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 are a waste of money.

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 can’t we 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 respond 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, junk mail, apps and social media. The more product advertising your child sees, the more he’ll want those products.
  • Talk with your child about advertising and smart shopping. For example, you could talk about how free toys might make you want to buy some fast food products.
  • Make decisions as a family about what you’ll buy. You can remind children of these decisions when you’re shopping. For example, ‘Remember we decided not to buy soft drink for a while? That way we’re all taking better care of our teeth’.

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 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:

  • Remind your child of the ground rules you discussed.
  • Let your child know you won’t consider the request until she uses her manners. For example, you could say, ‘Dani, use your nice voice’ or ‘Think about how you’re asking that question’.
  • Don’t say yes or no until you’re happy with the way you’ve been asked.
  • Make sure your child sees that you’ve heard and understood. This way, your child will be more likely to accept your answer. For example, you could say, ‘Yes, they do look delicious’.
  • When you say no, stick to it. Giving in to pestering can teach children to do it more. If you say no and then give in, your child gets the message that pestering and whining can work.
  • Acknowledge your child’s disappointment if you’ve said no. For example, ‘I can see you really wanted those biscuits. But we’ve already had enough treats today’. Conversations like these send a message of empathy and can help you and your child move on.
  • 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 it leads to 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 empathy, and that they’ve probably been through it too!

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