Putting a Stop to Pestering

How to teach your child that nagging is a no-no

We all know the adage “perseverance pays off.” However, some kids take this to an intolerable limit. It comes by many names – fixation, badgering, nagging or pestering. But it all boils down to the same thing – parental exasperation. The truth is some kids get stuck on their thoughts and can’t move on.
Among children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder, the rigidity may be an artifact of their brain functioning because the executive function of the brain is affected in these conditions.
This portion of the brain (located in the frontal cortex) allows for shifting from one thought to the next, but it also affects coping and, in some cases, an understanding of how your behavior is perceived by others. The executive part of the brain also is where impulse control lives. 
Consequently, it is difficult for individuals with this sort of brain “wiring” to shift thoughts. They become trapped in a loop – like a computer with a glitch; it’s also called “hyper-focus.” This not only can lead to badgering but also to emotional meltdowns when they don’t get immediate gratification. The fancy term for this is “perseveration.”  
Individuals with this faulty wiring cannot be given a pass for their nagging. In the mind of the child the nagging or rigidity is adopted as a strategy to reduce stress. They can learn to work on their rigidity so they can go with the flow without extreme distress. The following is a plan to reduce nagging and increase flexibility:
  • First, identify the problem with the child. Michelle Garcia Winner uses the term “Rock Brain” to define rigidity ( Tell him how his nagging is making others feel uncomfortable or aggravated. Winner’s cast of “Thinkables” and “Unthinkables” in her “Superflex” curriculum is very appealing to the school-aged set.
  • Explain to the child in simple terms how his brain works. Help him understand that his brain software can be quirky, and he has to work to get it “un-stuck.” Help him realize when he is in “stuck mode” or having a “Rock Brain” moment.
  • Put limits on asking. After his request has been denied the first time, tell him specifically that you are no longer listening. Have him store his obsessive thoughts in an imaginary “box.” This helps the child learn to shift because he does not get immediate attention for his nagging. Designate a specific time of day, then be available to be present, with ears open. At that time, he can open the box and ask or tell you what’s on his mind (see: “What to Do When You Worry Too Much” by Dawn Huebner).
  • Have the child learn to self-monitor and use a signal like “change the channel” to state what is expected (see: “Hunter and his Amazing Remote Control” by Lori Copeland). Encourage him to think about something else or get busy doing another activity.
  • Validate his feelings but continue to be firm about not giving in. Say something like, “I know how excited you are about going to the toy store. We are going Tuesday and not before. I’ll show you on the calendar when we are going.”
  • Make sure your child’s pestering never pays off! Avoid negative attention too – watch those eye rolls and heavy sighs. Model coping yourself!
  • Teach relaxation strategies such as deep breathing.
Expect this plan to take some time. Realize that if you start a plan to increase flexibility and decrease nagging, the pestering actually may increase in the short term before it starts to subside. Stay consistent. Praise all of your child’s efforts to learn to wait and be flexible. Recognize that for some individuals the pestering is very hard to get past. But it is possible for children to become unstuck!
Pat Blackwell, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist in practice at Pelts Kirkhart & Associates. 504.581.3933.

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