How to deal with pester power

Published on Wednesday, 30 October 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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Whether your child wears you down with incessant nagging or threatens to throw a tantrum in Aisle 3, there are times when it's hard to resist pester power. Against your best intentions, that chocolate bar might slip into the trolley or you may find yourself collecting plastic toys the planet doesn't need.

Even though it's hard to say 'no' or just want the whining to stop, the experts say it is important not to give in to pestering as this will encourage your child to use the tactic again. This week we look at pester prevention and how to take a consistent approach – for the good of your family, your finances and the planet!

What causes pester power?

RTE says that, 'At a very general level, pester power refers to children's influence on family purchasing and consumption behaviour. More specifically, it refers to children posing precise purchasing requests to parents or other family members,' and there are several reasons for this common childhood behaviour.

According to The Raising Children Network, kids pester because:

  • The world is full of interesting things, often at children's eye level
  • They're easily influenced by child-focused marketing
  • It's hard for them to understand that something so appealing (i.e. tasty, shiny or beautiful) is unhealthy or a waste of money

As children get older, Family Lives says they can also be influenced by peer pressure and want what other children have as trends sweep through schools.

What can be done to prevent pestering?

Pestering can be annoying for parents and disappointing for children, so the best thing is to reduce the chance of it happening in the first place. Here are some tips to keep pestering at bay:

1. Take practical measures to ensure a smooth shopping trip

To reduce the chance of pestering, the Raising Children Network suggests that you set some ground rules before going shopping, explaining what behaviour is expected and how you’ll respond to any pestering. You can also make shared family decisions about what you'll buy, so that your child clearly knows what's on the shopping list and what isn't.

Then, once at the shops, they encourage you to praise your child for good behaviour. There is the option of offering a healthy reward, like going to the playground afterwards, if they behave well. And if your child does pester you to buy something that you've all agreed not to buy, then remind them of that decision, e.g. 'Remember we agreed not to buy ice-cream for a while because it's a sometimes food?’

When it comes to supermarket shopping, Our Kids, Our Call says that pestering can also be prevented by:

  • Avoiding the junk food aisles
  • Giving your child a snack before you go shopping, so they're not hungry
  • Using a shopping list, which your child might like marking off
  • Giving them some choice in what you buy, e.g. letting your child choose the type of pasta

2. Think about the advertising your child is exposed to

Advertisers spend a lot of money appealing to children, and they know that pester power sells products. According to Lane Kids, 'Research shows your child can know company logos by 18 months, ask for brand names at two years, and ask for the 'latest fashions' by the age of 6 or 7.'

Youngsters also have trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality, so are susceptible to ads that show toys coming to life or treats that make magic happen.

The upshot of this is that ads often expose children to products they want, rather than need and it's a good idea to reduce the ads your child sees and start to educate them as a consumer.

To reduce the chance of pestering, you can:

  • Restrict your child to ad-free TV or apps, record TV shows and skip through the ads, or else put ads on mute when they come on
  • Talk about how advertising works, e.g. you might explain that dolls don’t really come to life, or that free toys encourage people to eat a certain fast food

The power of marketing can also pass from child to child as products are seen as 'cool' or 'must-have'. Where peer pressure comes into play, Family Lives says it's important to explain to your child that, 'Popularity comes from personality, not from possessions or objects.'

3. Educate your child about money

Toys, treats, and other commodities all come at a price, and Lane Kids says that, 'One way to help your child pester less is to teach them more about money. Along with your child learning logos, research also says children as young as three-years-old can understand ideas like saving and spending.'

Whether your child gets pocket money each week or cash at Christmas, Family Lives recommends that you teach your child the value of things, the value of money, and encourage them to save up for the thing they really want.

This teaches your child how to set and achieve goals, and Lane Kids suggests that you:

  • Give them a piggy bank (this can be a money box or a glass jar) so your child can see how their savings are increasing/decreasing
  • Once they've decided what they want to buy, help them come up with a plan to save for it, e.g. 'It will take you 10 weeks to buy the LEGO set if you save $2 per week.'
  • Let your child pay for small items, and talk about spending choices, e.g. 'You could buy three apples with that money or one mango.'

It's also important to think about what you, as a parent, want to give your child. This can take into account your family's budget, but also your personal views on what is fair and reasonable. After you've decided, make sure you clearly and honestly communicate the decision to your child, e.g. 'I can't buy you a toy every week, we have to make choices.'

What can parents do when children pester?

The tips above will help your child be a better behaved and more educated shopper. However, if your child does start whining, pleading, demanding or exerting pressure to buy something, then the Raising Children Network recommends that you:

  • Remind them of the ground rules you set at home
  • Explain that you won't consider their request until they use their manners, e.g. Saying 'Please' and using a polite tone.
  • Give your child your full attention, so they know they've been understood, e.g. You could say, 'Yes, that doll looks very pretty.'
  • When you say 'No' to a request, don't change your mind afterwards. Stick to your guns, but respond to your child's disappointment with empathy to help them come to terms with the decision, e.g. 'I can see you really want that doll, but you already have a lovely doll at home.'
  • Once you've said 'No', move on to a new topic to distract them
  • And last, but not least, stay calm. It might be tempting to give in to pester power if your child is very persistent or very upset, but try not to let the pestering get the better of you. Instead, stop, count to 10 and then respond calmly to your child.

In summary, pester power can be a force to be reckoned with, but there are ways to reduce and resist this behaviour, and teach some life skills along the way. Good luck!


The Raising Children Network
Our Kids, Our Call
Family Lives
Lane Kids

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