The Power of Pursuit
With pursuit (or nagging), you wear your child's resistance down by relentless insistence. “I know this is the third time I've asked you to do your chores, and I'll keep asking you until you get them done.” Nagging shows parents mean business about getting what they asked. It works. “I finally did the dishes to get my parents off my back. I was tired of being hassled about it.”
Pursuit, Not Punishment
Doing homework and doing chores are supervisory issues and should not be subject to punishment for not being done, because they are nonnegotiable. Punishment says, “If you choose not to do your homework, you will be punished.” Supervision says, “You have no choice about not doing your homework. You will do it because I will keep after you and after you and after you until you get it done.” You don't punish not doing homework. You use supervision to see that homework gets done.
As for the haggling and arguing your child does to put off doing what you have asked, that is just an expression of resistance, and the purpose of your nagging is to use your greater power of insistence to wear that resistance down. “You can argue all you like, but I will keep after you and after you until you get your homework done.”
The same is true with chores. The child needs to know he or she simply has no power of refusal. Delay will not make these demands go away. Do not give the child a choice over what is nonnegotiable. Punishment says, “If you don't do your chores, a negative consequence will follow. This is your choice. This is up to you.” Supervision says, “You will do your chores, and I will keep after you until they are done.”
One trap of supervisory pursuit is the frustration parents feel when their request is greeted by endless delay. At last giving in to aggravation from asking repeated times for one simple act of cooperation, they may end up yelling to get what they want, using loudness to show how serious they are and to “force” compliance. If you resort to yelling on a regular basis, you have created a cycle that is a trap.
Supervision is too important to get emotional about, because it turns a performance issue (how parents get something done) into an emotional issue (how the child gets parents upset). Supervision works best when it is calm, unwavering, and inescapable.
Both parents and child agree: They all hate the yelling — parents for “having” to do it, the child for having to listen to it. Then why do parents do it? They explain, “Unless we yell, we can't get your attention and cooperation. If you'd just do what we asked the first time, we wouldn't have to yell!” Explains the child, “The reason why I wait until you yell is because by then I know you're getting serious.”
Parental yelling models voice raising to get one's way. It empowers the child — he knows he can upset you by delaying. It actually reduces parental influence by causing parents to resort to more emotional intensity than the situation warrants — a simple task or chore needs to be accomplished. In all these ways, yelling is self-defeating.
What kind of supervision works better than nagging?
Prompting. Cheerfully given and helpfully intended, prompting is pursuit with friendly reminders, requiring you to still feel friendly (not frustrated) in the face of protracted delay.
Be Relentless, but Not Emotional
Supervisory pursuit is most effective when it is unemotional. Therefore, if you find yourself heating up or getting run down in the process of pursuit, take a break for a while, have your partner take up the chase, or simply give yourself time to calm down. Your child needs to know that even though you may be backing off for the moment, you are not giving up for all time.
The issue has not gone away. You will be back. But you will be back on your rational terms, not on yelling terms that undermine your influence and empower the child. Keep on keeping on. Your child will get the message and eventually comply with your request. Children who know their parents won't give up tend to practice relatively immediate compliance. Your relentless insistence will wear down the child's stubborn resistance.