None of us start our parenting journey with the objective to raise a people pleasing child. But often, our good-intentioned desire to raise kind and grateful humans can lead to raising kids who often ignore their own needs or do unhealthy things to make others like them, including us as parents. Now, most of us worry about what others think and have people-pleasing tendencies, myself included. It’s human and normal to wonder how you are perceived or desire to make others happy. And while it’s good to recognize where you can grow and change to be a kind and giving person, there is a point where it can become unhealthy, and it translates to being a people-pleaser.
- Where do we first learn people-pleasing behavior?
- Examples of unintentionally teaching our kids to please others
- What causes people-pleasing?
- What is people-pleasing and what are some common traits of people pleasers?
- TIPS on how NOT to raise people-pleasers, but rather grateful and confident kids who can think for themselves.
Common Traits of People-Pleasers
- Will often ignore their own needs and feelings and focus on the needs of others
- Have a low opinion of yourself – insecurity, low sense of self, low self-esteem, etc.
- You only feel okay with yourself when others like you
- It’s hard for you to say “no”
- Apologize just to keep the peace
- Take the fault or blame even when you haven’t done anything wrong
- Quick to agree even when you don’t agree
- You’re a “yes” man
- Give a lot of yourself even when you feel depleted
- Generally a nice person and don’t speak your mind well
- Constantly seek the approval of others
- Dislike disappointing others
- Dwell on things you “should” have said and let it consume you
- Fear of rejection
- Can’t set clear boundaries for fear of offending others
- Low self-confidence
What causes people-pleasing?
People-pleasing is not bad in and of itself. Again, it’s always okay to consider others and make sure you aren’t being insensitive or unkind.
But there is a point where it will exhaust you because you will only feel satisfied and complete when knowing that others think highly of you – not simply because you are who you are and that’s enough.
Another characteristic of people-pleasing is when one will neglect their own needs and feelings in order to please others.
Usually, the first instance one learns people-pleasing is in the home during childhood, and one could call it “mommy pleasing” or “daddy pleasing.”
If your parenting is governed by the expectation of your child not to put you out, or obey without questioning, they can begin to learn these “people-pleasing” techniques we try so hard to avoid for ourselves.
Examples of when we teach our kids people-pleasing by accident
It’s with popular parenting advice parents can misunderstand the fine line between discipline and expectation or “pleasing.”
One notable parenting technique is Love and Logic. As constructive tips come with some of their advice, it’s mostly using manipulation to get your child to obey.
What parents can avoid when disciplining their kids is not to make their disobedience about putting you out, but rather to point to the truth that what they did was wrong.
It wasn’t wrong because they disappointed you. It was just plain wrong.
By directing their discipline towards the bad choice they made, and dealing with their hearts, you can avoid altogether the fact that what they did put you out.
Another instance where we unintentionally teach our children that pleasing others is most important is when we make their mistake about our feelings or someone else’s. You can avoid this in everyday discipline instances.
“Go apologize to your sister because you made her sad. Look how sad she is.”
Or “When you do that, it makes me sad.”
What they did should never be pointed back to someone’s feelings. They can only be responsible for their actions, they are not responsible for others’ feelings. Help them differentiate by teaching them to take responsibility for their own actions.
“I understand you felt frustrated, but it’s never okay to hit or be unkind to others. What you did was wrong. How do you think you should make this right?”
Give them the tools to use, but let them make the choice. With my stong willed child, it often takes him a few hours for his heart to soften and apologize. And sometimes I have to remind him. But I would rather him make a genuine apology and understand his wrong than just going through the motions to appease me.
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Here is another example:
Your child comes to you and wants some milk. You ask for them to hang on a second while you finish what you are doing. But your impatient child decided to take matters into their own hands and get their milk for themselves.
The milk ends up all over the floor at the most inconvenient time –right before your friend is coming over for a playdate and you’re already running behind.
Any mother would be frustrated at this situation, and anger would be a normal emotion.
A popular response to this situation would be to say something like,
“Because you disobeyed, I now have to clean up your mess, which is going to take me 10 minutes, and I’m already running late. That means 10 minutes of your screen time is gone today.”
Seems harmless, right?
But what you are inadvertently telling our child is that they put you out, so they are now going to pay for that. You also aren’t identifying the root issue.
Whether or not they put you out is a symptom of the bad choice they made, and it’s important to help them understand the WHY behind their actions. Addressing their heart and not just their behavior or the result of their behavior is essential if you’re going to help your child process their emotions, better understand their triggers, and take responsibility for their actions.
Here’s how I would suggest you could handle it.
You can say:
“Can you explain to me why you didn’t wait for my help?” Hear them out. You might even learn something from this step that will give you more insight into the situation like they didn’t want to take up your time so they tried to get the milk themselves.
“Do you understand now why I wanted you to wait for me? You aren’t quite old enough to get your own milk, and because you didn’t listen, this has happened. I can see how you might think that was helping mommy (pointing out that you’re thinking the best of them), but your disobedience and impatience led to a mess.”
Your child should quickly understand the correlation. You can then say,
“What do you think we should do?”
Letting them come up with a solution will teach them that something needs to be done to right their wrong, and giving them the freedom to come up with a solution will help them know how to make a right choice after a wrong choice.
If they don’t know, then guide them in helping you clean up, even if they are too little to clean it up thoroughly.
Bring to light the fact that you are helping them despite their disobedience — this shows them kindness and grace.
“Everyone makes mistakes, I forgive you. Next time, I would love to help you, you simply need to practice patience. Let’s clean this mess up together. I love you.”
Don’t bring to light that your friend is coming over, and now you’re going to be late because of them.
That’s manipulation, and can make them feel guilt and shame, which leads to “mommy pleasing.”
Having them clean up their mess is a great natural consequence.
But don’t attach their discipline to putting you out, attach it to the fact that they didn’t listen and disobeyed your advice. But do the work to unravel their hearts.
It’s also important to have them verbally admit that what they did was wrong.
“What did you do wrong here and how can you solve it?”
It’s good to teach your child to apologize to people and own their wrongs.
But make sure that with that, you are also modeling it for them. If you wronged them, then apologize — it’s simply the best way to teach them something — by modeling.
8 Tips for Raising Free Thinkers and Kind Humans NOT People-Pleasers
1. Don’t attach their discipline to putting you out.
As discussed above, make their discipline about the fact that what they did was wrong, not about making you happy.
It’s very easy to point out to our children how much they disappointed us or put us out in some way.
But try not to use this as a way to get your child to obey — this leads to shaming, which will lead to them not wanting to disappoint you, which could lead to them becoming a people-pleaser.
2. Teach them the tools to apologize, but make sure they know they’re forgiven
Allow your child to come to a place where they genuinely apologize for their wrong, don’t force an apology. You can best do this by simply modeling for them what an apology is when you wrong them. While we should teach them the tools, it’s not our job to force it.
Also, If your child apologizes after doing something wrong, always acknowledge it and follow through with forgiveness.
If they apologize, but you don’t forgive, they won’t feel like their mistake was forgivable, and therefore they will want to continue to apologize in order to earn your forgiveness.
This can also lead to people-pleasing because they will never feel forgivable, and want to seek others’ approval in who they are.
3. Don’t threaten them
Every parent does this. We threaten our kids to get them to obey us. But there is hope to break the cycle, especially if this is how you were raised.
“If you do that again, then you won’t be able to…”
This conditions children to do things to please us from guilt, not because it’s the right thing to do.
A better way to handle this is in a positive form.
“You may go to your friend’s house, as soon as you can start being kind to your brother.”
Getting ahead of the game is always beneficial to avoid decisions made from high emotions or frustration.
But in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to revert back to threatening when our child is disobedient.
But what it does is create an environment of mommy and daddy pleasing, instead of doing something because it’s the right thing to do.
4. Encourage independence and individuality – Raising independent thinkers vs robots
“Only dead fish swim with the stream.”-Malcom Muggeridge
In a world full of dead fish, teach them to go against the current. This can be done by encouraging independence. Allow them to make their own choices as appropriate to their age. In the example above, that also comes to play when disciplining.
Have them come up with a solution to their problem — this will teach them independence in coming up with solutions to the problems they have created.
When they talk back, don’t discourage respectful debates or questions. Encourage it!
“I’m okay with you questioning my decision, but I need you to try again in a kind voice, and then we can talk about it.”
Also, praise and encourage them in their individuality. Affirm them in the unique and perfect way that God created them. Don’t try and mold them into who you want them to be, but shepherd and guide them to be who God wants them to be.
People-pleasers often mold themselves to fit a narrative, instead of being who they are. Read more about that in this post – 3 Ways Parents Unintentionally Emotionally Harm Their Kids.
5. Affirm and praise your child for their efforts and PAY ATTENTION to them
If your child does something good or seeks your approval, then give them praise.
People-pleasers often seek others’ approval because they never felt good enough to their parents.
But don’t go overboard and praise every little thing they do so your words become meaningless. As always, parenting is about balance, and it’s much easier said than done!
Also, in a world that makes it easy to stare into your screen all day–don’t.
Your kids are only kids once. If your child feels second to your phone, they will do everything they can to gain the attention that should have been theirs in the first place.
What will result from that? People-pleasing.
6. Be the example
People-pleasers often say yes to everyone, even if they either don’t want to or don’t have the time. Obviously, we don’t want our children to learn these bad habits, so being an example of knowing when to say no is the best way to teach them.
Part of them learning healthy boundaries has to do with what you’re expecting of them. If you’re expecting perfect grades, and only show praise when those expectations are met, they could think that the only way to please you is to be perfect.
Perfectionism is a real problem, especially among teens today. Read more about that in this post – Dear son, you are more than your good grades.
7. Encourage the fact that not everyone will like them, and that’s okay
The thought of someone not liking me is hard to swallow. I struggle with people-pleasing tendencies, but thankfully, it only comes up in moments; it’s human.
Part of being a people-pleaser is having a strong need for everyone to like you. But that’s simply not going to happen. And trying to get everyone to like you is exhausting.
How social media fuels people-pleasing
When you unravel this with the current digital culture we live in, our children are up against a lot when it comes to comparing themselves to others on social media, while constantly being reminded of what they are lacking in life.
By opening up Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter, and many other social media apps, they are entering a world that is constantly telling them they aren’t good enough, that they’re only as good as their followers, likes, and views, and that in order to be more liked, they simply need to look, act, and be different. The result is a rising number of young people struggling with mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide.
This is incredibly dangerous for young minds and a harsh reality that parents need to be aware of so they can implement parental controls (we like Bark – follow link to get an extra 1 month free) on their child’s devices, or get your child a kid’s phone (we like Pinwheel – Follow link to get 10% off – or Gabb Wireless – use code WORDBIRD at check out to get $25 off!) as to keep your child safe. More importantly, make sure they feel safe to share their hearts with you — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In the moments they come to you with their doubts and thoughts about themselves, you can teach your child that not everyone will like them, and that’s okay. You can help them see their unique qualities, speak the truth about who they are, and remind them of their value when faced with the lies the world is telling them.
Let’s say that someone they like at school doesn’t like them back. That hurts and sucks, but it’s not their responsibility to make that person like them.
Let’s say their good friend has all of the sudden ghosted them at school. Or a family member said something hurtful about their appearance. If you have a strong relationship with your child, they will open up to you about their true feelings and you can help them process unfortunate circumstances and healthily deal with confrontation. And even though your loving feedback is invaluable, allow space for them to share and you to simply listen.
As adults, we often forget that our kids are expected to listen to everyone always — at school to their teachers, at home to their parents, at church to their pastor. But who is listening to them? All the more reason to create space for them to share.
8. Address if they’re bullied in school
My husband can attest that part of his people-pleasing comes from being bullied in school.
One of two outcomes is at the hand of being bullied. You will either do anything you can to gain the approval and friendship of others or internalize your experiences and become angry.
As you won’t always know if your child is bullied–as it’s not something kids are always willing to share–it’s will intentional conversations that bring it to light.
I found out my child was being bullied by playing this game. It’s an excellent way to get your child to open up about things they wouldn’t normally share.
If you do find that your child is being mistreated, deal with it as you deem necessary, whether that be putting them in a different school, or teaching them to stand up for themselves. Encourage them to open up and share how it makes them feel.
Do everything you can to address what’s happening so your child isn’t left to try and navigate their feelings about being bullied alone. As well as having other more serious repercussions on their mental health, it can lead to them becoming a people-pleaser. Teach them how to deal with these situations in a healthy way. Teach them to have healthy boundaries, come up with their own goals, and have acceptance of who they are.
Positive parenting tools for every parent
Screen Time Protection and Teaching Moderation
I’ve recently partnered with Bark, a software to supervise, manage, and protect your child’s device use on the go. Use the code WORDBIRD at checkout to get an additional 1-month free trial after your first initial 7-day trial!
Screen Time Checklist Printable for Kids – FREE if you sign up for our weekly newsletter. Just fill out your info below.
Book List for Kids and Parents
Check out my recommended books for parenting.
Book list to teach kids about racial diversity.
Journaling for Kids
When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid’s Printable Journals — created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark the imagination.
Chores for Kids
Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge
Implementing chores and structure in your child’s daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks.
If you’re looking for something a bit more simple, this is also a good option.
Chore Chart Printable – Get it NOW from the convenience of your own printer
If you’re looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. With a Mandalorian theme, it makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly “missions.”
Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids
Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with your child is CRUCIAL, and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgment.
We even offer an “Exemption Time” for the duration of this game, where anything he tells us is off the table for consequences.
Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!
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