Constant Nagging

Although we may have the best intentions, we can certainly fall into the trap of constantly nagging our family members or students with autism. It can be helpful to take an inventory of the words we speak every day and to move toward gentle nudging rather than constant nagging.

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At the risk of sounding judgmental, I would venture to say that most adults could be diagnosed with a condition called “nag-itis.” If we could review a video of our actions every day, we would probably find that we tend to nag children and teens, and that we jump on a behavior almost before it occurs.

We can fall into the habit of constantly reminding kids to put things away, drink their milk, feed the dog, put away their backpack, pick up dropped items, put their clothes in the laundry, clean their plate, put away their toys, brush their teeth, flush the toilet, and use a tissue rather than picking their nose.

I hear adults spurting out reminders to say goodbye or to say thank you, often before a youngster has had a chance to initiate greetings or thanks on their own. We can also spend a great deal of time and energy reprimanding youngsters, jumping on every move they make and telling them what we want them to do or what we don’t want them to do. Then we keep talking about their missteps long after the deed.

Because our nagging tends goes right over the top of a child’s head, we might want to change our habits. When a youngster really needs a reminder, consider following these steps: (1) capture their attention, (2) state firmly and specifically what needs to happen, and (3) give them plenty of time to process the information and follow the direction. Use visual reminders like pointing, signs, or picture cues instead of words when giving the direction and for silent reminders.

It is usually best to avoid constant nagging when talking to children with autism. Our goal isn’t to raise perfect kids – just to give them nudges every single day toward being pleasant, cooperative, friendly, content people.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

Published on: May 15, 2008

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