Child playing piano while her Grandparents stand behind her and enjoy the music

Dr. Sarah (00:02):

Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard, because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.


Hello. Welcome, Dr. Rebecca Hershberg. Glad to have you back.

Dr. Rebecca (00:48):

Thank you. Always a pleasure. I’m delighted.

Dr. Sarah (00:51):

Delighted. So let’s jump into today’s question. So this mom wrote, loving Your podcast. Any suggestions on how to gently ask other people to stop asking your child to perform, like play the piano for me or show me this, do this, et cetera? It drives me nuts because I know it puts pressure rather than enjoyment, but I don’t know how to nicely say, please stop. So I feel like there’s a lot of ways we could approach this question, but I want to kick it off to you, Rebecca, on what comes to your mind first when you hear the undertones of this question.

Dr. Rebecca (01:33):

Yeah, I mean, I think the words that jumped out at me were, I know it causes pressure rather than enjoyment or however she phrased it, because again, perhaps I’m wearing my therapist hat, but my question would be, oh, that’s so interesting. How do you know? Because I also want to be like, who made you play the piano when you were four? And it traumatized you, right? I feel like this parent, of course, has the best of intentions, but I wonder where that drive to protect comes from, and if it’s merited, it might be, and we should absolutely address the e question as if it is in addition to what I’m saying. But again, what jumped out at me first was I wonder if your child’s response to these requests or demands might be different from yours. And there are kids who love performing and think it’s exciting, and that’s how they connect with Grandma. How, and I would first, as always on this podcast, kind of want to separate out what is the listener bringing to this question of his or her own stuff and what is actually happening with the child.

Dr. Sarah (02:47):

Yeah, yeah, that’s a really good point. I think as you’re talking, what’s coming to my mind is both what we as parents can project onto our kids our own stuff. Like, oh God, I hated it when my aunt would always make me play the piano or do something sort of performative. And so I am projecting that experience onto this for my child and assuming that it’s just as pressure filled for them as it was for me, for sure. Possible way of looking at it. The other thing too, before we just take it at face value, this is pressure. I know I’m attuned to my kid. I can feel their sense of anxiety. They don’t want it, but they don’t know how to set a boundary that’s very possible and legitimate, and we’ll definitely tackle that angle. But the other thing that I was thinking too is what pressure or rule am I holding in my head as a parent that I’m applying to this moment?


That can also be something we project onto the situation, not just so I could project my own personal experience onto this, but I also, I don’t know, I was just recording a different episode where this came up where we were talking about perfectionism and how much we see these rules out there, and frankly, those rules may be coming from really vetted resources. I know a lot of parenting, really solid parenting resources that talk about we don’t want to make our kids perform and we don’t want to put this pressure on them, and it is appropriate to be thinking about that. So I’m glad this mom is writing this question because I’m glad that she even looks at the lens of, well, what’s my child’s experience of this? Not just let’s dance monkey dance, but at the same time, just for the argument of being very multidimensional in the way we’re thinking about this question, we don’t have this mom to sit here and answer all of our nuanced follow-up questions.


So I’m just trying to imagine all the possible ways of thinking about this. But I would think to myself, what is the rule that you might be perceiving you’re supposed to follow? There’s a lot of gentle parenting and respectful responsive parenting strategies that say, we don’t want to make our kids perform. We want it to be organic. We want to give them space, which is totally good and I think helpful. But again, how do you know? Can you check in? Can we check in with our kid? Are you feeling pressure? Which kind of is a good segue into what an intervention might actually look like in the moment. Typically, if I think someone is pressuring my kid to do something, I’m not sure if they want to do it. Usually when my go-to interventions in that moment is to ask my kid in front of the other person, how do you feel about doing this or model for the adult how to check in with my child versus create a demand.

Dr. Rebecca (06:03):

Yeah, no, I think you’re spot on about all of that because you’re right. What can follow the I know, which is what jumped out at me is the rule, right? I read 25 articles saying blah, blah, blah, but how do you do it? And so what you’re saying is the 25 articles, can we view those as things to keep in mind as possibilities that might be out there that we wouldn’t have otherwise thought, but not necessarily as hard and fast rules that we have to follow? Because our whole approach to these parenting philosophies is that there’s no such thing as one size fits all. And that certainly some kids may feel really pressured and other kids may eat it up, they go to the supermarket and they ask to perform in the frozen foods aisle for anybody that watch.


But I think, yeah, checking in with your kid. And what I would say about that is that it doesn’t have to be so formal. It doesn’t necessarily have to be like, so how would you, as you’re looking over at your great aunt, so how do you feel? It can also just be like, what do you say, buddy? You feel like playing the piano right now or not so much? Not so much. Okay. Maybe later. It doesn’t have to be this teaching moment for your relatives per se. It can also just be a casual conversation that you bring to include your child as well.

Dr. Sarah (07:24):

Yes. I think that’s so important. I think we will are like, oh, let’s not follow more rules by giving more rules, and then they get misinterpreted as a hard and fast rule. It’s like it’s those little Russian nesting dolls. It’s like you open one up and there’s like 50 more inside, which is the pressure of parenting. There are so many rules and we have to figure out, okay, well how do I navigate which ones I want to keep and which ones I want to modify and how do I put it in my own language? And that I think is a really good lens is how do I say this in a way? I really would talk to my kid. Would I necessarily, if it was just me and my kid, be like, how would it make you feel to be playing the piano for your Aunt Sue right now? Or would I be like, what do you say in or out? How do we talk? And maybe that’s not how you talk. How do you talk to your kid? Your kid needs to, and that’s the tricky thing about the scripts is that if you don’t modify it to put it in the language, you actually speak to your child in and the tone of voice and the sort of style, the way you talk, your kid is going to hear a script and they’re going to be like, why are you talking to me like that?

Dr. Rebecca (08:41):

Yeah, well, and that can cause anxiety. It’s like, who are you and what did you do with my mom? All I did was ask for another cookie and suddenly there’s this weird new person here because the mom is trying out some new script, and I think I’m all in favor of, and I think it’s very cool to push our parenting edges and try on new approaches or philosophies or things that might feel slightly uncomfortable at first, but to be able to do that still with some authenticity I think is what may make or break whether it’s effective.

Dr. Sarah (09:18):


Dr. Rebecca (09:19):

I also think, and I’ve seen on your social media recently, and I have it on mine somewhere too, I’m sure, but this idea of just how easy it is to fraternize our kids sometimes with these approaches. If you’re a parent listening and you at one point made your kid play piano for Uncle Bill and you realize later your kid didn’t want to, your kid’s probably fine. These are not, I can tell my kid feels pressured and how do I rescue them from that feeling? I think we can absolutely talk about how to help give our kids the skills to advocate for themselves when they are asked to do something and they don’t want to and whatever. It’s also okay sometimes to say to your kid, I know you don’t really feel like playing piano right now. Uncle Bill is visiting from far away and I know would really love it. Is there any chance you could maybe tolerate the discomfort and do it? It’s okay sometimes to push our kids in ways or ask our kids if they might push themselves in ways that go against these rules we’re talking about, which is another way that I think the nuance gets lost when these rules are presented in the way they often are.

Dr. Sarah (10:39):

Yeah, I read, a really good friend of mine wrote this article recently on she owns a Montessori school in Brooklyn.

Dr. Rebecca (10:48):

I read that and now I follow her because you posted it.

Dr. Sarah (10:50):

Christine Carrig. Yeah, she’s amazing.

Dr. Rebecca (10:53):

Too many choices.

Dr. Sarah (10:54):

Too many choices. And I’ll put a link to her article in the show description because it was really good. But sometimes we’re giving kids too many choices and it’s actually counterproductive. And that actually puts a different kind of pressure on them that they are always the ones who have to make the decisions. And sometimes we’re just going to be like, Hey guys, we’re going to play piano now a couple minutes and then you can be done and you can move on to something else. So I think there’s definitely something to be said for also not feeling as though every single thing we do is good, has the potential to really ruin our child’s love of an activity or make them feel as though they’re like, we’re going to steal their intrinsic motivation for something or we’re taking away their autonomy. But I also think it’s helpful to speak to the other side of this coin, which is I imagine there are definitely plenty of scenarios where a parent is legitimately sensing a feeling of pressure and discomfort in a child who is being asked to perform for someone.


And I don’t just mean perform an instrument but perform a socially appropriate, and I’m using quotes, behavior, give me a hug or tell me who your friends are at school now. Making them sort of talk and engage with them when they don’t want to and they feel kind of uncomfortable. And again, yes, we want to be able to stretch them when it’s appropriate, but also sometimes we have to be the person that says, yeah, I don’t think they want to do that right now. And be that advocate and hold that boundary for them so that our kid can learn to eventually set those boundaries for themselves.

Dr. Rebecca (13:01):

And I’m just going to be forthcoming as a mom behind beyond the sessions, and that’s what we do. And just say that that was a much easier line for me to walk when my kids were younger. I have a hard time now, we just went through this, we went to a family bar mitzvah last weekend and one of my kids is almost 10 and didn’t at times answer questions when spoken to. And I was kind of like in my head, and I kind of had to think about this and process it and discuss with my husband, whatever. But dude, I don’t care whether you want to answer. She’s asking you going, I mean, I didn’t say this out loud, but I found myself much less sympathetic. And so I do want to just bring in that developmental piece. I don’t of course have the answer per se, but just to say that it gets a little tricky.


I remember with real clarity when my kids were three, four or five and they were feeling shy or hiding behind my leg or didn’t want to do something that was very performative. Let’s say show your latest dance move. That was so cute when you did it for me yesterday and you don’t want to show grandma, and that’s okay. And then I would’ve a much easier time, oh, it looks like he doesn’t feel like it. And then there’s an age where you do get into manners and social graces and we are at this function and you do need to make eye contact and answer questions.


I mean, I’ll say right now in the spirit of beyond the sessions, I don’t know that I handled it particularly well and we’re not done handling it. It was a sort of eyeopening thing of like, are we in an age where now we do push more? Because it really does come across in a way that it may not when you’re four or five if you just say, I don’t. And at one point I said to my son, I was like, what’s going on? He’s, I just don’t feel like talking to people. And on the one hand it’s like, you go yourself so well, you know what you need. That’s so awesome. Gentle parenting for the win. And then it’s also like, but ja, we’re at a freaking bar mitzvah. So I don’t know. I think part of it is I’m at least still figuring it out.

Dr. Sarah (15:26):

And I think you paint a really relatable conundrum, which I think is inherently what this mom who’s asking this question is feeling, right? In a different scenario. But the same one is how much am I supposed to protect them from something that makes ’em uncomfortable and how much am I supposed to stretch them? And I kind of think it comes down to your point, it comes down to developmental capacity and appropriateness, but ultimately it’s skills. It’s a skill development question at a very straightforward level. It’s like how do we learn certain social skills of communicating, either agreeing to the bid, like sure, I will give you the social niceties even though I don’t want to or appropriately asserting your boundary. I’m not really in the mood, but thank you so much.


So there’s that sort of piece. But then underneath that really is an ability to do something that makes us uncomfortable. But I don’t know if you teach that skill in the moment. I don’t think if at the bar mitzvah, when your son is internally thinking to themselves, I really don’t want to talk to anybody. I don’t like this zero judgment. If in that moment you’re just say Hi, we’ll talk about it later, but just say Hi, I’ve done that too. But then also afterwards would probably be when I would think, how do we revisit this together? How do we debrief? How do we talk about, well, what made, just like you did, you got information from your son later him telling you I didn’t, don’t want to talk to anybody. And it’s like, we can then work with that. Alright, well what is it about talking to people that feels kind of tough and try to figure out what’s the fear and how do we help build some confidence around coping with that and trying on a couple of different strategies that feel kind of step, a step towards a bigger accomplishment. So I dunno, breaking it down and a lot what you and I would do in therapy with a kid who had anxiety about talking to people in public and social anxiety, what would we do? We would break it down and work on it slowly.

Dr. Rebecca (18:00):

And practice or just give strategies for the next time, right? Okay, so we’re going to this holiday party. Let’s say you may not want to talk to anybody because I remember that’s how you felt last time when it was noisy and dah, dah, dah, dah. As we talked about, that can come across as rude. So let’s come up with three things that you’re ready to talk about and practice them or something or questions you can. Again, as you said, it’s like what we would do in therapy is kind of coping ahead with what the feelings might feel like and how you can problem solve in advance with certain strategies. I just remember it was a week ago, just being surprised.


It’s hard to explain. It’s, it just didn’t occur to me that he wouldn’t know because this was not a crippled by anxiety situation. This was, I don’t want to got to practicing and asking my kid of why he didn’t. It was never going to fly. He would over and over again just say, I don’t know. I don’t know. And at a certain point it’s like, okay, we don’t actually have to explore this in depth. You have to say hello to grandma, period. When I speak with my clients about that, always I sort of say, you have to check in with yourself. There are times to say, wow, he clearly isn’t really in the mood to say, hi, grandma right now. I’m not sure what that’s about. Let’s give him some space and check in later. There’s other times you’re going to be compelled to say like, dude, we’ve talked about this. Grandma just said hello, what comes out of your mouth? Now I can’t tell people when to do what that’s about their family.


I’ve done both, but that wouldn’t be my advice with a three-year-old or even a four-year-old or maybe even a five-year-old. I’ve worked with a lot of families where it’s like if they’re not families that get upset where their five year olds are not saying thank you to the doormen, like New York City families not saying hi, and I’ve talked about just keep modeling. It’s just going to put pressure on them. If you’re like say thank you, but by the time you’re 10 say thank you. Someone held the door for you. I don’t know. I mean, the logical question that I’m hearing myself want to ask myself is at what age does it switch over? When does it become about manners and not? And I don’t know. I think that’s where it’s an individual call, I guess.

Dr. Sarah (20:35):


Dr. Rebecca (20:36):

It just hadn’t occurred to me that that was something we would need to tell him in advance at this age in this setting. And so it was a little eyeopening because I’m, and again, I’m always kind of flexing my own practice with clients and stuff. I tend to really, not necessarily when families are worried that their kid’s never going to learn manners or never going to learn to respect their elders, I tend to rush that aside because I think it does. I’ve always thought, well, that comes and then it hadn’t come yet. I mean, again, this is a solvable problem, but it didn’t just fall into place the way that I perhaps expected it too.

Dr. Sarah (21:23):


Dr. Rebecca (21:25):

It turns out there needed to be an explicit here’s expected and we needed to pregame that, which is a phrase we needed to pregame more than I anticipated. We’re getting a little bit away from the question, but I mean, I hope it’s helpful just to hear that even parenting expert child psychologist just last week was kind of puzzled by the same thing with an older kid.

Dr. Sarah (21:56):

And I mean, we don’t know the age of this kid, so the mother was asking the question for, and I really do think if it’s a really little kid, I think you do want to say kind of speak for them and not in a, I’m going to step in front of them and protect them from this horrible thing. But just to our nonchalance also even models a little bit to everybody, including the child. This is not make or break.

Dr. Rebecca (22:26):

Right, like maybe later. And again, I think there’s certain tasks that I feel very clear on it. I would never, even with my son who’s 10, if he seemed uncomfortable not giving someone a hug, in fact he doesn’t like hugs, and I will jump in and say like, oh, he’s not a hugger. He is not a hugger. I didn’t think, again, it became fuzzy around answer a question.


You don’t get to just literally sit here silently because you don’t feel like vocalizing. So again, it’s just noticing what’s clear to us and what’s, that’s an individual thing. I would have zero issue advocating for my kid in that way with a physical boundary, with a performative sing for me. Play piano for me, dance for me, that would seem like a no-brainer, but I think it was just interesting to see that my son sort of interpreted just talking perhaps in the same category. And for me, I felt frustrated. Don’t, that’s not in the same category, but it’s necessarily so clear. And just to be aware, I fear for this listener, I think we may have taken her question and made it very, very complicated, but I guess that’s one of the things we do.

Dr. Sarah (23:37):

Yes, we’re notorious for that. So apologies.

Dr. Rebecca (23:41):

You asked a question, but you actually have 25,000 questions.

Dr. Sarah (23:46):

And I think one of the reasons that that happens is we are answering this person’s question, but we’re also kind of answering all the people who are nodding to that question. And they all may have different kind of experiences. So I feel like we try to speak to that. But yeah, I think you’re right. Sometimes we’re like, okay, but I wanted to just know about the piano thing. Thanks. I got a lot more than I needed. So sift through it, take what you need, leave what you don’t. But I hope it’s helpful just to think about wherever angle you’re coming from. And again, I think the solution ultimately is still, whether it’s you have a 10-year-old who doesn’t want to say hi when it’s not an anxiety thing, but just a, okay, I don’t want to, and versus a three-year-old who is kind of frozen because someone is too much attention on them and asking ’em to do something performative and they’re anxious or I don’t know yet how to advocate for myself. At the end of the day, we’re collecting data in those moments and then we’re going to use that data later to kind of teach or build skills that seem to fill in those gaps, whatever they are. So that framework sort of remains true no matter what.

Dr. Rebecca (25:11):

And again, as always, knowing yourself and your own triggers. Of course, I was on edge at a family of bar mitzvah, right? I mean, that is like parenting 1 0 1 and knowing your kid, and I just want to really hammer that no one-off that’s going to make or break this for your kid. These are really good things to be thinking about as your kids develop over time. There’s no one response to your child being asked on one occasion to do one of these things that’s going to solidify a psychologically healthy or unhealthy childhood for your kid.

Dr. Sarah (25:50):

Yeah. Well, this was great. Thank you so much for answering these questions with so much thought and we’ll talk soon.

Dr. Rebecca (25:58):

Absolutely. Always. Such a pleasure. See you later.

Dr. Sarah (26:02):

See you later.

(26:04):Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.

✨We want to hear from you! Go to https://drsarahbren.com/question to send us a question or a topic you want to hear us answer on Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions! ✨

161. BTS: What can I do to ensure my child doesn’t feel pressure to perform for other adults?