Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: How do you deal with pester power?

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How do you respond to a nagging child? Photo / Thinkstock
How do you respond to a nagging child? Photo / Thinkstock

Small children are both trusting and gullible, and big businesses are exploiting this by targeting unhealthy and unnecessary products directly to them. There's a plethora of advertisements for junk food, toys and chocolate breakfast cereals of very little nutritional value created specifically to appeal to children and scheduled during their television programmes.

But the vital link between the young children's desire and the actual purchase are the beleaguered parents who must be pestered into buying the product in question. Presumably, if they comply it's in order to get the nagging to stop.

Of course, it's tempting to believe that presenting a child with whatever they're whining about will shut them up. In the short term that may be true but ultimately rewarding pesky behaviour is guaranteed to encourage more of the same. And who can blame them for utilising a strategy that has been proven to work?

I like to think I'm one step ahead of those acquisitive children. I don't think I've ever given in to one of those random spur-of-the-moment must-haves my daughter has become expert at angling for. My vague rule of thumb is that if it's not on our list we don't buy it. So if my nine-year-old starts hankering after an object - usually a notebook or magazine - in the supermarket or bookshop, it's simple. I just don't buy it for her.
That approach didn't deter her from serial pestering but I think she's slowly getting the message. At one stage I said, "Look. How about I just take it for granted that you want something in every store we visit. So then you'll just need to tell me if you don't want to buy something." Mind you, I think that went over her head.

The funny thing is that, although her urge to purchase seems especially sharp in the store, by the time we've left she usually instantly forgets about the particular object of desire concerned. Perhaps children are just hardwired to want stuff.

From the time she was a toddler watching children's television I'd encourage her to be wary of advertisements. "We should try not to watch them," I'd say. "Why, Mummy?" she'd ask wide-eyed. "Because they're just trying to get us to spend our money on things we don't need and then we won't have any money left for the things we do need."

I'm not certain how well that message was processed but I felt it was my duty to ensure she wasn't seduced by advertisements intent on simultaneously turning a child into an undiscerning consumer and separating her parents from their money.

According to a 2011 ScienceDaily article entitled "The Nag Factor: How do children convince their parents to buy unhealthy foods?", there are ten strategies parents have for responding to their children pestering. They are: giving in, yelling, ignoring, distracting, staying calm and consistent, avoiding the commercial environment, negotiating and setting rules, allowing alternative items, explaining the reasoning behind choices and limiting commercial behaviour.

I've tried at least five of those. How many have you used? And, more importantly, which ones worked best?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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