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End Your Nagging Habit


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Sarah Mahoney

Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo

How to quit nitpicking

It's not even noon on a Sunday, and I've been biting my tongue all morning. When my husband sat down to Web surf two hours ago, I resisted the urge to remind him that he had promised to clean the basement. I held my tongue again when our 13-year-old trashed the kitchen while creating his "it's due tomorrow!" science project. And I even managed to stifle myself when my teenage daughter left a plate in the sink instead of reaching 18 inches farther to put it in the dishwasher.

I want to stop nagging, but with family members so resistant to constructive criticism, it's hard for me to shut up. Instead, I lash out at someone who can't talk back — the geriatric mutt snoring on the sofa. "For the millionth time," I order, "get down! No dogs on the couch!" She looks up and yawns.

I'm not the only woman who's guilty of repeating herself again and again (and again). A University of Florida study found that the culprits in two-thirds of family nagging episodes were women (who are also the ones most invested in keeping the house clean — coincidence?). To be fair, researchers noted that one reason women are labeled naggers is mere nomenclature — when men nag, we call it hounding; when kids do it, we say, "Stop pestering."

"To women, nagging feels like the most logical thing in the world," says Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W., author of Divorce Busting. "We think, If some­one isn't doing what I asked, they must not have heard me. So we say it again. And then we say it louder."

Once we realize we're being ignored, we tend to take real offense, as if our kids and spouse are scheming to stick us with the laundry forever. When they finally do tackle a load, we're way past thanking them — we just get nasty, muttering remarks like, "Took you long enough!" And that kind of negative reinforcement rarely inspires better behavior.

So what does work? "Whether you're dealing with an earthworm or a Harvard grad, the science of learning is exactly the same," says Ken Ramirez, who has trained hundreds of unruly critters, from whales to workers, at Chicago's Shedd Aquar­ium. "As long as you always stay positive, you can change behavior." Here, Ramirez and other experts explain how to bring out the best in your family — without ever saying "Didn't I just tell you to..." again.

Take Action Right Away
Habits are easy to form and hard to break, so you need to address bad behavior immediately. "Whether it's a puppy scratching at the door or a kid who keeps interrupting, we tend to ignore the problem 99 times. Then, on the 100th occasion, we overreact," says Alexandra Powe Allred, author of Teaching Basic Obedience: Train the Owner, Train the Dog. "When you're on the phone, the first time a child interrupts, stop your conversation and tell him not to break in on you again. Don't ignore the kid for 20 minutes and then explode."

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