insulated from natural consequences. Theo didn’t clean out his backpack, left a muffin inside, and then shoved a library book on top of it. By the time he got home, he had a muffin explosion all over his library book. He cleaned that up, not me. Amani put books in his backpack and then threw in a leaky water bottle. I warned him "If you ruin a library book we’re going to Wells Fargo to take money out of YOUR bank account to pay for it".

5. Pray For Guidance

With a family this big, we can't live without prayer!

When we are parenting little ones, it is easy to get in the habit of doing things and not reflecting upon why we are doing what we are doing- or even feeling what we are feeling. We must regularly check-in with our inner world and sit in the tension of it to unearth why there is disharmony inside of us. When I nag, it shows me that there is something afoot with myself. I must work to determine why others are not listening to me. Work to determine why I am nagging. Work to determine whether what is at stake warrants nagging. Is this a battle worth fighting? Or am I simply being fickle and controlling?

I'm reminded of the story of Samson, who "grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him…” Judges 13:25

I propose that God does not nag, but God does stir. He gently prompts us out of love. As parents, We need to stir too. We need to when it counts. And we need to stir responsibly.

Ephesians 6:4 says "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

Let us stir with love and wisdom.

Feeling overwhelmed by parenting? Click on the below link to hear an Abide prayer.