Why children pester

To your child, the world is full of interesting things. In shopping centres, they’re often at your child’s eye level. Children are also easily influenced by clever marketing of children’s products – for example, toys and unhealthy food. And it can be hard for children to understand that some pretty, shiny or yummy things aren’t good for them or cost too much.

All of this can lead to pestering – ‘Can I have a lolly?’ ‘I want a toy!’ ‘Please, please, please!’

Pestering can wear you down. It can even put you in embarrassing situations – for example, ‘Why don’t we have enough money to buy that toy?’ It can be hard to say no when you know that giving in will bring your child instant pleasure – or bring you instant relief from repeated requests, whingeing or temper tantrums.

But if you give in, your child learns that pestering works. And this means he’ll keep pestering.

Asking for things isn’t always pestering. And the way you respond to children’s requests teaches them important lessons about how to influence, negotiate and communicate. Find out more in our article on how to be constructive when children ask for things.

Reducing pestering

You can take steps to make pestering less likely to happen in the first place:

  • Lay down some ground rules before you go shopping. Talk with your child about what behaviour you expect and how you’ll respond to any pestering.
  • Praise your child for good shopping behaviour. Give her lots of positive attention so she knows you’ve noticed she’s not pestering. For example, ‘I’m really proud of how you helped me shop and didn’t ask for things we can’t get’.
  • Offer healthy rewards for good shopping behaviour. For example, ‘If you can get through this shopping trip without asking for stuff, we’ll stop at the park on the way home’.
  • Be aware of advertising in your home – for example, through the TV, radio, internet, newspapers and junk mail. The more product advertising your child sees, the more he’ll want those products.
  • Talk with children about advertising and smart shopping. For example, you could talk about how free toys might make you want to buy some fast food products.
One way to reduce online or in-app advertising is by choosing children’s games, apps and movies without advertising. Sometimes you might have to pay a little more for the ad-free version of an app, for example, but it can be worth it.

Handling pestering

If your child pesters or tries to get you to buy things by whining, demanding or threatening, you could try the following:

  • Let your child know you won’t consider the request until she uses her manners. For example, you could say, ‘Dani, stop whining. Use your nice voice’.
  • Don’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ until you’re happy with the way you’ve been asked.
  • When you say ‘no’, stick to it. Giving in to pestering can train children to do it more. ‘No’ means ‘no’, not ‘maybe’, so don’t say it unless you mean it. If you say ‘no’ and then give in, your child gets the message that pestering and whining can work.
  • After saying ‘no’, try to distract your child with something else. For example, ‘We need oranges. Can you help me find them?’

Staying calm when children pester

Pestering can be frustrating and annoying. If you feel that pestering is getting the better of you, this exercise might help:

  1. Stop.
  2. Count to 10.
  3. Now respond to your child.

That extra 10 seconds is often enough to calm you down.

Pestering can be particularly stressful when your child  has a tantrum in a public place. Don’t be tempted to give in because there are strangers watching. Stay calm and forget your audience – it’s likely that most will be watching with sympathy, and that they’ve probably been through it too!