The Experiment

A thought occurred to me yesterday while I was in the middle of my usual routine with my kids of nagging and goading and reminding. That thought was what would happen if I just, for one day, shut up already? In the middle of all the annoying sound (which was generated mostly by myself and our nanny) I felt like a jack hammer outside the window when you’re trying to sleep. Not loud enough to really wake you up but just really really annoying.

So I walked up to the nanny and said “I want to try something. Tomorrow there are no rules.” She looked at me like I was mad so I elaborated. I said “I don’t mean we tell the kids there are no rules and you’re free to do what ever you want. We just simply don’t give them any instructions.” So she said “We don’t?” I said “Yes. We don’t. We just let them get on with it from when they get home from school till bed time.” Because my kids will stay up till 3 am and never shower again if we leave it up to them so I draw a line at that.

What really pushed me to the decision to conduct this experiment was the fact that dinner because such a stressful time of the day. From the second we sit down its the same things said over and over “Elbows! Napkins! Where’s the protein on your plate? You didn’t eat any greens!! CLOSE YOUR MOUTH!…etc etc”. I actually said to them on Saturday that I hate dinner time (Very Very Mature of me I know). But I told them it was horrible because I hate hearing myself repeat myself as much as they do and I hate not getting anywhere!

So we made a pact to shut up and stop nagging and see what will happen. I wasn’t sure what to expect to tell you the truth. I wasn’t sure if any homework would get done. I wasn’t sure they would sit down to dinner. And if they did sit down I wasn’t sure if they were going to just have macaroni and cheese or if they would also have the chicken and the steamed vegetables? And most importantly (and here is the part I was afraid of) I wasn’t sure if they would do ANYTHING without asking me or the nanny. I was so afraid they would be so used to us telling them what to do and what to eat and when to stop eating that they would sit there waiting for instruction.

Our nanny was so excited about the whole things she kept bursting out laughing every time she thought about it. I was neither here nor there. I just was desperate to stop hearing my damn voice complaining and badgering and nagging them every night! But I still went to sleep thinking maybe tomorrow was not the right day to start this and maybe it’s a stupid idea all together and any excuse not to find out what would happen.

The day started out like normal and the kids went to school. I picked S up for an appointment and we arrived a bit early and the first thing out of my mouth was “Start your homework while we’re waiting”.He was a bit hesitant and I told him to start it now since we’re waiting anyway. Then I remembered and caught myself but too late, I had already got him started. I texted our nanny to admit that I was the first to break my own rules and I don’t think she was at all surprised.

He did some of it then decided to leave the rest for later which I didn’t say anything about. When we got home J wanted a snack and she decided on mango but wanted to prepare it herself which was all totally fine. S surprisingly didn’t ask for anything although he always wants a snack when he gets home. He sat at the table and started working on something. When I looked closer he was sketching characters from a book of his.

About a half hour later he started doing the rest of his homework. He was doing division using “counters” to figure out the answer. His counters were colored pencils which he spread out on the dining room table and got to work. A few minutes later he was sat ON the table, where we eat, with his feet and everything on the table WHERE WE EAT and working on his math. I had to seriously look away because I just wanted to shout at him to get off!!! But I shut up and he finished his math with the only answer I managed to see being the wrong one. During this time J was outside playing with the dog. She said she wanted to give him a bath but thank God got caught up playing something else and didn’t.

S then moved on to his Arabic. He had dictation. The way we usually do this is I read out the paragraph and he writes it down and I check the mistakes. If there are any, which there usually are, I underline them and he gets to figure out what he did wrong. he gave me the book and said “Mama, you know what I know and what I don’t know. I have an idea. You read out only the words you think I don’t know and I’m not going to write them out I will spell them out to you and you tell me if they are wrong”. So that is what we did and it killed me every second as I really think he has to physically write it down to remember it! But that’s not what the experiment is about so I shut up.

The part that truly killed me was when I reminded him of the research paper, which he had a week to do and didn’t start yet and was due on Wednesday, and he said “I’ll do it tomorrow.” I broke my rules a little and tried to convince him to do it today and he decided against it. This is where I felt like maybe I’m now being a bad mother…. but in the end if it takes him a long time tomorrow then he will have to skip his art class to finish the paper he refused to do today. I am secretly hoping this will happen… does that make me even more horrible?

S then ran out and played with J for a while. They fought and we ignored them and then they made up and spent the rest of the day playing relatively nicely. i did intervene when J started making her aggressive sounds and I knew that it will end in a physical fight but even then all I did was stick my head out the door and say “Sit down and hold hands!” and it was over in 5 minutes.

When dinner was ready and being set on the table we discussed whether we should call them to dinner or not. We decided we’d tell them it’s ready and leave it at that. S saw it being set and ran in to wash his hands. J was still outside but just when we were about to call her she was heading back. She ran in and sat at the table and I was about to tell her she has to wash up because this is another thing I draw the line at but she got up on her own and went to wash.

They sat on the chairs on their knees and started grabbing for the food. Then S said “Mama, we’re gonna try and be our best at dinner today” probably as a result of my very mature behavior on Saturday at dinner time. They sat nicely after that with napkins on their laps and each reminded the other of basic table manners. There were elbows on the table and sticky fingers and chewing with mouths open but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it usually is (or as I imagine it is usually).

What really surprised me was what they chose to eat! Dinner was steamed vegetables, macaroni and cheese, grilled chicken with sauce and a salad. J took a big serving of macaroni while S started with the vegetables. We usually make him start with what he likes the least because he’s the picky eater so that’s how he started. He then asked for some macaroni. When they finished that they both had some chicken and salad! The J asked for a third portion of macaroni, which she finished. and then they got up and washed up and that was that.

The most peaceful dinner we have had in as long as I can remember. Throughout the nanny and I kept exchanging looks of surprise and after we had to acknowledge that at least for the last couple of weeks the biggest annoyance at dinner was probably her and I.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we nagged for no reason. I just think we over did the nagging. I think if you’re not careful then you get into a pattern or nagging for the sake of nagging and risk turning into background sound and being totally ineffective. On the contrary, I think this shows that we have done something right and that they have listened. We just need to shut up now!

We will continue this experiment for the next week or so and see if the results are consistent or if they deteriorate. But they never once asked us if they could or if they couldn’t. They made their decisions and knew why they were choosing what they were. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Do you nag too much? Would you do the same experiment with which ever part of the day you find most stressful? Try it with bath time, homework, chores and see what happens and tell me!


  1. Excellent experiment. Something I try with my husband from time to time and my results are similar to yours, hahaha. But like you said sometimes the only person my shrill voice is annoying is myself. Also I dont want to be nagging for the rest of my life. Nagging has a purpose: to instill a certain habit (like please dont leave the damp towel on the sofa), which it does. After that its only gentle reminders. The thing about kids is that you wont see the fruit of your labour right now. I would never appreciate my mother’ nagging when I was younger but today if I am a clean, well groomed and well behaved person its thanks to her. Hang in there, you’re doing a thankless but necessary job!

    • LOOOL Thank you for the comment. It does take persistence. I just want it to be bearable for me and my kids! and my husband who is away for a few weeks so may have to try new and interesting experiments while he’s away.

  2. I think they wouldn’t behave good if there wasn’t any nagging.. I liked the idea from time to tiime give our kids a free nagging day..

  3. Great experiment. I try not to be a nag. I used to make a list of stuff I wished my husband would do so that I wouldn’t nag about things. Then he was free to choose what and when he wanted to do on that list.

    I have heard parents nattering away at their children. Often it seems they threaten but never follow through. The children know they can get away with stuff, so they do.

  4. i cant remember your kids ages,so i can co relate to mine,but mine are 26 and 17 monthes old,so i dont think its quite applicable..though my eldest started to not respond to simple requests and if she didnt hear a firm voice and some times a yell,she just says No!
    its becoming really tricky,especially when it comes to food,i found your post informative,the idea of having the variety and they have to have one portion of each dietry necessities seems to be a good plan,but i dont know if its implementable from this age,my younger one is a good eater,only problem is he doesnt like to be fed,but his food infront of him,he will paint a picasso on the dining table while he eats,but he does eat very well pretty much everything as long as its home cooked,he HATES junk food..somthing i cant seem to undertsand till now,but i am grateful for.

    my daughter,is the opposite,Pitcha (pizza) is her favorite food,we struggle to make her meal diverse and some times i have to hold her hands while her mommy feed her but that doesnt end up well,though many times the second she taste the food she smiles and asks for more,some times she doesnt,its a struggle,but we keep working on it.

    one last thing i want to tell you,i read in a book that showing appreciation and praise over what they did is always encourging to them to stay consistent,even though thats what they are normally supposed to do,the book says showing praise in completing a task is always appreciated in contrast of punishment or timeouts if they didnt finish,the point of this according to him is that they always get scolded if they didnt finish what they are supposed to do,but never appreciated if they this should balance that.

    i look forward to the progress,ill make sure my wife reads this so we can discuss it too,thank you Mama B.

  5. Interesting! By nature, I was the mother who blabs and blabs and blabs ,, and that neither worked nor ended with my first born. My husband on the other hand is the “if it’s not a life or death matter, just let go and relax” type of father, and he kept telling me to cool it. Although hard, I tried and somewhat succeeded in doing that mainly because I think children who are not told what to do all the time tend to be happier and I want to raise happy kids! So yes, I tried this experiment which still doesn’t come naturally all the time and I still draw the line in some things like bedtimes, car seat, and hand washing, but overall I try to shut up or at least play along as the kids want reminding myself that it is not necessarily my way or it is wrong! If they want to sit in the mud and throw rocks in a puddle of water, play outside in their PJs on weekends, wear home slippers or mismatched socks to school, put ketchup on EVERYTHING even olives and cucumbers …etc. I take a deep breath and say it’s fine! Sigh! :)

  6. Great idea! I really liked it! I don’t think I would survive a minute without breaking the rule though! lol. Loved how your day went… isn’t it amazing how calm things are when you just let it be! :)

    PS- As a kid my father made sure we didn’t have our elbows on the table… and to this day… I have a hard time breaking that rule.. lol :)

    PS= How are you doing? mn zama 3nach. How is the pregnancy going? enshallah going smooth <3

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