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Q&A: Handling a Pestering Child

Persistence is a good character trait … but it does have a downside when I child makes the same request over and over.

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

When my child makes a request and I give him an answer he doesn’t like, he keeps coming back and making the same request over and over and over again. How should I handle this problem?

Dennis: Someone has said that nagging is like being nibbled to death by a duck. This is the duck that gets you right here—the persistent child. Persistence is really a good character trait, but it does have a downside.

Look at it like this. This child may be the next Billy Graham. This child may be the next missionary whom God uses to win people in foreign countries to Christ because he perseveres and comes back over and over and over again! Often a weakness is a strength that is taken to an extreme.

Of course, this is no comfort right now for a mom who bears the brunt of this “nibbling” perseverance. I know I made my own mother suffer—I hounded her to death, pestering her, wearing her down. A child can see when his mother starts to weaken, and then he keeps piling on the pressure.

Barbara: I think you need to find out what your limit is. I think you need to decide what issues you are going to draw the line on. On this issue, you need to make it clear to the child what consequences he will face if he repeats a request for which he already has received an answer.

For example, you could say, “When you ask me if you can spend the night with a friend and I say ‘no,’ that’s my final word. If you come ask me again, you are going to be grounded.” Then, when this happens, you need to follow through and discipline the child as you promised. Otherwise your child will learn that you are the type of parent who threatens punishment but doesn’t carry it out. He’ll take advantage of this and find a way to get what he wants.

Dennis: Barbara’s dad once gave me a sign after traveling eight hours in a car with our family on a trip. It reads, “Exactly what part of the word NO do you not understand?” He felt like I needed to say “no” and draw boundaries and not keep listening to the kids as they nagged and complained. I hung the sign on a lamp at home. My kids didn’t like it! I’m amazed that they didn’t toss it in the trash can.

Barbara’s advice is very sound … kids need to hear ahead of time what will happen if they come back over and over again with the same request or question. Now this may sound harsh, but it’s all about developing character in our children. We used this technique a lot because we had many strong-willed kids in our family.

Barbara: It’s an issue of trust. The kids need to learn to trust that the parent is going to do what he said he was going to do.

Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.

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