Q. I have just heard myself yell at our 10-year old to take out the trash and my husband wanted to know why I yelled. Somehow he hadn't heard the first seven times I asked her to do it -- and neither had she. I can't figure this out.Don't they think I'm worth listening to?
A. Sure they do -- but you don't. No one is going to take you seriously until you do, and apparently you have to say something seven times before you think you have the right to mean it.
We call it the Nag Scale.
It takes a child very little time to discover how many nags are in a parent before the shrieking point is reached. Even then he/she pushes for just one more nag, and in time another, until the parent becomes a Class A, Professional Nagger.
The scale varies from parent to parent, and each parent's scale is a bit different with each additional child. We knew one beautiful young lady -- a firstborn of course -- who was allowed a 9 on the Nag Scale as a teen-ager, but in time her mother learned that it is the parent, and not the child, who picks the level. With that, the equally beautiful sister grew up with a scale of 2 or 3, and the harmony in the house went up accordingly.
Despite the cooperation of your daughter, you are the one who decides how much to nag, which is fortunate, since you also can decide how much not to nag.
While an 8 on the scale doesn't qualify you for a masters in Naggery, this is a good time to retreat, for you can go in either direction.
Less is clearly best. Almost any parent starts to seethe after the third or fourth request, and this just makes it worse. A child hates to obey if she feels she is in a contest of wills. A pretense of patience only makes the tension worse and the explosions louder. It also leaves a residue of resentment on both sides so that the next time you ask your child to do a job, you expect a rejection -- and she will be glad to comply.
Instead, your rank on the N.S. should depend on your true tolerance, and not on what you think it should be, or what your neighbor thinks it should be.
To reach it, you will have to be straightforward, telling your child that you have made a mistake by nagging so much and that you're sure she is sick of it too. Then together pick a number somewhere less than 5 but more than 1, for the first time is merely a warning. To say, "I'm going to need you to take out the trash in the next 15 minutes" is the respectful way to ask a child -- or anyone -- to do the chore, because it allows the person to take charge of his own time. Few things have to be done that very minute.
There is one serious proviso.
During the warning period -- whether it is 15 minutes or a day, you can't give any reminders. If you do, you will be taking back the responsibility. You will, in short, be nagging.
Even though your daughter agrees to this new regime, she will push against it. Don't give in. When you admit that your tolerance is lower, you won't have to raise your voice to be heard. It's a matter not of sounding firm, but of being firm.