How to train habit without nagging

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  • Titus2mama

    Re reading some posts I am seeing a big portion of our problems in school is lack of habit. How do you train for habit without nagging

    Take dwaddling for example. How do I redirect a child to his work without nagging him?!?

    Sara B.

    We work all in the same room, and sometimes the other kids get distracted by a cool story I’m reading to a younger sibling or whatnot.  I see them out of the corner of my eye because my back is to the fireplace and I am facing them all in the room.  When I notice, I snap my fingers at them &/or point my finger at their desks where they’re sitting.  I usually don’t say anything.  They’ve already been told, and they know the signal.  Also, if they don’t get their work done, they get to miss out on outside time in the afternoon until it’s done.  Only my oldest has a problem with that, and even that is finally down to once or twice a week.  The other 2 choose to work on it in their other free spots throughout the morning.

    Hope that gives you an idea!  (BTW, I *just* recently learned how to do that.  I am still working on all those other habits – how to win their will to our side, etc.)


    I’ve found CM’s Volume 4, Ourselves, to be excellent encouragement in the character/habits department. The first book in Volume four is appropriate for children to listen to during a family read aloud. A discussion of it would encourage good habits.

    If you find the original language to cumbersome, a paraphrase in modern English is found here:

    SCM has a Laying Down the Rails workshop/book that should be helpful. There’s an excerpt here:

    Woeking on one habit at a time is probably all you’d want to do at first. You need to be consistent/diligent to carry things through. Otherwise, it’s not their bad habits that are the problem, but your habit of allowance. I’m speaking from an admission of fault in this area, but it can get better and fairly quickly if you determine to form better habits of your own. Only working on one at a time offers you a manageable amount of patience and grace with yourself and your children. Then, as one area gets under control, add another habit change.



    P.S. Watch Sonya’s YouTube video excerpt from the Laying Down the Rsils seminar. Excellent!


    *sneaks in to whisper* You know those new projects that we’re working on? One of them is directly related to this topic! *sneaks back out with a little grin*

    Sonya’s response to this thread on


    You can even get an audio version of book 4 here:



    I am also having an issue with this. I just bought the “Laying Down the Rails” bundle with the children’s book. My husband and I are excited to learn and implement, but I admit to a feeling of irritation when I read, “6. Don’t resort to nagging; expect . . .prompt obedience after one quiet yet firm telling.” I’m not irritated with Sonya Shafer or even Charlotte Mason. I see this same wording everywhere. Blogs, parenting books, comments from other parents, etc. Sometimes (not always) it’s accompanied by an example of a particular behavior or habit that is pretty simple to “expect” without nagging. More often there isn’t any example at all. Simply, “We expect” or “We require”


    And I mean with EVERY habit. HOW??? 

    Even Charlotte Mason gives that story about the boy and the door, and the mother reminds him constantly at first. How is “reminding” not the same as “nagging”? Either way you have to continually do it without the child learning to do it on his own. Isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid?

    For instance this morning. And this is only one example of one problem with one child during one hour. Imagine 5 children, all with various bad habits and weaknesses, from morning til night. I told my 6 year old to go upstairs, close his door, get dressed, put away his pajamas, and push in his bed (he sleeps on a trundle). No this is NOT the first day of trying to get him into this morning habit, we’ve been going through this same routine every day of the week for more than a few months. And he did what he always does. He dawdled, played, goofed off. After a few minutes I went to check. Only his shirt was changed, and the bed was not pushed in. He is perfectly capable of getting it all done in 5 minutes or less. He’ll also sometimes complain that pushing the bed in is too hard, or he’s too tired or weak. None of that is true. So, without standing over him, punishing him, nagging him, how exactly do I “expect” or “require” he do as he’s told?

    Then there’s my daughter. I tell her every morning, when she wakes up and is loud and obnoxious and thumps and runs around, that it is rude, that she isn’t supposed to do that when others are sleeping, etc. Sometimes before she even does it I give her the reminder, “Be quiet”. Within one second–no exaggeration–she’s done or said something, purposefully, loud. Again, this is something we’ve been working on for months without number. How do I “expect” or “require” obedience in this without nagging? I discipline, I remind, I request, I give examples, I appeal to her empathy because she doesn’t like getting woken up by loud people . . .nothing. No improvement whatsoever. I cannot name one morning in which she has done as she is told in this particular habit. And again: one example, one child, one particular habit or behavior, one hour.

    So that’s my frustration with the words “expect” and “require” and “don’t nag”. I see no realistic way NOT to nag, even if it’s done “pleasantly” it’s still nagging and reminding. I still plan to plod ahead with the LDR books, because we’re desperate for change, but having read those words just this morning I just had to express my frustration, and hopefully get some realistic tips on how to do that.


    Stonemomof4, I know how frustrating this can be! We have a lot of the same issues here. We only have littles right now, so with all of them doing something at the same time, it can really feel maddening.

    I can tell you what we do, which I can definitely see some improvement with, although it’s certainly not perfect. We try to just give consequences that naturally follow, or that are “equal.” So for instance, with the dawdling through the morning routine, I would plan something fun, and then if they didn’t do their tasks in a timely fashion, we all have to stay home, because we ran out of time. For the loudness in the morning, I would actually get up before the child and wake them up in a really loud and obnoxious way.

    Hope that helps some,



    Thanks for the empathy. 🙂 

    I sometimes do that with the dawdling–for instance, when he (same child) takes half an hour to empty the dishwasher (no matter how full it is he CAN get it done in 10 minutes or less, I’ve seen it), I tell him for every minute over the 10 it SHOULD take, he’ll spend that in a chair facing a window doing nothing. He’s one of those kids, doing nothing is THE worst punishment. 🙂 But even if that takes care of it . . .if I do that for everything–the dawdling getting dressed, the dawdling doing his job–when is he EVER going to have a school lesson? So it throws off our whole day. Which makes it tough all around. As for planning something fun then none of us doing it, I tend to shy away from that, because then that makes his (or any of the kids) disobedience OUR problem. It shouldn’t, it should be HIS problem. When it’s OUR problem, and he’s made to feel, “See what you did to us?”, he can eventually develop the attitude of not caring what he does to others, so long as he doesn’t feel the effect of it. Already that’s a problem with the “natural consequence” for dawdling, since it upsets ME because our schedule gets ruined (something I’m working on, my attitude and response). :/

    As for the “waking up” problem . . .that would unfortunately mean waking up the baby, and possibly the baby next door (we live in a duplex), which is what I’m trying to avoid by keeping my daughter quiet. Otherwise I’m all over that one. 😛 I’ve even done it to my 6 yo. He is usually the last to go to sleep, always has some drama or other, whether fears (that he really doesn’t have) or physical ailments (again, usually imaginary) or just telling us his brain is on and it’s not his fault (very possible lol), and it keeps US up forever, because we can’t go to bed while he’s awake, because we can’t trust him to stay in his bed and not play and not wake up his siblings. But then he is ALWAYS the one to sleep extra late in the morning. On those days I take great pleasure in shaking him awake with a big grin. 😀

    I do think my best plan of attack is to make lists for all the kids and for all the habits. Yes, tackle one habit at a time for the whole family. But to enforce each habit with each child is going to look different. So I need to make lists of strengths, weaknesses, and punishments/consequences.

    Of course, that requires some quiet time to gather my thoughts . . . 


    Oh ladies I hear you! I “expect” obedience as well, but my expectations and reality do not always match LOL.  

    I have given a lot of thought to this nagging vs reminding issue for myself, and I will share my conclusions with you all, as it may help you to begin to clarify this issue for your personal situation.

    To me, “reminding” means that the child and I are in it together, we share a purpose, and they might need my guidance through a reminder to acheive that purpose or goal. My daughter is supposed to empty the dishwasher each day. When I am away from home she tends to get distracted and forget until I get home – then she will remember and run off to do her chore. I would rather it be done earlier in the day, so I often call to remind her. She has no problem with doing the chore – it is just that her attention to it isn’t 100% yet – but today I called to remind her and she had already done it 🙂 yay!

    Nagging is when we are at cross purposes. There is something that they do not want to do and they are resisting doing it, what they utimately want is to outlast the nagger. Finally the nagger will give up and the naggee will not have to do the action in question. Think of the cliche of the nagging wife – she and her husband are always at cross purposes. The nagger also often does not truly have an expectation that they will be obeyed or get the action they want – yet they feel that the action is necessary or worse yet “deserved” and so they keep on in spite of having little faith in success. How to tell if you are nagging or reminding? A sure fire test for me is whether or not I am angry from doing it – if I am angry – probably nagging. I need to check myself. I do not want that to be a habit for me. I want instead to find an effective way to work with the other person to get done what is needed.

    So in CM’s example of the boy and the door, he and his mother have talked this over and agreed to WORK TOGETHER on this issue. She is reminding him, not nagging him. CM is giving us some techniques to remind without words – the meaningful glance at the door or whatever. This is supposed to be us providing guidance to the child for him to work toward making it a habit to close the door, or hang up the coat, or put away the shoes (this is a big one at my house LOL).  And this is where it gets confusing, I think, with the term “habit.”

    This, I think of as “Habit” (capital H habit) and “habit” (little h habit). The Habit might be courtesy, or obedience… big things that apply to many actions. The Habit “courtesy” applies to – the habit of saying thank you, the habit of not interrupting, the habit of being quiet when it is necessary… this is where the discussions get confusing sometimes in habit training, in my opinion. Habits and habits. Are you going to try to conquer Courtesy all at once, or are you going to work on one thing – saying thank you. In my house we are working on responding politely whenever I speak to them – letting me know that they heard me by saying OK mom – or yes maam or whatever. So I don’t have to repeat myself. A lot of reminding on this sometimes. 😉

    At the risk of sounding like a smarty pants know it all by going on about this soooo long (I have really given this some thought LOL) I will add one more thing that has made a difference for me. I find that for every habit my children need to work on, I have a habit I need to work on as well. So often it is diligence. And I know I am not alone in this – how many times on the forum have ladies confessed that they lack follow-through? ::raising hand:: I have to be diligent to help them form their habit, to learn and grow. I can empathize with how hard it can be for them because I myself continually struggle. I try to always set it up so that the children and I are “in it together.” We need to work toward the same goal. If the goal is not important enough for me to put it as priority and give my attention to it – I need to rethink whether it is important at all.



    Reading back over stonemomof4’s post, I have a suggestion that you try to interrupt your daughter’s morning routine of rude loud disobedient behavior. What are you doing in the morning – do they have quiet time while you make breakfast, what are they supposed to be doing? From what you say obviously reminding and discipline are not working – as you describe this going on for a long time. Is this attention seeking behaviour? 

    My suggestion to interrupt  or head off the behaviour comes from reading the suggestion many times that replacing one habit with another is easier than just quitting cold turkey. So what could you do in the morning that would interrupt this behaviour? Warning: this may be a lot of trouble for a while LOL Could you have her help you make breakfast, could she watch a tv show for 30 mins – my kids sometimes watch netflix in the mornings, usually nature shows or science shows. Could you all listen to an audiobook in the mornings? Could you let them play with legos or something? Play a board game with her, color with her… what does she like to do? I don’t know your household so I don’t know what the alternate activity could be – just throwing out suggestions. 

    The point I am trying to get to is – try to not even let the behaviour get started. You have said a reminder before hand is not enough. I think you could try some kind of distraction or radically different morning activity/routine. I am not saying this is easy or an overnight solution – but I am offering it as one way to deal with an entrenched disobedience. It is not a reward for bad behaviour to get to watch a show or play a board game or listen to a story – if you preempt the bad behavior and replace it with an activity that is enjoyable for everyone. It will become a reward if you wait each day until you can’t take it anymore and then switch on the tv. I am just trying to reinforce my intention to step in and replace the whole situation with another situation. 

    Hope that helps, I am not sure I made myself clear – but I have had some similar times in the day that always turn ugly – and a change in that part of our day has made things better for us. Again, it depends on my own consistancy ::sigh::



    We have a similar problem.  My children just don’t remember all the things they should be remembering.  Either I remind/nag, or it doesn’t happen.  I thought long and hard about how to put the responsibility on their shoulders to remember things, rather than just relying on me to tell them what to do.  I’m talking about simple things like flushing the toilet and washing their hands.  My 3yo has had this mastered since she trained before she turned 2.  My 7yo and 5yo, however, can’t seem to remember at all.  Putting away jammies when you get dressed is another one.  Simple task, same routine everytime, but they just don’t have the habit.

    A major part of the problem is that I’m not there for every one of these little tasks.  I don’t accompany my children to the bathroom.  I just find the toilet later.  Ick.  Or, more often, my 3yo finds it and complains that she can’t use the potty.  I also don’t hang out in my kids’ rooms while they get dressed in the morning.  And so on.  How do you habit train when you are not there?

    Here is what I came up with.  Everytime my children remember to do something they should already know, AND they come and tell me that they remembered, we put a penny in a jar.  When it’s full enough, we’ll use it to go for ice cream or slurpees.  If I have to remind them, though, I take a penny out.  If I find shoes in front of the door instead of in the correct spot, there goes a penny.  If I find a book on the couch instead of the shelf, it’s a penny.  We’ve only been at it a week, but all of a sudden, my children’s memories have improved dramatically.  Kids are announcing all day long: “Mom, I flushed and washed!”  “Mom, I put my dishes in the dirty dish bin.” and “Mom, I made my bed!”  As I walk through the house, I’ll call out “Anybody need to remember anything right now?” and they all come scurrying to make sure they haven’t left something undone.  We also give a penny for intangibles, like ‘remembering to be helpful to my sister’, or ‘remembering not to get angry and hit’.  The kids aren’t telling me about those things as much yet, but it gives me a way to incorporate any habit I choose into the system.

    I give them credit for anything they remember, even if it’s not on my original list.  If they said “Mom, I remembered to breathe!” I’d probably drop a penny in that jar, just for fun (once only, of course).  I just want have THEM do the remembering, to take ownership of the task.  So far, it’s helping.  They aren’t 100% yet, but I’ve seen a major improvement.  I’m not sure how long we’ll keep it up, but for now, this is a positive way to get ‘buy in’ from the crowd.  I’m not usually one for token systems and rewards, but I needed to do SOMETHING to just get their attention.

    Oh, and I LOVE the concept from Gem of separating out capital letter “Habits” from small “habits”.  That is exactly what I needed to think about in this journey.  I need to break down Habits into small manageable habits.  Thank-you for that.  It answers some of my questions recently as I’ve been thinking about this challenge.


    Has anyone read this? 

    Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma

    It’s not a homeschooling-related book, but I really enjoyed reading this… well, I got it from the library and only read the first 3 chapters and couldn’t renew because it has a bunch of holds. 😉  But I enjoyed some of her insights. This doesn’t deal directly with the issue of conquering those bad habits, but it does a great job addessing the development of new routines and habits for the family/children. 

    It’s not letting me add the hyperlink, but this is the book on Amazon:



    @jmac17–EXACTLY!! LOL Especially when you have 5, and one of them keeps you sitting down a lot with nursing. I barely remember to get myself a drink of water during the day, how am I supposed to remember to check on all of them and all the things I’ve asked them to do (and FORGOT I asked them to do)?? That’s what makes it frustrating. I havne’t done a token system yet, though I’m preparing a chart system to start using. We’ll see how that goes.

    Gem–that’s a very good point about the difference between nagging and reminding. I’m definitely nagging, because I’m definitely angry when I talk to them about what they didn’t do. But as for interrupting the behavior, it would depend on the morning. Some days, like today, it’s 6 am. They are SUPPOSED to be asleep at that point. I’m supposed to be having my coffee and quiet time. But for some reason she popped awake. I told her to stay in her bed and be quiet but she immediately made a goofy loud dramatic sound, and then was “too scared” to stay in her bed (daylight streaming in, all her brothers next door, doors opened). I tell her she can come downstairs but she has to lay on the couch and be quiet and still. And THAT’S the part she just couldn’t/wouldn’t do. When i let her go upstairs to get something she was stomping and not being quiet. So, i don’t think it’s a lot to ask that she obey the simple instruction of “be still and quiet” but it becomes a chore and nonstop battle every minute until everyone else is awake. And I try to enforce a rule in my house that IF anyone is awake and downstairs with me the TV still doesn’t go on until 7am. I’m afraid I”m not willing to budge on that. The point of a lot of this habit training is to teach them obedience to the rules of the house, and I don’t think that’s realy happening if I’m letting certain rules go to get peace. I should be getting peace because I ASKED for peace and because it’s courteous to those around them. I do understand the idea of distracting the behavior, but not for everything and not all the time. This particular problem comes every day, and it’s not always just her. We have a rule: be in your bed, be quiet, until after 7. They all know this rule. Breakfast is after 7, and that’s when you can come down and start being loud (or at least not whisper). But no one is truly obeying this rule. I don’t think it would help them conquer the habit of doing whatever they please WHENEVER they please if I gave up the rule and gave them alternatives. It would work for a few days, then they’d just push THAT envelope and then I’d have to come up with a new strategy. Believe me, it’s happened before.

    And again, that’s just one of many problems. 😛


    Stonemomof4 – 

    I am reminded of Charlotte’s quote, “Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having.” In our house, we say, “Obey all the way, right away, and cheerfully.” Here is a blog post from Sonya on Moral Habits, where you can read more.

    I am very big on first time obedience and heartily recommend the book, Raising Godly Tomatoes. It is chockful of practical training advice. At very young ages (months not years), you can certainly begin the training process whatever methods you choose and I would encourage you to expect obedience. After all, if you aren’t expecting the child to obey, why should he. There must be consequences of some variety that are applied EVERY.SINGLE.TIME that the unwanted behavior occurs or else you will be starting over at square one. If your child disobeyed your instruction to stay quiet and got her way to come downstairs, then disobeyed again as she went upstairs, what did you do about it? Did you get up, go to the child, stop her in her tracks and apply whatever consequence you deem appropriate (time out, swat to bottom, whatever) or did you get frustrated and not do anything? I ask not to be accusatory, but to illustrate that children are fast learners of habits, good or bad. 

    One tangible idea of when to wake up is an alarm clock. Set it on low so it doesn’t jar everyone awake, but instruct your early risers that they must remain in bed quietly looking at a book until the clock sounds. This has worked well with all 4 of my kids. No, it isn’t too much to expect, but you have to work on it. Go over the instruction every night. Put books on the bed every night after they are asleep for the morning. If noise happens before the clock, go to the child immediately and deal with it calmly. Praise when the child does it right. 

    From the posts above, it’s obvious you’re frustrated and likely a bit angry at times. It’s understandable, we’ve all been in that spot at least once or twice. However, it isn’t enough to expect obedience. You must require it and follow through EVERY time. It reads as if your children are not seeing you as the rightful authority nor are they respecting your authority. This must change for peace to reign in your home. You have to realize that while inconvenient, you may have to put the nursing babe down and deal with a disobedient child. The baby won’t suffer harm for it, I promise. 

    A wise friend with 5 kids (4 are grown), told me when I was expecting my first, “Never give any instruction that you are unable or unwilling to make sure is carried out. It is much better not to say anything at all than to speak and have your authority undermined because you can’t/won’t stop what you’re doing to ensure that your instructions are obeyed.”

    Hang in there. Keep trying and remember that the days are long, but the years are short.



    ETA – I have 4 kids, ages 12, 9, 5 (almost 6), 3.5. I know what it’s like to have several to train. Be willing to give up any and all time to yourself for a while and devote that time to training. It will pay off in the end. 


    I only have one thing to add. Remember that you can only work on one thing at a time. If you try to address everything at once, you are setting yourself up for frustration. I have six children so I definitely sympathize. It is hard and it is a lot of work, but once you start to see success you will be motivated. One more thing is to make sure you and your husband are working together. Consistency is an absolute necessity. They have to know that mom and dad are part of the team and both of you are working to help them lay down the rails.

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