Updated: Jul 11, 2021
We don’t want our kids to learn our bad people-pleasing habits. For my fellow people-pleasers out there, aren’t these bad habits to blame for much struggle in our lives? People-pleasing has hampered our sense of self, prevented us from communicating needed boundaries, and has put us in a state of social anxiety. Agreeably, we don’t want our kids to inherit these habits from us.
However, just like with other trends in current parenting, we don’t need to turn a complete 180 degrees in order to make the needed changes. Another way I like to put it is, we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Sometimes parents who have the intention of not raising people-pleasers, overcorrect so much that their kids turn out to be disrespectful and inconsiderate. Parents who are too hyper-focused on not encouraging their kids to be people-pleasers, accidentally raise kids who lack empathy.
In all aspects within parenting, a balance is needed. Although I respect the intention behind not wanting to instill our kids with bad people-pleasing habits, having the pendulum swing from one extreme to the other, is not what best serves our children.
I am against “absolutes” within current parenting advice trends. It’s not “always” bad to please. There’s nothing wrong with a child wanting to please their parents. In fact, I will be so bold to state that I think it is actually healthy that children should want to please their parents.
For us adult people-pleasers who try so hard to shake these deeply ingrained habits, it may go against the grain to hear that a certain level of people-pleasing is healthy for kids to have.
Raising children to never want to do or say anything to please anyone will likely result in children who are deficient in their ability to successfully navigate through all of the complexities involved within social/interpersonal relationships. A child raised with a frowned-upon attitude in saying or doing anything to please a teacher may encounter teacher-student relationship struggles, which could transfer later in life to struggles with future bosses or employers. This could alter the trajectory of the child’s future.
As a teacher of over 23 years, it breaks my heart when I see kids who regularly have a habit of “bumping heads with the teacher.” When I hear from the previous year’s teacher of their struggles, I know that if I don’t intervene to help the child, what’s likely is that the child will struggle with most teachers as they grow up from year to year. Imagine being a kid who year after year struggles in their relationship with their teachers. Inevitably, that will negatively wear on the kid’s attitude and enjoyment in school. What effect might that have on that kid’s future?
With students like these, I actually work to help build their empathy and levels of being respectful and considerate. In a way, I teach them to learn how to please their teacher or anyone else they regularly have conflicts with. I don’t do this to get the kid “in-line” to satisfy my ego, but I do this to help empower the kid to be able to handle all the relationships they will have in their future.
Kids are all unique. They all have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. So, on the flipside, I also have students on the opposite extreme. They unfortunately have already ingrained bad people-pleasing habits, to the point that it is a detriment to them. I work with them to help them grow their ability to say no, speak their mind, and stand up for themselves. I help them to release their preoccupation of needed validation to formulate their self-worth. For extreme cases of kids who already have bad people-pleaser habits, I also have to help them to even construct who they are. Sadly, even by the age of 7, some kids have already crafted their sense of self based almost entirely on outside validation and approval, so much so that they lack an awareness of even their authentic likes and dislikes. I provide a safe space and coach them to build an awareness and transform in the direction of pleasing themselves more and people way less.
Honestly, even though I have the confidence to coach parents in getting their kids to behave based on my years of experience in successfully doing so, I don’t have the same confidence in the area of helping kids release strong people-pleasing habits. I give these kids everything I’ve got, and rarely do I see a satisfying enough transformation. This validates that the people-pleasing habit, once ingrained, is incredibly difficult to shake. This validates that parents should aim to not raise kids with bad people-pleasing habits. However, I still stand by my earlier point that there is a healthy level of people pleasing that kids should have.
The perfect balance would be raising kids who have a strong sense of self that isn’t based on what others think, while also having a healthy level of empathy, and the appropriate levels of being respectful and considerate in order to be able to navigate within relationships effectively. This may look like a child who has the sense of self to be aware of his or her unique needs, wants, preferences, and ideas, and has the confidence to communicate them, while also being respectful and considerate.
Here are some examples to help illustrate how a balance within people-pleasing is the desired outcome:
“Teacher, ugh this grammar lesson is soooo boring!!!” (whiny tone and rude look on face)
“Teacher, thanks for teaching us this grammar lesson, but I found it to be a bit boring, and I was wondering if you could play a fun game next time instead.” (polite tone and pleasant look on face)
“I thought the lesson was fun and great! You’re the best teacher ever!” (slightly anxious look while secretly fighting off yawning because the lesson was so boring)
Can you guess which kid is which? Can you differentiate between the kid’s responses to figure out who was the balanced kid in contrast to the kid with unbalanced levels of people-pleasing in the opposite extremes?
When kids act in these various ways at school with their teachers, it is a direct reflection of how they act at home in their relationships with their parent(s). It’s likely that the middle response above of the balanced kid would come from a household in which the parents provided a safe space for the kid’s sense of self and confidence to flourish, while also providing guidance in tact and being polite out of consideration for others.
In the first response above, it can be assumed that if the kid talks to the teacher in this way, that the kid is also in the habit of talking to the parents in this way as well. It’s likely in a household like this, the kid has been raised strongly in a sense of self and confidence to voice opinions, but not raised with much emphasis to be considerate of others.
In the last response above, it can be likely assumed that the household in some way has prevented the kid from developing his or her own sense of self, nor any confidence to communicate it. Somehow, everyone else’s interests were adopted by the kid without the kid having the space and encouragement to explore his or her own unique self. Perhaps, disagreeing is frowned upon or mocked in this type of household. Or the parent accidentally overused terms like, “You know it makes me happy when you...” Possibly even, the parent has accidentally come to depend on the child for their own emotional validation, and the child has adapted to being put in the role of being too concerned with making other people feel better, and thinks this is what composes their worth.
Children who already at such a young age have been ingrained with bad people-pleasing habits will unfortunately have to go through the long and arduous self-awareness process that so many of us have had to, to try to unlearn these habits. That being said, in our efforts to prevent kids from developing these bad people-pleasing habits, we must not mistakenly never teach kids to build empathy and consideration for others.
For other articles I wrote that bring balance into current parenting trends, see:
“Are Time-Outs Bad?” → https://www.getkidstobehave.com/post/are-time-outs-bad
“The Fine Line Between types of Tantrums and How They’re Handled” → https://www.getkidstobehave.com/post/support-spreads-through-a-group
I support parents in helping them get their kids to behave, while also empowering them for life. If you’d like to learn more, visit my website: www.getkidstobehave.com
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Maura from Get Kids To Behave