Like water dripping from a leaky faucet, a kid’s constant nagging can be annoying and almost impossible to ignore, but giving in can have real financial consequences.
Whether your child repeats a demand nine, or 90, times, many parents eventually cave … understandably.
Sometimes the nagging works simply because kids have more drive than their parents have patience. Other times, location matters—who hasn’t stood in a grocery store checkout line and heard a child pleading that he needs that lollipop? You may have been tempted to buy the candy and hand it to the kid yourself just to get some peace.
However, while giving in for a dollar’s worth of candy may seem small, you are paving the path to nagging for bigger and more expensive demands.
One family I worked with when I was a guest expert on “Oprah” was made up of indulgent parents and their nagging children. It was Christmas season, and they were still paying off debt from the previous Christmas. Now they were about to rack up another $5,000 in credit card debt just to appease their kids. We got to the core of the problem when they said that they would be considered “bad parents” if they didn’t say yes to the kids—in their estimation, “Good parents work hard so that their kids don’t have to go without anything.”
You have to say no, and you have to mean it. Be brave enough to weather an embarrassing scene and strong enough to resist an Oscar-worthy performance.
I was aghast. I explained that being “good parents” means that your children are provided for—love, shelter, food, clothing, education and values. It also means teaching them financial responsibility. Giving in is financially harmful.
A lot of kids like to invoke what I call the Fairness Doctrine, but nagging, “It’s not fair, it’s just not fair,” didn’t work with me, and my kids knew it. It wasn’t magic: I stuck to my guns and simply said, “It’s not fair isn’t working with me.” It’s the same way it worked when I grew up. When my mother said no, it meant no. It wasn’t maybe. It wasn’t sort of. It was no.
I know it’s a cliché, but life isn’t fair. Do any of us feel that we get paid enough or get enough vacation time? There was one instance when I took my kids and a few of their friends to the movies. I told them they could each get one treat. One of the kids wanted popcorn and candy; I said no, and the child started nagging and whined, “It’s not fair.” My son pulled his buddy aside and said, “’It’s not fair doesn’t work with my mom. Maybe you could tell her you have a food allergy—that might work!”
Three tips to help you avoid problem nagging:
1. Create a Shopping List
Get the kids into the proactive habit of having shopping become a dynamic process. Get them involved in making a list with you—as you finish the milk, write it down on the list (putting the carton away with two drops in it doesn’t count), check the cupboards and gather coupons. Remind them that you will only be buying the things you have put on the list. Then assign each kid an item (and the right size) that he will be responsible for by remembering it and spotting it in the store. Make it very clear that you won’t be adding any other items to the cart.
2. Make “Quick Cash” Part of Their Allowance
As part of my allowance system, I teach that a set portion of each week’s allowance should be put aside specifically for Quick Cash—also known as instant-gratification spending. When your kid starts to nag for some impulse purchase, and it’s something that is OK for him to have, ask him if he can afford it, because he has to pay for it himself out of his Quick Cash.
Remind him that he doesn’t get any more Quick Cash until his next “payday,” and don’t be surprised if you hear, “I have to pay for that myself? Never mind, I guess I don’t want it that much.” Your job is to remind your kids to take their Quick Cash with them when you go out. Put the money in a plastic bag and find some room in your purse or your child’s backpack.
3. Just Say No
No is a perfectly acceptable word. We don’t need a scientific study to tell us that kids are experts in the art of nagging, and that giving in is a quick fix to keep them quiet—until next time. You have to say no, and you have to mean it. Be brave enough to weather an embarrassing scene and strong enough to resist an Oscar-worthy performance. An important lesson will be learned. Consistency is also key. If your children know that no really means no, they won’t be as tempted to nag, as they will know their efforts just won’t work.
You’ve heard tales of children who will obey their nanny but not their parents? The very same children? That’s a direct effect of the power of your no.
And remember, children will nag—it’s in their nature. We parents feel bad not giving in, and that’s in our nature. I’m sure we all wanted our parents to give in to our requests when we were younger too, but take comfort in the fact that, difficult as it may be, you have the foresight of your children in mind; they don’t. And their future selves will thank you.