10 Tips to Prevent Pint-Sized Pester Power

Today’s guest post is by Kathy Chapman. Kathy is the Health Strategies Director for Cancer Council NSW and is responsible for leading cancer prevention work, focusing on encouraging healthy living. She is passionate about making healthy choice the easy choice for Australians, young and old and she is one of the leading Australian researchers on junk food marketing and pester power. As a qualified nutritionist, she is also a foodie who enjoys cooking for family and friends.

If you would like to get involved with the Cancer Council NSW, visit their “How you can help” page. And for parents in particular you may like to check out the Parents Jury. It is a web-based network of parents who wish to improve food and physical activity environments for children in Australia. They are currently seeking nominations for their Fame and Shame Awards. It is an opportunity for parents to express what they think about the food marketing techniques used to target your children.


How often do you go grocery shopping and you hear the whiny declarations of “Muuuuuum I want chocolate/ biscuits/ tiny teddies. NOOOOWWWW”? It’s then followed by screaming, kicking and crying akin to a possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist. As an observer, you just can’t help but feel for the parent and as a harassed parent you probably think, “Ground. Swallow. Me. Up. Now!”

So how do you avoid the situation in the first place? Short of never food shopping again (that’s wishful thinking) here are a few tips on how you can minimise pint-sized pester power or how to handle it if it happens:

1.  Consider a treat day or a treat play

You can try allocating one day of the week where your kids can choose a treat or consider a healthy treat if the kids make it through a shopping trip sans the pester. But the reward doesn’t have to be all about food. Trips to the park or pool, a bike or scooter ride for example, can work really well as incentives.

2.  Monkey see, monkey do

If you over-indulge in chips, chocolate or biscuit, then that’s what your kids get used to. That becomes their norm and they expect to do the same.

So as much as possible cut down on eating junk food. I love chocolate cake so I know how hard that can be! On the plus side, you’ll feel better for it.

3.  Make healthy eating fun!

Ha, I can hear you scoff now. But it is possible, slowly but surely. One of my friends makes little brightly coloured veggie stick figures as part of her son’s dinner. It’s not Picasso but the kids love it. They especially enjoy the bright colours of seasonal veggies. And that translates well when grocery shopping as they help pick the veggies to arrange on their dinner plate. (Sliced capsicum works well for both legs and arms, just in case you are wondering!)

You could try fruit necklaces – skewer pieces of fruit, put them on string and eat them while you wear them. Or if you are a dab hand at sculpting then try something like this:

4.  Encourage your child for good shopping behaviour

If your little one gets around the shopping centre without pestering then remember to give them a lot of positive attention. Positive reinforcement can really help.

5.  Teach a little Marketing 101

Unfortunately we live in a brand driven society. Great if you are big business bound to make a buck, but hard work if you are a parent. Kids are bombarded with ads during their peak viewing times, so the bad news is that they recognise those Golden Arches. And they want, especially when there is the added bonus of a cool toy with the McJunk.

If your kids are old enough, explain to them how companies entice people to buy their product. My friend, a marketer, did this with his own kids who were four and above and they were fascinated by the ‘dark arts’ of marketing! Point out things like cartoon characters, product positioning, use of colours etc. Also check out our website www.junkbusters.com.au for the latest marketing tricks to avoid.

6.  Think beyond traditional media

Junkfood marketing doesn’t just stop at TV advertising. ‘Adver-games’ or branded games on the internet are the new TV ads. More subtle with the cartoon characters, the games and longer intense interactivity, they worm their way into your child’s psyche quicker than you can say “can I have fries with that?”.

Try and limit children’s small-screen time (including internet and computer games) to less than two hours daily.

Ensure children understand that personal information they provide online may not be secure (this includes registering in children’s sections of food companies’ websites or competitions – companies may use this information to target your child for future marketing).

7.  Cutting down on the those enticing junkfood prompters

Tape children’s favourite shows and fast-forward through the ad breaks later – or use the mute button during ads. Also best not to automatically turn on the TV when you get home or leave it on as background noise as guaranteed your kids will notice all the junkfood ads (louder, brighter, attention grabbing).

8.  Handling the pester

It’s impossible to eliminate all childhood tantrums. So what do you do when despite all the tips above your little angel becomes crazy child? The Raising Children Network has some solid advice. Firstly don’t say no or yes until you’re happy with the way they have asked and what they have asked for. If you don’t want your child to have that then the general rule of thumb is ‘no means no’. If you say no, then change your mind it sends the message ‘hey, pestering works’.

Is there a healthy alternative you can offer? Replace a chocolate with lots of fresh fruit and a small bit of ice-cream. Or frozen bananas are incredibly tasty and good for all the family on a hot day. Check out these Go 5 desert recipes. Yum!

9.  Breathe, count to ten and repeat ‘this too shall pass’

This was sage advice from a mummy friend. When the whining and pestering starts it’s really easy to get angry. My friend’s coping mechanism is to look away, count to ten, breathe and repeat a mantra of her choice. The Raising Children Network has some good ideas on how to handle pestering too.

10.  Compile a little bag of tricks

It’s good to have a variety of coping mechanisms and pester power prevention ideas at your fingertips. What may work for you one day may elicit eye-rolling the next from an ever-evolving toddler. So if you have a way to combat pester power then we’d love to hear your tip. You may lessen the pain of a harassed mum and may even contribute to happier, healthier kids. And that’s a great thing for all.

How do you prevent pester power?

{Image by x-ray delta}