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Dear Nagging Parents and Nagged Kids Everywhere Around the World

Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I must admit that I feel as though I’m going through my second puberty, fueled partially by an already highly-sensitive personality and mostly by the extension of my period of stay as an adult child of nineteen-years under my parents’ roof when I have long been gearing up for my first, belated venture into the terrifying world of solo living, solo cooking, solo tax payments… Well, you get the idea. In other words, I have found that I’m displaying many of the observed symptoms attributed to adolescent puberty, something which I thought I was done with – and thereby making both myself and my family utterly relieved – by the age of fifteen, the longer I am still physically present in the same limited area as my beloved family when I have already been prepped with the mindset that I’m supposed to be an independent adult at this day and age by those very same family members. Such symptoms include but are not limited to: 1) irrationally-emotional reactions to even the slightest change of plans in my perfectly organized personal schedule (that, combined with my inherent sensitivity makes this particular symptom an absolute whopper to deal with), 2) that feeling that my parents are uncool (I still love you all, if you happen to be reading this) and only my friends can understand me, and, most importantly, 3) an aggressive resistance to the slightest nag or complaint, backed by the frustration that everything I do seems to always go wrong or will forever be unsatisfactory to my naggers – usually my parents, who obviously have the reason of “I raised you, clothed you, fed you, paid for your education, etc., etc.” to back them up in case I so much as try to make them stop nagging. And, let me tell you that the third and last symptom is the one that causes me most distress, something which I believe many university students around my age – already graduated from that tumultuous stage of adolescence, but who are still too young to be considered as true adults in this harsh, competitive, and oftentimes nonsensical society – are also going through due to the ongoing, global COVID-19 situation, otherwise stuck at home as an adult child living with parents who will always see you as a kid despite their repeated attempts at shaping you into a functional adult. 

As a result, I am thereby motivated to do some digging into the idea of “nagging,” more specifically on how I myself as an adult (at least, as proven by the existence of my ID, which you can only get once you’re seventeen years of age – otherwise the legal adult age) can deal with my parents’ nagging without, if possible, putting a damper on our precious familial bonds, which evidently hinge on the balance of respect to someone older and understanding as perceived equals (the eternal, worldwide – but which is especially deeply-rooted in Asian culture – paradigm). This research, however, led me to several more articles (as you would if you happen to enjoy the art of internet surfing, with the more accurate phrase being “going down the [internet] rabbit hole”) that explain the reason why parents and people in general are compelled to keep nagging once they start, followed by advice on how to reduce this habit if you’re a nagger as well as some insightful comments that assert how both naggers and “nag-ees” are on the same side when it comes to the pain inflicted by such a habit. If you’re a nagging parent or a nagged kid looking to detach yourself from this sadomasochistic habit, feel free to look at this little guide below, compiled from just an hour of internet research that will hopefully answer all of your questions as it did to mine on my journey to reach the end of the tunnel that is a second, pandemic-fueled puberty: 

the what:

According to Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D., in one Psychology Today article, parental nagging can be defined as “the use of repeated asking to convince a reluctant child to abide by a family rule or to cooperate with an adult request,” and which can be further divided into the three distinct categories of informative (reminding children to do their chores and responsibilities), confirming (simply asking whether the child has done what they need or has been told to do), and oppressive nagging (persistently reminding the child until they finally get the job done), with the lattermost of these also being the very last method that parents are advised to rely on if they don’t want to face “youthful objection” – otherwise the symptoms of puberty (first, second, and thereafter) that I’m still trying to navigate for the second time around (God help me). And while all of us probably know by now that parents nag because they have our best interests at heart, specifically, due to the sheer fact that it is their jobs as parents to try and guide us through the intricacies of school and life in general, it more often than not becomes a habit that is more likely to gnaw on both sides’ mental health than it actually pushes us children to do what it is that we’re supposed to do like finishing our homework, cleaning our rooms, or starting literally anything even remotely productive during the two-month-long holiday season. This leads us to the next section, otherwise the aptly-named, follow up to our “what”: 

the why:

So, why do parents continue to nag even when we make it clear that it just gets on our nerves and that it is oftentimes unnecessary, considering that the tasks they usually give us are either “small things” that can be done later (okay, procrastination is as much of a bad habit as nagging, so let’s all learn to do our parts) or are just something that we ourselves should be able to remember for they are now our own responsibility as budding, independent adults who, honestly – despite all our confidence and exasperation at the family members who still treat us like kids – have absolutely no idea about what direction we’re heading (as you grow up, you’ll learn that the question of “how many adults actually know what they’re doing anyway?” is always left unanswered due to such answer’s very comforting and confidence-inducing – note the sarcasm – nature)? 

Well, on a scholarly, psychological point-of-view, nagging can actually be categorized as a separate personality type of its own that shares some similarities with passive-aggressive personality disorder, particularly when it comes to the negative attitude associated with both a chronic nagger and those in possession of said disorder, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) “in that the nagger has a thought that they get stuck thinking about (the obsession) and then engages in a behavior (nagging, the compulsion) to reduce the anxiety the obsessive thought causes,” according to psychologist, Seth Meyers, in yet another Psychology Today article. It should be noted, however, that the nagging personality is not stated to be a disorder of its own, but simply “includes both passive-aggressive and obsessive-compulsive elements” that reveal possible causes for why someone is compelled to nag so much even when they do not actually enjoy the act of nitpicking every single detail and task left undone: 

  1. Unable to manage their negative feelings such as anxiety, fear, depression, and frustration, people with a nagging personality take their emotions out on those close to them to relieve their burden 
  2. Nagging personalities find it difficult to accept that life is full of uncertainties, and nags out of fear that “their world could spiral out of control if every last detail is not highly ordered” 

On more layman terms, specifically according to a blog post from We Have Kids which offers even more reasons as to why parents nag but whose roots can actually be traced back to the above two psychological analyses: 

  1. Parents nag because feel that they are not in control of their lives and relationships, leading them to take it out on their kids to feel otherwise
  2. They feel anxious about “the competitive world in which our [their] children live,” thereby explaining why some parents would adamantly force their kids to study, make the “right” kind of friends, and/or snatch any work or scholarly opportunities that come their way even if taking them all on may be too much or too exhausting for their children
  3. They are too busy and stressed out by other things in their lives (jobs, taking care of their parents on top of childcare, etc.) that the fastest and easiest way they could think of guiding their children is by simply ordering them around 
  4. Some parents have high, oftentimes impossible expectations; they may get easily frustrated when their child makes a small mistake or are unable to do the “little things,” such as not folding their towel correctly, and may give difficult tasks that are wholly inappropriate when you consider their child’s age and, therefore, physical/mental ability (don’t expect a seven-year-old to know how to work the laundry machine, take out the laundry by themselves, and hang them to dry in the same way that you shouldn’t expect a seventeen-year-old to start compiling a list of companies to invest in as well as the optimal amount they’re planning to invest when they never even had a part-time job or a credit card under their own name)
  5. They nag because they learned it from their parents; “we nag because our moms and dads did so when we were growing up… [we nag] because it’s what we know” 

the how:

So, hopefully, we now understand a little more about our parents and the roots of their continuous nagging, but chances are showing this article and its listed references to your parents, followed by you ticking the numbers of the abovementioned, possible reasons as to why they are compelled to scold and complain about the little things you do are simply not enough to make your parents change overnight – especially if they feel as if you’re suggesting they have “a mood problem” from caring so much about your life and future, and subsequently become offended by what-is-meant-to-be-a-heartwarming research into how you can work together to improve your parent-child bond (knowing yourself and accepting your flaws are two very rare and commendable virtues, mind you). Nagging, as mentioned several times before, often becomes a habit to our parents and, perhaps, even ourselves when we have kids of our own or when we simply grow tired of their constant scolding so that we finally decide to have our petty revenge (which evidently does not solve anything but grant you a hollow, short-lived triumphant feeling at best) by nagging at them for nagging us all the time. Now, we all know the phrase “old habits die hard,” which accurately depicts in a single, short utterance how difficult it is for one to stop something they’ve been doing for a prolonged period of time, as well as the fact that a relationship is, by definition, something that takes two to work on, which is why there will be two guides to this single “how” section: one for us children and another for our parents to read, continuously practice, and finally implement into our own lives for a more harmonious, less sadomasochistic and more empathetic familial experience.

(NOTE: Parents are free to and strongly recommended to read the children’s guide, for it may help them to see their children’s side of the story, and vice versa)

how to deal with your parents’ nagging – for children

(regardless of age because we’re all still one-year-olds in our parents’ eyes):

  1. Listen first, select later

Be open-minded and respectful to what your parents have to say by simply listening to them and refraining yourself from interrupting, thereby starting an argument that needn’t take up both of your time. If you do get angry or annoyed during the process, give yourself some space to calm down and subsequently filter through what your parents have said; learn to recognize reasonable requests from what may be an amalgamation of heated complaints, passionate scolding, and impossible expectations.

  1. Respond shortly and directly by giving clear time limits

Assert independence and assure your parents at the same time by setting a definitive time for when you can get the task done, or, when it’s clear that staying quiet and interrupting as little as possible are not stopping the flow of the conversation from turning into a full-blown, unnecessary argument, set clear boundaries regarding when you can continue your discussion, hopefully sparing enough time for the both of you to calm your emotions and clear your head. 

  1. Be honest about how their nagging is affecting both you and themselves

Don’t be afraid and tell your parents straight about how difficult it is for you to be constantly nagged; stay strong even if they try to guilt-trip you by saying that their nagging is based on love (though it’s true, there are more effective ways to get your children to listen – specifically by not making them feel like bad children when they’re evidently showing their trust in you by being open about their feelings), and stay calm even when your parents share their side of the story in an exasperated manner. Simply point out how the nagging is also weighing down on them, shown by the possibly heated or offended response they may have following the confession of your grievances, and forcing both of you into becoming the worst versions of yourselves. Don’t add fuel to the fire by reflecting their anger or getting all worked up by yourself; you are looking to find a peaceful solution, not an argument that would lead you all back to where you started. 

  1. Have open conversations with your parents

This relates to the previous step in that sharing your feelings with one another can reduce the possibility of misunderstandings, which can lead to more nagging due to your parents not understanding that you have more urgent priorities to take care of, a lack of trust in you by your parents when it comes to completing tasks by yourself, and so on. 

  1. Take a break and recharge, even when you know it may be disrespectful to or won’t please your parents

As stated before, nagging personalities in general may be set off when they feel a negative emotion, and their first instinct may be to start nagging at the people closest to them, usually a romantic partner, their children, or even a fellow employee. Now, whether your parents naturally have a temperament that sets them up as a nagging personality from the get-go or they have unconsciously picked up nagging as a habit during the arduous yet rewarding journey that is parenthood, remember that it’s absolutely justifiable for you to leave the room when the nagging gets too much for you. Nagging is negative reinforcement; you believe and you know that it will continue even when you do exactly what your parents request of you. As a result, you are likely to get burned out, and constantly being on the receiving end may even start to sow within you a strong resentment towards your parents if you keep finding yourself in the center of that negative space. Don’t feel guilty about suddenly exiting the room, nor about not giving your parents a target to ease their anxieties; take care of your mental health by moving to a calmer environment and carry out activities that would comfort and allow you to heal from all the negativity. 

As children, it is our job to respect, love, and give back to the parents who spend so much of their lives nurturing us to become the best people we can possibly be, but we are also responsible for taking care of ourselves first and foremost, for we are the people that understand ourselves the best in the world. As such, know that your parents won’t stop loving you just because you decide to stop listening to them for a moment or two, nor that praise and approval for following every request they make, whether they are actually justifiable or downright nonsensical, are able to cover up the oftentimes negative effect that continuous nagging can do to your psyche. Despite how much you love your parents and seek their love, praise, and approval, do realize when it’s not worth it and build the courage to walk away for your own sake; your parents will be there when you’re all ready to talk things through. 

  1. Point out their nagging if happens to pop up again

Since the act of nagging may be rooted in your parents as a persistent habit, be patient when it reappears and calmly point out the moments in which they are repeating the same request or scolding you over the little things. Remember that it takes time for, well, an old habit to die hard per say, but it will happen eventually when your parents as well as yourself put continuous effort into letting go of the little things, otherwise the little mistakes that just prove how all of us are only human. 

how to stop nagging your children and finally get them to listen – for parents:

  1. Meet children halfway when setting boundaries

Everyone has different personalities, different goals as well as different priorities. As a parent, you may be more concerned with the state of the house than your children would probably be, so that you feel exasperated when they do not clean their rooms or mow the lawn after several requests on your part; you may also be more concerned with their school grades rather than their social life despite knowing that they have extroverted personalities and/or have career goals tied more closely to making lasting connections than a perfect 4.0 GPA. As a result, they might cease to listen to you because you’re pressing matters that are less important to them than you think such tasks should actually be – and that’s where you need to draw a line. 

Consult with one another about which tasks are actually fair to your children (wiping the entire two-story house clean by themselves within a mere day or two or taking care of all the transportation methods, travel accommodations, and overall expenditure for the entire family during an overseas trip would be, let’s face it, seriously too much for one person to handle) then set some minimum requirements after discussing your child’s goals and personal schedule (for example, they must clean their own bedroom no matter what, but they are allowed to complete the task in their own time, perhaps after they have finished their homework for the day or have sufficiently practiced their guitar for their next big gig). The key is to negotiate: giving your child ample time for them to enjoy life and not be burdened by an endless list of impossible or impossibly-unnecessary, miniscule tasks, yet giving yourself a peace of mind by knowing that they are actually listening to what you ask of them. In other words, accept that your child may have a different personality and priorities from you as well as recognize where your expectations are impossible, age-inappropriate, or downright perfectionistic, and you’ll find that your parent-child bond is no longer based on who is in control of the other – not to mention the frustration that comes with losing control and/or finding your child to be unable to meet your high personal standards.

  1. Be direct with your requests, never blackmail

Have you ever attempted to make your child listen to you by reminding them of their past, bad behavior, thereby making them feel guilty and in debt to the point that they feel uncomfortable in refuting whatever you say? That’s called guilt-tripping, and can be considered a form of emotional blackmail, which every person in the world would agree to be a very unkind thing to do to anyone, especially your children regardless of what mistakes they’ve done throughout your extensive relationship. 

Trying to make your words the tiniest degree nicer by being passive-aggressive (statements along the lines of “okay, fine, if you’re okay with leaving your poor parent with no friends of their own on a Friday night to go and party… even after the many times you’ve lied to me about studying over at your friends’ house – but, you know what, it’s up to you”) leaves only scars to those on the receiving end, and can even change your own personality for the worst, especially if it becomes another habit of its own on top of nagging. You’ll find that going around and around the point you’re actually trying to make, sarcastically or cynically criticizing your child’s life and personality as well as bringing up old stories that should have been done with and buried the moment they become even a recent memory are all one-way tickets to a cycle of resentment, something which I’m sure you wouldn’t want your parent-child bond to eventually result in. 

The key to making your child listen to you is not by making them feel bad about themselves and giving you that hollow, momentary satisfaction when they begrudgingly listen to any request you make of them, but by being direct with what you want your child to do then setting fair, equitable boundaries when it’s clear that there is a clash of values between the two of you. 

  1. Give them control where possible

Understandably, parents feel that their job is to nurture their children into strong, independent adults, but the contradiction lies in the fact that in their efforts to guide their children to reaching maturity, parents often set so many rules dictating what should be done with their children’s time that the latter actually continue to be dependent on the former when it comes to managing their lives. Which is why rather than organizing your child’s schedule by packing them with chores that you would like them to do, make sure to leave plenty of slots open for them to carry out their hobbies as well as allow them to decide the time by which they can complete essential tasks, such as when they can do the dishes, take a shower, or help you with the groceries. 

  1. “Pick your battles”; recognize what is essential for your children and what is just for you 

This relates to knowing your child’s personal goals and principles, thereby making room for their personality as well as letting go of what you want your child to do but which isn’t essential for them to live out their lives to the fullest. As aptly stated by Zawn Villines in their Good Therapy article: “learning to play the piano is not a requirement for a happy, healthy childhood, while regular doctor’s appointments are. Every parent must either learn to choose their battles or spend their days in a state of perpetual frustration.” Learn to recognize which tasks are essential for your child and how you can still give them freedom during times where they simply have to do what they are told. 

  1. Stop finding fault, start building them up

According to child psychologist, Robert Myers, “nagging points out all the things that are wrong with the person, and implies that he or she is not worthy because he or she has not done certain tasks. Nagging is a way of finding fault, and it tends to wear people down instead of build them up.” This explains why children dislike – even hate the very idea of – being nagged as well as are increasingly compelled to keep their ears closed the more frequently a parent does so. Besides, why should children listen to something that makes them feel bad about themselves, that shaves away at their self-confidence and self-love when it’s just going to start up again the moment they finish one request? 

As a parent, make sure to show your love and appreciation for your child by complimenting them when they finish their designated task – even if it isn’t done as perfectly as you might have hoped – supporting your child in their personal pursuits, and refrain from constantly reminding them of what they have done wrong, even if your intention is to help them improve in the areas in which they lack. In the latter case, make sure to keep a healthy balance of constructive criticism and positive reinforcement, otherwise be generous with your kindness and support rather than the seemingly automatic complaints that come with the years-long habit of incessant nagging. 

References:

An aspiring writer and a nerd in almost every sense of the word, with a deep interest in books, film, anime, manga, and games.
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