“I nag them and I nag them, but it does no good.” Most of us can testify to the truth of that statement. But I never understood why nagging doesn’t work until I started to study Charlotte’s habit-training principles. Now it makes sense.

Let’s say that you’re trying to teach your child to hang up her coat when she takes it off. In order to make that action a habit, she needs to repeatedly and consciously think through the hang-up-my-coat-when-I-take-it-off neuron route. (Remember the neuron routes we talked about a couple of weeks ago?)

Now, let’s say you come into the room and trip over her coat. The easiest thing to do is to call her into the room and say, “I’ve told you before, hang up your coat when you take it off!” She obediently picks it up and hangs it in the closet, but . . . and here’s the key . . . her brain didn’t initiate the idea, so you just reinforced the wrong neuron route.

You just reinforced the do-what-mom-says-to-do neuron route. That’s a completely different route from the one you want her to mentally travel. And that explains why once we start nagging, we find that we’re always having to nag in order to make something happen. We are reinforcing the do-what-mom-says-to-do route, which means the child will constantly wait until mom says what to do!

‘I’m sure I am always telling her’––to keep her drawers neat, or to hold up her head and speak nicely, or to be quick and careful about an errand, says the poor mother, with tears in her eyes; and indeed this, of ‘always telling’ him or her is a weary process for the mother; dull, because hopeless (Vol. 2, p. 173).

So, let’s say you just came into the room and tripped over your daughter’s coat . . . again. You call your child into the room, and you say something like this: “I promised I would help you remember.” That’s all. If she still doesn’t understand, you can pointedly look at the coat on the floor. Little hints might be needed at first. But you wait until the mental lightbulb goes off in her head and that will start those neurons traveling the hang-up-my-coat-when-I-take-it-off route. Do you see the difference? She thought of it. She made the mental effort.

Yes, it might be faster to nag. Yes, it sometimes seems easier to nag. But think of the long-term effects. You will have to continue to nag whenever you want something done.

But, perhaps, even his mother does not know how unutterably dreary is this always telling,’ which produces nothing, to the child. . . . As for any impression on his character, any habit really formed, all this labour is without result (Vol. 2, p. 173).

Nagging doesn’t work. Stop nagging and start forming habits.


  1. Thank you so much for this – definately something I needed to understand. I know nagging doesn’t work yet I continue to do it anyways because I guess I know no other way! This has helped me better understand how to do it. I really, really need to buy the Original Homeschooling series….I keep borrowing the books from the library, but there is lots of gold nuggets to dig up! Again, thank you for these. 🙂

  2. Ahhhhhhhh…that was an excellent and well-stated concept! Thank you so much for sharing. I am definitely going to put this idea to work in our home. 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing this! Sometimes the instinctive things we do are simply not the right things at all. Your idea of ‘reinforcing the right neuron route’ is a real eye-opener and a tool I will try to bear in mind in practise. I’m happy I was introduced to your blog!

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