How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?

Bad News/Good News

Oh, the weariness that can result from repeating the same request for the millionth time. Why, oh why, doesn’t she just DO IT the first time you ask? Is there a problem with her hearing or should you just give up and do the task yourself?

In many homes, asking these questions becomes a pattern which is repeated many times each day. This causes frustration and anger, which can damage your relationship with your child.

  • The bad news: This lack of response to parents’ requests is part of typical child development.

  • The good news: There are healthy, practical parenting tools to consider that may save your voice, your energy, and your relationship with your children.


Children are a Work in Progress

They have not yet reached the point of fully recognizing the needs of others, or for that matter, their own needs. For example, they don’t understand – and really don’t care at this point in their lives – that their taking a break from playing to complete a chore will ultimately lead to their becoming responsible and good team players.

Children and teens:

  • lack judgment: don’t understand the long-term impact of their decisions.

  • are impulsive: live for the moment.

  • are ego-centric: think primarily of their own needs and wants.

As you begin to tell him for the fifth time to set the table, you can remind yourself that your child’s brain connections are still “under construction.”

Increasing Cooperation

Rather than nagging, you can reach for parenting tools which may decrease your irritation and increase the chances of getting your child to do what you want:

  1. Give a warning.
    Let your child know that in five minutes he must stop what he is doing and set the table for dinner.

  2. Set a timer.
    This can be combined with the warning so neither of you forgets what is needed. The timer functions as a “voice substitute.”

  3. Use notes.
    Write down what must be done and by when. Be specific.

    “Set table by 6:00. Use plates, napkins, forks, and knives for four people.”

    You can leave a note in the same place each day or use your imagination. Post it on the refrigerator. Fold it into a flying airplane. Leave it beside a snack along with a loving note:

    “You are the best!”

  4. Share reasons.
    Let your child know that families work together. No one person should have to do it all. You may receive a snarky comeback such as, “Seth’s parents don’t ask him to do anything at home.”

    Instead of becoming angry, respond with, “Each family does things differently; this is how we do it.”

  5. Provide choices.
    Select a calm time when everyone can be present. Share a full list of daily or weekly chores. Based on ability, ask each child to choose a set number of tasks to be completed each day or week.

    Beside each job, write a child’s name and a specific time by which the activity must be finished. Every so often allow family members to rotate tasks.

  6. Teach Skills.
    Make sure your child knows what is involved in completing the task. She may avoid doing the job because she does not know how to do it. At first, you may need to break the chore into steps or work with your child until she feels ready to do it on her own. Check her progress and encourage her along the way.

  7. Follow through on requests.
    Make sure your child knows that you expect him to do what you ask and what he agreed to do. If you get side-tracked and don’t follow through with your demands, then he will learn that he doesn’t have to pay attention to what you ask him to do.


Parting Thoughts

Remember – you don’t have to be mean to be firm. It helps if you believe that what you are asking your child to do is important and reasonable.
Beyond completing the chores, there are broader benefits.

These include:

  • learning to meet responsibilities
  • showing respect to you
  • contributing to the family
  • building self-esteem

As with most parenting tools, these don’t come with guaranteed success. Furthermore, results are best measured over time, so don’t give up. Try one tool for a couple of weeks to see how it works. Stay calm. Be firm.

When you do need to repeat your request, move near your child and become like a “broken record,” asking again and again, without getting louder. Don’t stop until she does what you are asking!

Make some chores fun! Celebrate together when the task is done well or on time. When your child feels appreciated, he is often more willing to listen to your directions. And don’t make time at home all about chores. Your child may begin to become “parent deaf” if you are always fussing at him to do things.

Work with your child so you can decrease the use of that tiresome question, “How many times do I have to tell you?”


By Pam Nicholson, MSW, Certified Parenting Educator

Coloroso, Barbara, Kids are Worth It!

Crary, Elizabeth, Pick Up Your Socks . . . and Other Skills Growing Children Need!: A Practical Guide to Raising Responsible Children

Faber and Mazlish, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family

Kurcinka, Mary Sheedy, Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles: Winning for a Lifetime



For more information about discipline check out the following books. Purchasing books from our website through supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Growing Up Again by Jean Illsley Clark Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso Kids Can Cooperate by Elizabeth Crary Kids, Parents and Power Struggles by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
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