By Raising Children Network
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  • The older children get, the less they pester. This is because they get better at asking for things that parents are more likely to agree to.
  • Your child’s ability to influence others develops around the same time that she learns to understand others’ points of view.
When your children keep asking for things they can’t have – and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer – that’s pestering. If it works, that’s pester power. It can drive you crazy! It helps to understand why children do it and how to respond constructively. 

Why children pester

‘Can I have a lolly?’ ‘I want a toy!’ ‘Please, please, please!’

When you’re a child, the world is full of attractive and desirable things. In shopping centres, they’re usually at your eye-level. It can be hard to understand that some pretty, shiny or yummy things are bad for you, or can’t be afforded.

Even grown-ups can have trouble denying themselves things they want. And if we have trouble, think how difficult it must be for kids.

Pestering wears parents down. It can put them in embarrassing situations, and it can give kids the power to get away with things their parents wouldn’t usually put up with. But sometimes pestering works.

If pestering becomes an effective way for children to get the things they want, they’ll pester more often. If parents simply refused all pestering, it would eventually disappear. So why isn’t it that easy?

For one thing, parents want their children to be happy – it can be hard to turn down your child’s request when you know that agreeing will bring him instant pleasure. It’s even harder when you know that saying ‘no’ will mean repeated requests, whinging or the embarrassment of a public temper tantrum.

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. For more information, read our article on how to be constructive when children ask for things.

Reducing pester power

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

  • Lay down some ground rules. Before you take your child to a shopping centre or other pestering hotspot, talk about what behaviour you expect and how you’ll respond to any pestering.
  • Praise your child for good shopping behaviour. If she gets around the supermarket without pestering, give her lots of positive attention to make sure she knows you’ve noticed. For example, ‘I’m really proud of how you helped me shop and didn’t ask for things we can’t get’.
  • Offer healthy incentives 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’.
  • Try to keep advertising to a minimum in your home – for example, through the TV, radio, internet, newspapers and junk mail. Advertising is designed to make children want things. If they’re not exposed to it, they’re less likely to see products and think they want them.
  • Teach your child to be smart about advertising and shopping. You might like to start by reading our articles on advertising and children and teaching children to be savvy shoppers.

Handling pestering

If your child pesters or uses other negative tactics to influence you (for example, by whining, demanding or threatening), you could try the following:

  • Let your child know you won’t consider the request until you hear some good manners. For example, you could say, ‘David, 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’ then give in, your child gets the message that pestering and whining can work. 

Staying calm when children pester
Pestering can drive any parent crazy. 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 ends up having 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!
  • Last updated or reviewed 13-04-2011