BUY ME A PONY! (The Problem With Pester Power)

April 5, 2017 | Matt Sanders

3 min read

Marketing and advertising pressure is part of modern life, but if it’s difficult for adults to resist, how much more difficult is it for a child?

When children are very little, the temptation to buy them what they want in order to stop them from screaming is very strong. After all, it’s possibly only something small, and perhaps it’ll buy you a few minutes’ peace. Some people would say just go ahead and give the child what they want.

It depends a lot on the situation. A child who is hungry, thirsty, tired, lonely or sad may be very upset, but as a caring parent you would still meet that need as part of a warm, loving relationship.  

However, when a child is asking for something they want but don’t need, such as a sweet treat, yet another new toy, or more video-watching, they may also become very upset. At that point, and in that situation, if mum or dad give in, the little child discovers — quite accidentally — that screaming or thrashing around can be quite an effective way of getting what you want.

Similarly, an older child who sees something advertised on TV, whether toys, clothing, fast food or something else, may complain and ask repeatedly until a parent finally agrees to buy it.

The point is, maybe you were already intending to buy that small toy or item for your child, but if you wait until after they pester you to give it to them, you’re accidentally teaching them a lesson about what works.

Sadly, there are some people who just can’t seem to say no to a child’s request, no matter how outrageous. This may be a parent who works long hours and feels guilty, or an ex-partner or grandparent who sees the child less frequently and wants to be the ‘the fun one’.

Now, of course, a parent should never deliberately upset their child. But there are people who feel as though their relationship with the child is dependent upon NEVER saying no or being ‘the bad guy’. In effect, they end up in the very vulnerable position of having to buy emotional favours from their child. It’s a no-win situation for both adult and child.

Teaching kids to go into a shop without demanding and expecting to be showered with gifts and treats is important. It’s about providing appropriate boundaries and limits, and setting clear expectations of your children in terms of what’s reasonable and appropriate in a given situation.

This also involves parents (and, dare I say, grandparents) learning new skills too. Not giving in when the screaming reaches fever pitch can be quite challenging, depending on your own stress levels at the time. It certainly helps to focus on your long-term goal of teaching your child to grow up to be a well-rounded, considerate adult. But if you feel like you’re really struggling to say no to your kids, it might be worth looking more deeply at the possible reasons for this, and doing what you can to build your own skills in setting healthy limits.


Social skills