How to manage your kids’ pester power (without giving in!)

Posted in Behaviour and Discipline.

We’ve all had those moments at the supermarket or shopping centre when our kids see something they want and they don’t let up until you buy it for them. Like a junior version of water torture, they ask, wheedle and whine endlessly until you’re just about ready to give in … anything to stop the relentless nagging.

That’s ‘pester power’ in action! It’s also one of the the most powerful tools your kids have at their disposal to get what they want.

So, how do we deal with this sort of pressure without giving in? Derek McCormack, a principal specialist at knows all about dealing with pester power and offers some helpful hints to help parents cope with it.

little girl having a tantrum in supermarket

Have a strategy ready

Firstly, Derek says it’s important to have a strategy at your fingertips to deal with those inevitable moments when kids are pestering for treats.

“Having a strategy will just make life easier in the short term and the long term,” he says. “And when it comes to pester power, as it gets called, it’s particularly helpful because it helps children know the ground rules as you’ve discussed that with them. And having your own personal strategy keeps your stress level down.”

This doesn’t have to be anything too formal or pre-planned, rather having a good sense of how to handle the situation, should it arise. Derek suggests firstly to consider their manners and how they actually asked. “For example, you might remember that when the pestering comes for a particular desire, you won’t give in until you’re happy with how that request has been made,” says Derek.

How you respond if you’re going to say no is also important.

“If it is a no for your child that day, remember to acknowledge their disappointment,” says Derek. “That can help them learn things like empathy because you’re empathising with them even though it’s a no. It might be upsetting, but you’re acknowledging that yes it is disappointing, but maybe next time.”

Listen to Derek McCormack on Feed Play Love:

Should we always say no?

As parents, it’s hard to say no all the time. In fact, it can be beneficial, on some occasions, to say yes and enjoy the moment or outing with our kids.

“The main thing to remember around [saying] yes or no is to have your child understand that it might be yes or no,” says Derek. “Both are possible and if it’s a yes then that’s something to be happy about. Celebrate. But if you both understand it could go either way, and if you both understand and that tantruming won’t really help in the situation, then that can help.”

But what happens if you’ve already said no before heading to the supermarket, and perhaps promised a treat later on, but still the pestering starts in Aisle One and continues all the way through until the checkout?

The first thing is to remind your child about the chat you had earlier.However, if the requests keep coming, it’s also fine to be a bit flexible as a parent and say, ‘Well, how about we could have this treat now? But that might mean now that we don’t have that treat later’,” he suggests. “So, you’re reshaping the deal that you had earlier.”

For Derek, the first option is generally better. “It shows you’re going to stick to your guns or you know that you’re going to have consistency when you’ve agreed on something earlier on,” says Derek. “But the second option on being flexible, sometimes it’s called for.”

Toddler in a supermarket trolley

Offer alternative treats

Some parents don’t like offering their kids sweet treats all the time, so what’s the alternative?

I know a lot of parents enjoy offering the child dried fruit, raisins and sweet treats which aren’t quite as processed as a little reward,” says Derek. “And exploring some of those more healthy natural food options can be good to have literally in the back pocket or in the tool kit for those moments when the child does seem to want something and you agree there isn’t going to be a purchased treat.”

Watch out for advertising

Derek advises parents to be aware of the advertising around you and your child.

“Often the store is designed in a way to encourage the pestering. You have the brightly coloured candy and lollies at eye level for the child, so you might be conscious of that and try to avoid that getting too much in your child’s face,” says Derek. “Then more generally with advertising, there’s always TV and radio and even the internet that’s promoting these treats all the time to children.”

Derek suggests discussing these techniques with your children so they too, can be more aware.

“It can be good to talk with your child about those things as well,” he says. “You know, in a sense helping your child get a little bit media savvy around what they’re seeing because it can help you have a conversation – ‘See how this is trying to make us buy this? See how this is trying to make us really want this lolly? Do you think it’s a good idea that we will have that all the time?’ You know, those conversations about ‘sometimes’ foods.”

At the end of the day, most children will try to nag their way to what they want – so it’s up to us parents to stay strong in the face of pester power!


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