Again. The bath towels are on the floor again.

August 6, 2014 at 12:00 AM

My son, 29, moved back home several years ago when he lost his job. The good news is he found another job, and is darn good at it. The bad news is, he has a few habits that drive me up the wall. One of them is leaving towels on the floor after a shower. It looks messy, you can trip over them, and they start to smell, too.

This morning I found the towels on the floor again. The conversation in my head began like this: “How many times have I asked you not to leave towels on the floor? How difficult is it to pick them up? It only takes a few seconds.” Nag, nag, negative language. If someone talked to me that way, I’d shut down and tune out in a flash. It’s a good thing that those words stayed in my head, and didn’t come out of my mouth.

Do you have a tendency to express what you don’t want instead of what you do want? It’s fairly common, and not very effective. Which would you rather have your child focus on, the ‘do’ or the ‘don’t'? They already know what the problem is, and know what’s coming after your first sentence. When you approach them with a ‘don’t’ you’re setting both of you up for resistance and a negative attitude.

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Here’s a more productive way of dealing with the towels. “Please hang up the towels or put them in the laundry.”  (My son already knows what needs to be done, so this isn’t teaching for him; however, it is non-confrontational and says what needs to be said.) This technique of teaching and stating things in a positive way really works, and it works for children (and adults) of all ages.

Parents often tell kids what not to do, when the goal is actually for them to do it differently, or better. Here are some other examples of turning nagging into teaching, and resistance into cooperation:

Don’t leave your jacket on the floor.
 √   Your jacket belongs on the hook.

Why are there dishes in the sink?
√   Dishes go into the dishwasher.

You’ve spent enough time on video games. 
  When you’re done with your homework you can play for a while.

Don’t be late coming home from the party.
√   I’ll see you at 11:00.

Even better is when you can say it in a word or two.  Age two or twenty-two, they’ll get it.  Jacket.  Dishes.  Homework.  11:00.

Keep it short and sweet.  Tell them what you expect.  Reinforce what you want, not what you don’t want.

Fern Weis is a parent coach, specializing in supporting parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations (including underachieving, disrespectful behavior, addiction recovery and more).  With parent-centered coaching, Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life’s challenges.  Learn more about coaching and workshops at  

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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