How Do I Make Sure My Children Aren’t People Pleasers?

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True story: I am an enneagram type two to a tee.. Empathetic, self-sacrificing and…a people pleaser in recovery. And I’m worried I’m raising a people pleaser!

Recently, I was talking to my eleven year-old daughter about consequences for some less than stellar behavior. She remained stoic at the discussion of her personal consequences (time without electronics etc) but dissolved in hot, angry tears when she realized she was going to miss out on an opportunity with a friend. A little surprised by her level of distress, I asked what was bothering her. She said, through sobs, that she was afraid she was going to disappoint her friend. That perhaps her friend would be mad at her (for tips on how to help your kids navigate friend drama, check out this helpful article from writer Kelly).

At that moment, my breath caught in my throat. I stumbled through a parenting speech about true friends being understanding. I explained that if someone gets mad about something inconsequential, then they aren’t a good friend to begin with. I have always been proud of my tenderhearted, empathetic children. The best compliment I can receive is to hear that they have been kind.

But I couldn’t help but wonder – Am I raising a people pleaser

The desire to make other people happy, to care take in every situation, is an insidious one. Sometimes referred to as the “disease to please”, it can leave people feeling guilty and resentful simultaneously. It depletes your resources and can leave you bitter and exhausted. But here is power in learning to say “no” (politely!) to others and to yourself. 

So, how do I make sure my children aren’t people pleasers?

Teach your children to say “no”. “No” is a complete sentence.

It feels jarring, even almost rude at first. But learning to firmly set your own boundaries is something I still struggle with as an adult. “Yes” loses its power when we simply react with it automatically, instead of carefully and thoughtfully making a choice. Being able to say no to things that don’t serve us creates room for the people and things who are the most important in our lives. Teaching my children to say no is beyond valuable.

Remind them to give themselves time.

If “no” seems too severe, you can always give yourself time by telling someone that you”ll give it some thought and get back to them later. A 2014 Columbia University study found that even a 50 to 100 millisecond delay in making a decision makes a difference in the authenticity of the response. For my children, I always tell them to use me as a scapegoat and a sounding board. My eleven year old is well trained to reply with “I have to talk to my mom” when presented with a request she is unsure of, and it has served us well so far. 

Help them know they can’t be everything to everyone.

This, for me, is the most important AND the most difficult. We live in a society that seems to worship at the altar of “busyness”. If you are not constantly doing, then you are lazy or somehow unfulfilled. One of the silver linings of this dreadful Covid era has been the natural slowing down of things (except for maybe those of you who are now expert sourdough bakers). There has been a subtle release from the pressure to always be productive and giving with your time, energy and resources. The simple fact is this- if you try to do all the things for all the people, you will likely fail at them all. Doing too much can actually hurt relationships, creating a cycle of guilt and resentment. But if you do a few meaningful things with purpose and love, the world will be better for it. 

Help them create their own compass.

Many people pleasers are often those who are somewhat insecure and therefore, seeking external validation and admiration. I want my children to learn to rely on internal validation to feel good about themselves. I want them to know what kind of things make them feel proud and seek out those experiences. I want them to learn how to prioritize themselves and their own goals, even if they ruffle a few feathers in the process. 

I will be the first to admit, I do absolutely none of these things perfectly.

As a mother, I am doubly guilty of trying to make everyone happy and do everything for anyone I can. But I am learning. To say no, to stop accepting showers as a legitimate act of self-care, to realize I am enough exactly the way I am. There is something beautiful in showing your kids that you are also a work in progress. And we’ll figure it out together.

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Justine Salema
Hi! I’m Justine. I’m a part-time pediatric speech language pathologist currently working in Early Intervention and full time hot mess mom. I live in North Hampton with my lovely husband, two (mostly) delightful children and a very sweet old-lady Boston Terrier. When I’m not chasing after my little guy or dodging my pre-teen daughter’s eye rolls, I can be found sneakily enjoying trashy reality TV, oversharing on social media, traveling in search of live music, shaking my crazies out via running and adding to my extensive "to-read" book stack. I’m passionate about sharing my life through writing, never straying too far from the ocean, helping families and toddlers find their voice and drinking my coffee while it is still hot. You can find more of my writing at www.justinewrites.com and follow my adventures (and disasters!) on Instagram at @justinewrites.

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