Parents’ Roundtable: Is Pleasing a Problem?

Ok folks, it’s time for another round of Roundtable. The topics so far have been born of my pain of the day, so today, I think we’ll switch to a point of pleasure, if one that’s tinged with a nagging question.

Alden, my almost-six-year-old daughter has recently turned a corner. Over the past few weeks, she has suddenly started seeming much more adult-like on several fronts.

She has suddenly gotten much more rational, for one, capable of recognizing that she is older than her brothers, capable of doing things they can’t and willing to be held to a higher standard of behavior, responsibility, etc. Along these lines, she has started spontaneously cleaning up her room, putting away the toys in the living room, etc. She seems to really enjoy the praise and appreciation that follows. And reasonably so. But I wonder to what extent it’s motivating her.

I want her to be helpful and respectful, not just at home, but anywhere she goes in life.
But I don’t want her to turn into a pleaser, by which I mean, someone whose actions are guided by a desired reaction from others. There’s a fine line between helpfulness and obsequiousness, and, left unchecked, the latter has a way of becoming a soul-flattening character flaw.

But what’s my role in this? On one hand, I want to encourage her to be helpful and generous, but on the other hand, I want Alden to maintain her free spirit, her independence, her ability to decide for herself when to do things to make others happy and when to follow her own inner compass.

It’s a tricky balancing act, and one I need to watch closely. On one hand, it’s nice to have a kid who cleans up her room. But on the other hand, I want a kid who is capable of free thought and standing up for herself when the stakes are higher down the line.

For now, we are trying to be measured in our praise and reasonable in our requests. And to model free thinking combined with thoughtfulness as much as possible.

Does anyone else have this worry? Any other ideas for how to approach it? You know the drill. Chime in below. And please feel free to pass this discussion along to any other parents you think might be interested in joining.

1 Comment

  1. My kids are still small, but I can see the line you’re talking about. I’ve had a lot of practice from teaching music lessons to young kids, but rather than saying “You did great!” I try to say “You must feel good about what you did!” It takes me out of the equation and lets them feel the internal reward. Not that I don’t ever say “I’m proud of you” or “Good work!” because I think that’s important to hear as well, just not all the time. I’ve had a lot of practice to change from saying “Great job!” to “How do you feel about what you just did?” One of my wee ones is soft hearted and takes criticism or praise to heart so it’s really tough to walk that line of feeding what she needs to feel good but also giving her the tools to get that for herself. I’ll let you know in a few years if it worked!


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