Friday, November 13, 2015

Parenting: How Criticisms and Nagging Backfire

Children give their parents what the parents seem to need

Mell Lazarus, the cartoonist who created Miss Peach, writes a very creative comic called Momma. I wish it were in a lot more newspapers. He understands something paramount about family dynamics that it seems a lot of so-called parenting experts do not address or even seem to notice. 

Psychiatrists and pediatricians who prescribe medications for children who supposedly have "ADHD" or "Pediatric Bipolar Disorder" never even ask their teenage patients about it - or inquire in any detail about much of anything that goes on at home between them and their parents.

I've included in this post several of his strips that demonstrate how tuned into this process Mr. Lazarus is. The dynamics can be described quite simply in three sentences:

1. If a parent repeatedly criticizes a child or a teenager about the very same behaviors, the child will not only not stop them, but will continue or even dramatically increase them.

2. If a parent continually nags a child or teenager to do the same things, the child will not only refrain from doing what the parent is ostensibly asking for, but will studiously avoid doing so - or even do the exact opposite.

3. If a parent continually tells children or teenagers they have some trait, or lack some trait, the children will compulsively act out the trait they have been told they have, and/or will compulsively avoid doing anything that suggests they actually have any trait they have been told they lack.

So why is this? Well, if parents obsessively do something, children will conclude that they parents either need to do it and/or enjoy doing it, even if the parents repeatedly deny it. Actions speak louder than words. Far be it for any child to deprive a parent of a cherished role.

So, if the parents seem to like or need to nag or criticize, their children will continue to misbehave. If the parents compulsively state or predict that the child has or will develop a negative trait, their children will continue to prove them right. They do these things so that the parents will feel good about themselves, not because they enjoy have negative traits.


  1. It gets better: when the child attempts to not participate in the Nag Feedback Loop, the tension is unbearable. It's like holding your breath at the bottom of a deep pool, sooner or later you will relent and go back to the old ways.

  2. That describes "therapy" by the "well-meaning" do-gooders.

    1. And what's your suggestion?

    2. For whom - the parents or the kids? There isn't a one-size fits all answer. It would depend on WHY the parent seems to be so obsessed with running the lives of the kids, or with "fixing" them, or with atoning for some perceived sin the parents are feeling guilty of, or any number of other things.

      For kids and teens, the really don't have much power to do anything about this unless there is a sympathetic relative who can help them out.

  3. It's an interesting life to have been crippled by the fears of my family while pulling at the jacket hems of the help and getting kicked in the face for "weakness" in return. It was a true scapegoating.

    I'm rarely disgusted anymore by what passes for "razor sharp instincts" among therapists. It's been a heck of a lot easier to move on from the ignorance of my family rather than the deliberate, reckless behaviours of therapists and their tv talk show attitudes.

    Can't / won't develop the skills needed in therapy to listen and stay safe? Save a life, go pick fruit for a living then.

  4. It gets better: when the child attempts to not participate in the Nag Feedback Loop, the tension is unbearable. It's like holding your breath at the bottom of a deep pool, sooner or later you will relent and go back to the old ways.
    Health and beauty

  5. The funny thing I've realized as I've gotten older is that my parents' constant refrain to us kids as we grew up, "You are selfish bastards!" was really a dead-on description of themselves. We kids were only narcissistic extensions of our parents, and our parents have shown themselves to be emotionally incapable of compassion or empathy towards themselves [sic] or us. It's too late for an intervention to help our parents see the error of their ways--whatever poorly written programming they're using, they're locked into it and will ride it to the end--but it's still amazing to see how the stuff you write about is true.

  6. I have an example of this from own life, which I only realized after a while in therapy some years ago. My mother and father both had several various cluster B traits, and of course I also developed some of those traits and some different ones, as well. When I was growing up as a child, I tried extremely hard to avoid provoking either of my parents' hostility or rejection. I was a total teacher's pet in school, rarely broke any rules, never talked back, scored high grades and did anything and everything I could ever figure out that might keep my parents in a mind mode that was neither crazy or hateful. I never realized until only a few years ago in therapy that this also included some negative behaviors. My parents could always find *something* to use as a reason for hostility, and using "messes" of various kinds became the go-to plan. My father might fly into a violent rage because the pillows on the living couch were crooked, while my mother was in a state of constant hypervigilance about my bedroom. I returned from elementary school one day to find that my stuffed animals were missing. Part of me already knew what had happened, but I still asked my mother, anyway, where they were. She informed me that she had found some of the stuffed animals on the floor, which meant that I must not care about them all that much, and so she had thrown them all away. Fast forward to me shortly after graduating from high school, and my bedroom was a complete disaster zone. My mother used this as the reason to tell me to move out of the house and go live with a boyfriend who I had just started dating, since having my messy stuff in her house was a waste of space that could be better used as a personal office for herself. At the time it felt like a normal conclusion to the situation, so I actually did move in with the boyfriend which was of course a very bad idea. At that point a messy room had served as the needed reason for my mother to dump me on someone else as soon as I was a legal adult and then refuse to speak to me for roughly two years, while meanwhile telling others that I had left the home on my own for no apparent reason and that I refused to speak to her. I am around 30 years old now and to this day I still find that frequently my living environment is severely messy with stuff unorganized and strewn everywhere. Clean and empty spaces seem to give me anxiety.