The Art of Negotiation

Children are born negotiators. They learn early on that with a little persistence (and pestering) they can eventually wear down their parent’s resolve. “Pester Power” is the power children have to repeatedly make requests until their parents give them what they want. Whether it’s cake for breakfast or wanting to go to a friend’s house, left unchecked, constant pestering can eventually lead to stress, negative feelings, and a change in you and your child’s relationship.

While you can’t stop them from asking you for something over and over, “pestering” you all the time, there are positive parenting techniques you can try to reduce the amount of negotiating you have to do.

Setting Clear Guidelines

Clear guidelines help kids learn about safety and limits, and can also help children build their self-esteem and feel secure. If you are having regular struggles with, say, bedtime, wanting treats before dinner, having upsets when play dates are over or more, try putting in place clear guidelines and reviewing them before the event is likely to occur. For example:

  • For older children who can read, write the rules on a chart and hang it up where it can be easily and frequently seen. Make the chart bright and colorful and use humor.
  • For children who don’t read yet, use pictures.
  • Use positive and specific language. Instead of “No you cannot stay up for 15 more minutes,” try, “Getting ready for bed is in 15 minutes. It will be time to brush your teeth, put on your jammies, and then we will read a book together.”
  • Give warnings: Many children struggle when it’s time to transition into a new activity, such as leaving a play date, going to bed, leaving for school. “In 20 minutes, the play date will be over and we will need to go home.” Give another at the 10-minute mark, “10 minutes until we head home. Remember our agreement about leaving play dates: When time’s up, we pack up our things and say goodbye to our friends.” Some children need another warning at the 5- and 2-minute marks in order to be more willing to cooperate.

Offer Choices

Some younger children are less likely to argue or pester when they have a choice in the matter at hand. This strategy won’t work for every situation, but could do the trick for, say, mealtime, shopping trips, and planned activities. For example:

  • “Cake isn’t a healthy breakfast option, but you can choose between oatmeal or toast.”
  • “When we go to the store today, you can pick out either a coloring book or a puzzle.” When you are in the store, remind them of their choice and stick to it.

Making decisions and providing ownership to their choices helps children develop problem-solving skills, invites cooperation, and can help reduce the struggle over constant requests.

The Impact of Marketing

A big struggle between parents and children is over wanting the latest and greatest toy, candy, video game, etc.—and advertising for it is everywhere! Historically, advertisers would market products to just mothers. Today, advertisers go around the parent and market straight to the child. If pestering over these types of “wants” is causing stress in your family, you might consider reducing screen time, or altering the types of media your children has access to:

  • Avoid streaming services or cable TV that have advertisements.
  • Monitor YouTube videos closely. Many are nothing but toy reviews.
  • Move the TV to a lesser-used room in your home, or put a cloth over the screen—out of sight, out of mind.
  • Consider web browsers created specifically for kids that have a way for parents to block ads.
  • Go old-school and keep a stack of DVDs or VHS on hand to watch.

If you are getting pestered about buying consumer goods, use the opportunity to teach your child about money. Teaching ideas about saving and spending can be taught as early as 3-years old. This could include using a clear jar piggy bank, and saving up for the toy they want.

There is little we can do to shield our children from the daily barrage of advertising, but we can make life in this material world a little easier for parents and kids.

Incorporating clear guidelines around routines and transitions, and setting up realistic expectations can go a long way to reducing the amount of time your children try their “pester power.”


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at

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