KIDS
August 29, 2011

Children Behaving Badly

Kids' nagging can wear down moms' resistance. But a study found some winning strategies (for moms, that is.)

They call it "The Nag Factor" and it refers to the annoying way children have of repeatedly asking for something despite being told "no."

The "Nag Factor" for commercial products is heavily influenced by advertising which aims its messages and messengers at young children who tend to believe what they see and are naïve to the false or exaggerated claims of advertisers.

The least effective strategy cited was "giving in" and the most commonly employed strategies, each cited by a third of the mothers, were limiting exposure to commercial materials and explaining their reasoning behind their purchasing choices.

One highly marketed group of products is low nutrition foods and drinks. Does children’s nagging increase the pressure on their mothers to purchase junk food? This was the question driving researchers in a recent study. They interviewed 64 mothers whose children were between the ages of 3 and 5 years and asked about their eating and shopping habits and their experiences with being nagged for junk food by their preschoolers. They also asked the mothers to describe their strategies for dealing with nagging children.

The researchers identified three distinct types of nagging: juvenile nagging, manipulative nagging, and nagging to test boundaries. The mothers reported that nagging behaviors, especially manipulative nagging increased with age and their management strategies included: 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, limiting exposure to commercials. The least effective strategy cited was "giving in" and the most commonly employed strategies, each cited by a third of the mothers, were limiting exposure to commercial materials and explaining their reasoning behind their purchasing choices.

As summarized by Dina Borzekowski, EdD, EdM, MA, senior author of the study and an associate professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society, "Clearly, children are not the primary shoppers in the households, so how do child-oriented, low-nutrition foods and beverages enter the homes and diets of young children? Our study indicates that while overall media use was not associated with nagging, one’s familiarity with commercial television characters was significantly associated with overall and specific types of nagging. In addition, mothers cited packaging, characters, and commercials as the three main forces compelling their children to nag."

The researchers hope that this study will add to the body of literature on strategies to combat childhood obesity and suggest that limiting the amount of advertising for food and beverages on children’s shows might be a helpful measure.

Parents may benefit from planning shopping trip strategies to preempt the stress on both parents and children that the "Nag Factor" produces. Avoid shopping with tired and hungry kids, prepare a shopping list ahead of time, and praise good shopping trip behavior.

This study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Children and Media.

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