How People Pleasing Contributes to Bullying and How to Stop It

Teen girls talking

Most parents teach their kids to get along well with others, to work together, and to compromise. But there are times when this desire for peaceful relationships can turn into something unhealthy. Typically, when kids become too compliant and flexible, often at the expense of their own wants and needs, they have fallen into the trap of people-pleasing.

While this may not seem obvious, people pleasers are one of the primary targets of bullies.

People pleasers tend to be a magnet for mean, controlling, and demanding people.

What’s more, people-pleasing is draining and prevents those who engage in it from getting their needs met. They also are more susceptible to peer pressure because they desperately want to fit in and will often compromise their values and beliefs in order to please other people.

This is especially true among mean girls and in cliques. Many times, the followers in the group are people pleasers that go along with what the group wants in order to fit in and to avoid being ostracized. What they do not realize is that going along with what a mean girl wants only works temporarily. Usually what happens is that as time goes on, mean girls and cliques get more demanding. And the more people-pleasers give in, the worse they are treated. It is a vicious cycle, that leaves them feeling miserable.

If you notice your child falling into the trap of people-pleasing or in a generally unhealthy friendship, there are things you can do. Here are five tips for dealing with people-pleasing in your child’s life.

Praise and Affirm Your Teen

Sometimes kids fall into people-pleasing because they become addicted to the affirmation they get from being a nice person or being extra helpful around the house. Be sure your child has other opportunities for praise and affirmation that do not come from sacrificing themselves for the benefit of others. While it is a wonderful trait to put others first, be sure your children know that this is not the only way to feel good about the things they do.

Teach Your Teen the Difference Between Goodwill and Pleasing 

Help them see the difference in doing something for others because they genuinely want to and doing something for others that they feel obligated or pressured to do. They should also learn to avoid doing things out of fear of the consequences if they do not do it. Learning the difference will help them make better choices.

Help Your Teen Identify Negative Feelings

Talk to your child about how she feels after she has done something to please another person. If she is feeling angry, resentful, frustrated or sad, there is a good chance that she has engaged in people-pleasing. In other words, she did something for another person because she felt obligated not because she wanted to. Often people-pleasing is so deeply ingrained that your child doesn’t even notice she is doing it. Her feelings about various situations may be her only clue. As a result, it is important that she learn to recognize where her frustrations, anxieties, and sadness are coming from. 

Tell Your Child Not to Worry About Being “Selfish”

Many kids who struggle with people-pleasing worry that others will view them as selfish if they start honoring their own needs and saying no. Typically when a child struggles with people-pleasing, they are so far from being a selfish person that even with radical changes in their lives they are still more generous and kind than most. Remind them that truly selfish people do not even worry about whether or not they are being selfish. Remember though, mean girls, bullies, and other controlling people will try to manipulate the situation by accusing them of being bullied. They need to resist the urge to believe these comments.

Teach Your Child What Healthy Friendships Look Like

If your child’s friends do not respect her and want her to bend to their will, it is time to find some new friends. Help your child see that healthy friendships value the wants and needs of both members of the friendship, not just one. What’s more, finding healthy friends to hang out with can go a long way in helping your child learn to appreciate her true worth. When she does, people-pleasing will become a thing of the past.

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