This question, posed to a parenting ministry not long ago, received an answer that absolutely shocked me. In a nutshell they told this parent to enjoy their compliant child and her need for approval. They framed people-pleasing as a good problem to have, one that makes children seem sweet and pleasant toward others.
As a recovering people-pleaser who has struggled to find her worth and value, and to speak honestly to others, I can now say loud and proud, I absolutely disagree with their advice.
People-pleasing is tendency that some children demonstrate that causes them to focus on the approval of others. Every child wants to be loved and accepted and many kids learn that in order to receive that love they need to earn it by “being” or “doing” what others like. People-pleasing, which starts as parent-pleasing, originates as children are loved conditionally when conforming to the needs and desires of their families. Instead of becoming more of the unique person that God intended to be, people-pleasing children become social chameleons, changing their personalities, thoughts, and emotions to match their environment so they can meet their very real needs for love, acceptance, and security.
What is important to note is that people pleasing is not pleasing to God. It’s not a loving pattern or a good problem to have; it’s selfish tactic, a way to meet our own needs because we are focused on our own image–being liked, avoiding conflict, and looking good—not on loving and serving others.
The apostle Paul pointed this out to the Galatians and Thessalonians, telling them “We are not trying to please people but God” and “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” because he knew that we could not serve two masters. We cannot pursue pleasing both people and God at the same time. We must choose.
But this choice comes with challenges. When we choose to teach our child to please God, she may start to articulate different thoughts, feelings or desires than we have. This can make us feel uncomfortable because they are contrary to our own. We may find it harder to parent a God-pleasing child because we may not understand her motivations or her needs. We may come to find out that her personality is a far cry from ours and feel confused by the differences. Finally, as she learns to please God and listen for His voice, our child may be led in directions that are counter to our familiar paths and we may feel inadequate to guide her.
All of these parenting challenges will build our faith, enlarge our hearts, and bring about a greater need for our Savior as followers of Christ. Raising people pleasers won’t accomplish any of these goals, but raising God-pleasers will.
If I were able to advise the parent who posed the question about her people-pleasing daughter, I would recommend these things:
• Let your daughter know that she doesn’t have to agree with you to be loved by you. She can say No. She may need to do some things that she doesn’t like because parents are still in charge, but she can hold a different opinion or thought than you.
• Let your daughter know that she doesn’t have to be your personality to be accepted. She can be different and still belong in your family. There are four different temperaments and we are usually a blend of two, designed with a major and minor type. Each temperament displays a slice of God’s image as a thinker, doer, talker, or watcher, and even members of the same family will be different from each other. Not one of my four children is my exact blend. Encourage your child’s unique strengths, help her with her unique weaknesses, and nurture her God-given design, especially if it’s different from yours.
• Let your daughter know that she doesn’t always have to be happy, nice, or compliant to be secure in your family. Difficult emotions like fear, sadness, and anger will rise up in her as indicators of a deeper stirring in her heart. They are not to be ignored or denied, because if they are, they will sink deeper into her soul and create a bitter root that will “cause trouble and defile many.” Let her express her feelings, validate them, and then teach her to gain self-control over them.
Our children need to know that their worth and value is unquestionable and independent of their behavior. People-pleasers believe that they must choose between belonging and individuality, so let’s teach our children that they can have both—they can be accepted and be different, they can be loved and unique, they can belong just as they are.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you,
in order to bring praise to God.
By Dale Skram
Mom of four
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
real.life.speaker, real.faith.writer, and real.life.coach