We all worry about what others think. It’s human and normal to wonder how you are perceived. 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.
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.
Usually, the first instance one learns people-pleasing is in the home, 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, they can begin to learn these “people-pleasing” techniques we ourselves try so hard to avoid.
It’s with popular parenting advice parents can misunderstand the fine line of discipline and expectation or “pleasing.”
One notable parenting technique is Love and Logic. As there are constructive tips that 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 their misbehavior, and dealing with their hearts, you can avoid altogether the fact that what they did put you out.
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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.
Disobedience is always wrong, and whether or not they put someone out is the consequence and should be brought to light, but it's not the problem -- it's not the heart of the matter.
In my opinion (because it's only an opinion), it seems that these tactics can lead to people-pleasing.
While you want your child to be aware that something they did put someone out, you don't want to make their discipline about that.
Here's how I would suggest you handle it.
You say, "Do you see why I wanted you to wait for me? You aren't quite old enough to get your own milk, and because you disobeyed, 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. 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 shame, which leads to "mommy pleasing."
For instance, having them help you clean up is one part of the consequence, but you can also add something else if you feel it's necessary, like taking away screen time.
Every child is different. While one might respond well to helping clean up, another might need a bit firmer hand.
But don't attach their discipline to putting you out, attach it to the fact that they didn't listen and disobeyed your orders.
It's also important to have them verbally admit that what they did was wrong.
It's okay to teach your child to apologize to people.
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.
So what are some things from this example story above that parents can avoid, so their child doesn't become a people pleaser?
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 will lead to them becoming a people-pleaser.
2. Have them apologize, but make sure they know they're forgiven
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 other's approval in who they are
3. Don't threaten them
Every parent does this. We threaten our kids to get them to obey us.
"If you do that again, then you won't be able to…"
This conditions children to do things to please us, not because it's the right thing to do.
A better way to handle this is in a positive form. "If you can show me that you can treat your brother with kindness today, I will let you have more screen time."
Getting ahead of the game is always beneficial.
But in the heat of the moment, it's easy to revert back to threatening when our child is disobedient.
Believe me, I give into this almost daily.
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
"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.
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 other's 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 child 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 understanding their own boundaries also 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.
I think it's human.
Part of being a people-pleaser is only feeling satisfied when you know that everyone likes you. But that's simply not going to happen. And trying to get everyone to like you is exhausting.
You can teach your child that not everyone will like them, and that's okay when confronted with a situation.
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.
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 likely 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 bullies alone. As well as having other more serious repercussions on their mental health, it can lead to them becoming a people-pleaser.
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