The Simple Trick to Getting Your Children to Obey Without Nagging

“Try as I may, I cannot stop myself from nagging the children.  You know those border-line things that aren’t outright disobedience, but just things they should know to do or not do.  I do NOT want to nag…and yet I can’t seem to stop.  What to do?!”

This sounds like myself.  In fact, what I’m about to write? Easy to write, much harder to do.  Why is that?  This post is for me, as much as for anyone else.

In our home, nagging doesn’t feel like nagging at the time.  That is, I’m the mom.  I feel it’s my inherent job to “explain” things to my children.  And there is a fine line between training and nagging.  But the line exists.

When a child is doing his chores or schoolwork too slowly, appearing to be dawdling instead, the nagging comes naturally.  “Why are you staring into space instead of doing what I asked you?  I don’t want you to grow up to be irresponsible.  I’m trying to raise a diligent son/daughter, and you’re walking around the house like you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing…nag…nag…nag…”

I am so guilty.

Here’s the simple solution: create consequences that enforce the task, make them clear, and then…drum roll please….Enforce it. Every time.

Grown up example

Imagine I am speeding.  I know I’m not supposed to be speeding.  The state trooper knows that I know I’m not supposed to be speeding.  Imagine he comes to my window jumping up and down throwing a hissy fit (I don’t know if you have those in other parts of the country, but we do here in the South)…

“What do you think you’re doing?  How many times do I have to tell you not to speed?  Don’t you know you’re going to kill somebody!  What kind of citizen are you speeding like that?!  I have never in all my life….”

No, in reality, he calmly, often without a word, writes me a ticket.  And that is the most effective means in the universe of getting me to slow down.  He isn’t punishing me, that piece of paper that’s going to cost me is, and it reminds me that ultimately it’s MY fault.

If we could implement this strategy with our children, I think disciplines would be learned much easier, and Mom could remain the “good guy”, calmly teaching life’s lessons about actions and consequences.

Establish the expectations, set the consequences, enforce.  This really shouldn’t be so hard!  But let me know if you have managed it.

20 Responses to “The Simple Trick to Getting Your Children to Obey Without Nagging”

  1. Ashley says:

    Very, very true. I’ve started being the “bad mom” around here … for some reason nagging feels like I’m generously giving second, third chances at obedience. Strangely, my children don’t see it that way, and they hardly ever take me up on my “generous” offer.

    Anyway, being ‘bad mom’ has actually made my children respond better, faster, and I’m not trying to argue anymore. The more strict I am, the fewer things I’m strict about, and we laugh more. Crazy! But nice. 🙂

  2. Shelly says:

    Kelly, Could you please share some of your examples
    of consequences that you use with your children.
    Thanks for this post–very timely.

  3. Misty Smith says:

    I just read the Duggars new book Twenty and Counting. Michelle has a great idea for training children to be instantly obedient and she does it while she is potty training them.

    She tells her potty trainer that God has programed us with a signal that tells us when we need to use the bathroom, and that we can show Him how we want to INSTANTLY obey Him by going to the restroom the very moment that we feel the signal that He has put within us.


    From there, she shows them through Scripture how He wants them to obey their parents and by doing it instantly they are obeying God instantly. This has the potential to bring up adults who are well accustomed to promptly responding to God’s calling, and it all starts with potty training.

    Blessings to all,

  4. Word Warrior says:


    On a good day ;-), I try to make the consequence fit the area of training. (BTW, I spank for outright disobedience.) If a child is dawdling during chore time, I give more chores. (He wants to get out of work, so I respond by giving him more to do.)

    If children are having a hard time getting along, I try to either have them spend more time together, or even better, have them serve each other (make each other’s beds, etc.)

    One area I’m working on is having them do their chores without any prompting. If a daily chore (that the child knows to do–maybe even has a list for) goes half a day ignored, we either spank for disobedience, or take away a priviledge. The idea is to create consequences that train them, that show them their own actions bring about negative or positive responses. Mom won’t always be there to nag; but if they learn early on that diligence brings reward and lack of it brings negative consequences, they’ll be more prone to be self-guided….I hope 😉

  5. Kim M. says:

    Good ideas Kelly. I think we all struggle with this!

  6. Ruth Anne says:

    Ah,I need help with this too! I have 3 children, 4, 3 and 18 months. So I work with them all day, every day. 😉 I read a book that really helped me change my way of working with them… “Parenting with Love and Logic”. It’s been very helpful for me, although of course, my children are still a work in progress. =)

  7. MamaHen says:

    I too am interested in some real life examples. My children are usually pretty obedient with direct commands (well, we are working on the 2 1/2 year old:)), but the problem I have is the one you mentioned in your post. Getting distracted with school or taking 15 minutes to do one math problem. If they need help they know they can ask me, but instead they just sit there and daydream. Help? What is your consequence for this?

  8. Misty Smith says:

    I just posted an idea which has greatly helped one of my easily distracted children to stay disciplined and focused on her jobs at hand. It also encourages her to to do her very best, as well.

    All of this, and I do not have to say a word!

    Maybe it would be useful to those reading this post?

  9. K.B. says:

    Hi Kelly, did my first comment (about the Trumbull book) post?

  10. I promised myself I would never be the nag my mother was – and is! It’s amazing what hard work it is, with questionable results and no exit strategy. I have to be extremely vigilant in this area, because one of my daughters is just like me, a “tune-out” kid, and my other daughter and son absorb every word as a personal attack. Not much for my witness, to them or anyone else.

    My biggest help, other than scripture, of course, has been the books I’ve read by Dr. Kevin Leman. Even his FOF interviews are extremely useful, I’ve found.

    My most recent “success” was diverting what was quickly becoming a meal-time standoff. We enjoy cooking and eating, and the fellowship of the dinner table, but I was noticing there were fewer pleases and thank you’s happening, and even a few “I don’t like ________ (name that dish)episodes, out of character for my bunch, and definitely unacceptable. I simply restated the rules of etiquette, tied to gratitude – no food will be served with out a please, no food will be eaten without a thank you – and outlined the punishment for expressing an ungrateful spirit by dissing the dinner – plate will be gone, child will be excused, child will go to bed immediately. This took exactly once – my son, bless his heart, who is actually the sweetest natured of the bunch, let go an “I don’t like” and that was it. He cried in his room for an hour, I cried in the kitchen right along with him, but that little problem is solved, and the effect reached all three kids. No nagging, no spanking (I’m not opposed at all to spanking BTW, it was just nice to not have to do it), no further discussion. Just done.

    The other nice side effect is they seem to actually appreciate that I am willing to act in the best interest of all involved – the chef, the children, and the household as a whole. My oldest daughter, all of eight, commented that she wouldn’t want someone saying they didn’t like something she had prepared for them – yea, she get’s it!

    That’s my best, most direct answer – the no-nag parent has an advantage, also, because there’s none of that nails on the black board, under your skin irritation that I think frazzles so many of us (me too, I’m just getting the hang of it).

  11. Kelly says:


    I don’t see it. Several have been having trouble commenting (I’ve even had one or two that didn’t post), so you may try again? I’ve researched and asked around what the problem could be, with no results so far 🙁

  12. K.B. says:

    (Okay, one more try…)

    I second the Duggar book! It’s a quick, refreshing read (convicting without defeating).

    Another book that I HIGHLY recommend is H. Clay Trumbull’s “Hints on Child Training.” If you’ve been around a bit, you’ve probably heard about or even read it. In case you haven’t, Trumbull was a Civil War Chaplain and father of eight. Apparently folks kept asking him for advice, which would eventually result in this book. Trumbull’s advice is clear, purposeful, and based on Biblical principles. Awesome read!

  13. K.B. says:

    (Sorry for hogging the thread…)
    I went over to, you can learn more about Trumbull’s book through the glowing reviews.

    Also, we are trying to implement the Maxwell’s “Managers of Their Chores”

    My dream is that once all of this wisdom is woven into our family life, I will start talking like a normal adult instead of constantly saying “Did you finish the dishes? Did you put up your clothes? Did you feed the dog? Did you? Did you? Did you?”

  14. Missi says:

    I am the WORST about nagging! I only realize it when Brent is home and I am in the process of nagging the kids and I see it on his face. YIKES!
    Thanks for the encouraging reminder today, Kelly!

    I really want to get ahold of that Duggar book. =)

  15. Miriam says:

    Hi Kelly, Just thought I’d leave a message to let you know I have been reading your blog daily for quite a while now. No idea how I came across it, but glad I did. I am one of 6 kids, and now have my own little treasure (2yrs). Hoping to have a large family of my own in years to come. I have enjoyed reading your posts and learning from your wisdom and experience – tucking tid bits of advice away for when my children are at that stage. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I read your blog.

    Miriam (from NSW, Australia, wife to Michael, mum to Alexander 2yrs)

  16. Babychaser says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for reposting this! I read your suggested consequences for daudling chores and I plan to make a list of chores for just such occasions, but what consequences do you use for daudling schoolwork? For instance, staring out the window, fiddling with their pencil or a toy, etc.


    • Well, I would make sure a break isn’t needed first. It is quite unnatural for children to learn sitting for long periods (especially boys) and so daudling during school is a fairly normal response. If they are doing a lot of sit-down school work, I’d try breaking into smaller sessions first.

  17. 6 arrows says:

    I agree with the idea of thinking about whether a break in school work might be needed to help with attention. Short lessons, with frequent changes in focus (say, from listening to a read-aloud, to doing a hands-on activity, to singing, etc) keep the mind from going dull. And some kids (adults, too, ahem — speaking from experience) who have creative minds can be quite the dreamers. 😉 That’s not always such a bad thing!

    The potty training reference in the comments section is a little disturbing when put in the context of obedience/disobedience. Yes, there are probably examples of disobedience in that area — deliberately smearing body waste all over, for example — but linking going potty right away to obedience to God because He designed our bodies, well, I don’t see that as an obedience issue, but a developmental issue. What about developmentally-delayed children who take much longer to understand their bodies enough to recognize the signals and take appropriate action, if they even progress to that point at all?

    And what if any child accidentally “goes in his pants”? Is that always treated as disobedience, then, and an occasion for the parents to administer consequences?

    I think we need to be very careful to discern between issues that break commandments (sin) and those that are not labeled as such in the Bible. We parents are told not to exasperate our children, and I can’t think of a more exasperating situation for a child than to be punished for something that’s not willful disobedience, but just needs more time to refine.

    My two cents.

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