How can I keep my kids from nagging? They hammer away at me until I either cave in or lose my temper. And the more tired I get, the harder they push.

Nagging illustrates a great paradox of parenthood. The more parents nag, the less kids respond. The more kids nag, the more parents respond. The reality is: If nagging didn’t work, kids wouldn’t do it. Kids realize this after a few years of life. Parents realize it after a few kids.

The art of nagging is elegantly simple: Use relentless words in pursuit of a goal. The short-term goal is to get what you want. The long-term goal is to soften Mom or Dad’s resistance to future nagging.

Compared to parents, children are relatively powerless. They don’t have control over their environments like we do. So, through words — millions of them — comes their power to persuade. Kids count on our ears tiring long before their vocal cords do.

Let’s say you are considering granting Desiree a special treat or privilege. She can’t chance that you’ll make a decision based solely upon its merits, so she dramatically kicks up her level of pleading, begging and overall obnoxiousness. A good way to short circuit this verbal jackhammering is to say, “Don’t ask again, even once, or the answer will be ‘No.’ I need quiet time to think.”

Another prime nag time is in public. Kids smell when you’re parenting in fear of making a scene or of looking incompetent. That’s their “go” signal. It doesn’t take many nags to crack you in front of others, especially as the nags rise in volume. How to escape this? “For every time you ask me, you’ll sit five minutes at home.” Or, “Ask me once more, Avis, and we’ll have to leave.” Or, “Nag, and next time I won’t take you with me.”

If you feel you can reach deep within and tap an unused reservoir of resolve, you could practice ignoring all nagging words. After you’ve said “No” to “Mom, can I ride the triple-spiral demon a 17th time?” act as though Constance is no longer speaking. In time — anywhere between a minute and a decade — she will wind down.

If you’re like most of us parents and doubt your ability to stay oblivious for thousands of words at a time, or if you simply don’t want to hear it, you could implement a gag order: “Tucker, if you nag, you will nag in your room.” Or, “You will write 50 times ‘Nagging is not a good way to communicate.’” Would 50 times constitute written nagging?

One mother simply asked, “Are you nagging?” She was really saying, “Don’t nag, or there will be consequences.” The kids knew the consequences. They’d earned them a few dozen times before. “Are you nagging?” was sufficient to silence them.

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