Stop Nagging With Just One Word

I’m trying a different approach today.


A lot of parenting blogs (including this one) give you laundry lists of tips and techniques to improve your parenting:

“15 Ways To A Better Bedtime”

“21 Things Never To Say To Your Kids”

“35 Mistakes You’re Making Right Now”


I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember so many things at once, and the mere thought of trying overwhelms me.


So, I’ve decided to focus on JUST ONE THING today.


It’s easy. It’s do-able. And best of all, you can see immediate results.


You ready? Here we go…


My daughter Marissa, like many kids, can easily get distracted.


Sometimes we’ll instruct her to put on her shoes, for example. She’ll saunter over towards the laundry room (where we keep the shoes) and the next thing I know…she’s painting a picture at the dining room table.


She doesn’t do it to be defiant. She’s just so busy exploring that she forgets what she’s supposed to do.


It happens so frequently that we all joke about it now and Marissa thinks it’s hilarious when we imitate her. Like, “Ok, Mom! I’m going to get my…hey! That’s a pretty cloud outside!” Or, “Ok, Dad! I won’t forget my…wow! Look at that speck of dirt on the wall.” (If she didn’t genuinely find it funny, I wouldn’t do this. I’m not a fan of teasing kids to shame them.)


So, one day when Marissa was upstairs (supposedly getting her socks), I realized that she had gotten distracted again.


My first instinct was to start nagging and deliver a lengthy sermon about how important it is to stay focused and remember what she went upstairs to do, blah, blah, blah…


But then I remembered something I had read in Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. It was a technique they used to engage cooperation instead of lecturing and going on and on – the very thing I was about to do.


The strategy was to use JUST ONE WORD.


No, it’s not a magic word that will get your kids to cooperate in any situation.


It’s simply saying JUST ONE WORD instead of a whole speech.


So, I took a deep breath and called up the stairs, “Marissa, SOCKS!”


I literally heard her whisper to herself, “Oh. Yeah,” and then I heard the pitter-patter of tiny feet going to her closet, opening the drawer and taking out the socks.


I was so pleased with myself for remembering this simple strategy and so delighted that it actually worked!


It saved me from wasting my energy and breath on a long, drawn out reminder that Marissa probably would’ve tuned out anyway.


Since then, I’ve used this again and again with great success.


  • I reminded Marissa once to put her homework away after finishing it. The next time I simply said, “HOMEWORK.”
  • I asked Dalia to brush her teeth. When she still hadn’t done it after five minutes, I said, “TEETH.”
  • Rather than, “Ok, it’s time to stop playing and come to the table for dinner,” I now say, “DINNER!”


You see how simple and useful this can be?


So, my assignment for you this week is to try using JUST ONE WORD instead of a whole lecture and see what happens.


Then, leave a comment below and let me know how it went.




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Showing 3 comments
  • Y

    Just purchase the book thank YOU!

  • Jane Gold

    My mom read that book and used the technique with us when we were kids. Then my sister walked into the kitchen one morning and said, “mom- orange juice.” My mom stopped using the one-word technique after that. So funny to think back on it though!

    • Pam Howard

      Jane –

      Haha! Your sister was very clever…but it’s too bad your mom stopped using the technique. There’s a difference between using one word to remind kids to do something (instead of nagging), and demanding that they do something for us. For example, I would never just say, “Water” and expect my kids to fill my glass. Instead I would ask, “Would you please refill my glass?”

      I hope that example is helpful. I think if you run into a similar situation with your own kids, you can use it as a great teaching opportunity! xoxo

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