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.


Hi everybody. I am really excited to get into this question today because I feel like we are going to have a lot to say about this. Okay, so this question was submitted. This woman wrote, hi, Sarah, Emily, and Rebecca. As a millennial woman, I feel like we’ve all been raised and conditioned to be people pleasers. Now that I have a daughter, I want to be conscious of bringing her up differently, but I’m not sure exactly how to do that. Do you have any tips on how to not raise my daughter to be a people pleaser like me? So in order to break this down, I thought it might be helpful to maybe talk a little bit about the traits of a people pleaser, trouble saying no, feeling guilty, prioritizing our own needs, agreeing with everything in order to avoid conflict, wanting to be liked by everyone, maybe a fear of rejection. Can you guys think of, those are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head, but I’m sure that there are more when you think of.

Dr. Emily (01:49):

I also think it’s like unsurprisingly, I think it’s related to your attachment confidence, right? I think there is something about having something a little bit insecure, not necessarily your attachment, but in your feelings of self-assuredness and your sort of feelings of self-confidence that you’re deferring to others. I think deferring to others in terms of their needs, their wants and not prioritizing yourself is part of that definition.

Dr. Sarah (02:21):

Yeah. Also though, it’s funny as we’re even talking, I’m realizing I almost have changing my framework even from what I just listed because those things I described are behaviors…

Dr. Rebecca (02:32):

‘Cause you’re a pleaser, pleaser!

Dr. Emily (02:35):

You people pleaser, you.

Dr. Sarah (02:35):

I’m so sorry. Don’t be mad at me. But seriously, but this is what I think I’m realizing is that I think everybody, all human beings have inclinations towards pleasing others. Like you were saying, Emily, it goes back to attachment. What happens when we’re born from birth hardwired to achieve proximity from proximity to and care from our attachment figure? And how do we do that by pleasing them, right? By being cute, by having really big eyes and a really big head and a tiny, little cute, adorable body like babies are literally shaped to be pleasing to the mother. This is evolutionarily based.


We are literally designed from birth to be pleasing to the care provider to ensure that they attach to us, and so we get to attach to them and live. So we all have this, and to some degree it is hardwired, and if we remember that our attachment systems are hardwired, but they’re not always active, they’re threat response. Our attachment systems are activated by threat. And so if you are an adult and you find that you are a tremendous disproportionate amount of your behaviors are guided by this desire to please others, like you were saying, Rebecca, in the absence of that attunement to yourself and that being the driver, but to be very oriented to the pleasing of others, that makes me wonder, are we activating out of a chronic threat mode in some level and why? What’s activated that threat and what part of us is trying to protect us from that threat by pleasing the other?

Dr. Rebecca (04:26):

Well, I think it’s impossible to have this conversation without highlighting cultural and societal factors. I mean, what threat are we trying to protect ourselves from? If you think about the vast majority of people pleasers are women, we’re protecting ourselves from the patriarchy. I, and I am not aware actually, and I perhaps should be a more cultural research around people pleasing, but certainly the gender research I’m aware of, I think the threat is everywhere. I think in some ways it’s like the soup not to have that hypervigilant kind of trauma threat, but just this idea of my role in this society is to please other people. And that’s something that I think it’s very difficult to counter with our own kids to this person’s question. Although I think it’s a fantastic quest and one that I know that I’m on even with my boys. But I think the messages we are getting every single day that are tremendously insidious are at least for women, about people pleasing.

Dr. Emily (05:47):

And I think as you guys are talking, I’m thinking honestly explicitly think of my daughter who I’m in awe of often because she often is a people pleaser. She will say, I just don’t want to be with you right now. Or something very, not in a particularly mean way, but just in a very, I feel confident in saying that right now. This is my need and this is how I say it. And I think about maybe that’s her personality, but I think back to something we talk a lot about on this podcast is how do you make kids feel seen so that they can build confidence in themselves? That’s one of the things that I think leads to feeling self attuned, knowing yourself so that you can say, I don’t really want to do that right now because I checked in with myself. This is all obviously a little bit unconscious, but how can we nurture that?


Oh, how do I feel right now? Is that sort of socially acceptable to say? Because what we’re talking a little bit about is the broader thing, the yes, the patriarch and all that stuff, but also in this context, what is both okay for me to stand up for myself and socially enough acceptable to get away with? And I think helping kids understand themselves feel seen in their interactions and validating the reality is a piece of that. And it creates the safety to say, I really want to hang out with you right now, mom and I know that that won’t ruin you, hurt you.

Dr. Sarah (07:30):

Or to that point about attachment, I know that telling you I don’t really want to be with you right now, won’t put me at risk of you not being there when I do want to be with you won’t reduce my access to you.

Dr. Rebecca (07:44):

And I also feel like it’s making little language changes. I hear parents all the time say, and we’ve all said I’m sure because we’re not perfect all the time, but things like our kids will be like, I’m not tired. I’m not going to bed. And you’re like, oh, come on, you’re exhausted. Or something like that as opposed to, I get it, you’re not tired. I see your eyes closing. And so it’s still time for bed. In other words, you don’t have to change a limit that you’re setting or I often, same thing, it’s like, how could you be hungry? We just ate lunch and your kid has said that they’re hungry. And then a kid might say, well, nevermind. And you can sit. There’s a way of saying as the person who’s the distributor of snacks, let’s say, I’m not going to give you a snack right now without discounting your child’s internal experience.


And to me that’s so important is teaching kids that they are the only ones who really know their internal experience and that they can trust that experience. Because I think of the teenager who’s at a party and things are starting to go downhill and they know that something doesn’t feel right and they trust that as opposed to they feel that something isn’t quite right and so they think they might be being dramatic or might be taking it too seriously or reading too much or should just go with the flow. It’s like, no, we want to teach our kids what you feel is real and is important. It may not, especially if you’re four, be what’s going to rule our entire family’s day, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not real and important. And I think that’s the foundation for a lot of things, but certainly addressing people pleasing and potential people pleasing.

Dr. Emily (09:40):

And I think you can leave it open as a collaborative thing too. I loved how you said, I know you don’t feel tired, but I can see your eyes closing. I often will say to one of my kids, I can tell you’re hungry kind of grouchy. You might not feel hungry, but I’m going to ask you to eat this bar because…

Dr. Rebecca (10:00):

Because we know, right? We know. We’ve talked about how you’re the kind of kid who when you’re hungry sometimes acts like this, so let’s just give it a shot and have a snack.

Dr. Emily (10:08):

Exactly. I think again, there’s a bit of respecting and validating their reality and also helping meta talking and helping them see what you’re seeing from the outside too and helping them learn in that way as the scaffolding as a parent that I feel like we do a lot as parents and as parenting coaching is to sort of help build that bridge that and stretch them into their understanding of themselves a little bit better.

Dr. Sarah (10:36):

You’re making me laugh. I literally had a conversation with my daughter last night who has, and it’s funny, I to this, I used to do this so much when I was a kid and I’m watching her do it now. I’m like, oh man, I know exactly what’s going on here, but she doesn’t want to go to the bathroom. She’s totally potty trained. She’s four, but she does not want to go to the bathroom because she doesn’t want to stop doing what she’s doing. And I will see her do the dance and I’m like, you got to go to the bathroom. And she’s like, I don’t have to go to the bathroom. And I’m like, you do watching you do the dance and I’m watching you do all the things. I know you have to go to the bathroom and it’s not working. It just activates more accountable in her.


And so I’ve been taking a slightly different tact and it’s been a little bit more effective. Not a hundred percent, but we’ll take our wins where I’m like, you know what? First of I’ll just say, do you have to go to the bathroom? And she’ll for sure say no. And then I’ll say, I wonder if we should probably just sit and try anyway, so I’m no longer fighting her on the subjective perspective. Do you have to go? I don’t have to go. I can’t tell her what she does and doesn’t have to do inside of her body. But I can say we’re going to just sit and try and see if anything comes out. And that’s like, I don’t know. I just feel like that, I like living that right now. And it was a good reminder too, like, oh yeah, fighting with her over this doesn’t really help. And to the larger goal of having her, I could win this battle, the power struggle of getting her to stop and go to the bathroom. Or I could sort of focus on the bigger overarching goal of how do I help her feel like she can tune into her body and she gets to have a say while still having a functional night because we’re not doing 10 loads of laundry.

Dr. Emily (12:33):

Well, and I think with a slightly older child, I know she’s only four, but with a slightly older child, you can also play out the scene. I say to my son like, oof, but you have a game leader and I know one of your priorities to be on your A game for that game, and if you don’t eat and we have a hard time or we delay the eating, like, ooh, that could be a hiccup. Or with your daughter, like, ooh, if we’re playing and then there’s an accident like, oh, then we can’t play anymore and that’ll be a drag. Just sort of helping them see this. It’s sort of executive functioning like this planning of your behavior and your time and you’re not necessarily saying, so you have to do it right now, but you’re saying these are the options we go now, we might have to go later. Those are presenting some of the scenarios, sort of what you’re thinking.

Dr. Rebecca (13:27):

Well, and they’re all tools. Just to bring us back to the question, they’re all tools for doing anything other than telling your child that what your child feels isn’t real.

Dr. Sarah (13:39):

It’s not either or. You don’t have to give up your role as the authoritative parent who makes the decisions about how we move through the schedule of the day or keep everybody healthy and clean and safe. You can do that as well. It’s like, how do I be intentional about, yeah, sometimes I have to be the grownup and make decisions, and also can I do that while still supporting this larger goal to put it in positive terms, helping my child be connected to their internal compass with confidence that they can share that and act on that without other people in the face of other people maybe being disappointed or not liking what they’re doing and not being pleased. So to help my child not be a people pleaser, I have to help my child please themselves, be willing to know their truth and communicate it without fear. But we still have to parent. So it’s like I hear parents feeling like they’re in a bind, but I think what we’re trying to articulate is you could do both.

Dr. Rebecca (14:48):

And I think there’s some important exceptions that I frequently give parents language to navigate when your child who’s being raised in this fashion that we’re proponents of says, well, if the vaccine is for my body, I’m the expert in my body. I don’t want the vaccine or I, and needing to say, as a parent, you’re absolutely right. You are the boss of your body. And sometimes when there are issues that have to do with safety that you don’t understand still, five, I make those decisions or wearing a seatbelt, or I’ve heard parents who feel flummoxed because their kids for left and are throwing at them, but I’m the boss of my body and they hear that in school, but I’m the boss of my body, but you can’t touch me because only I get to say who touches me. And you can say you’re absolutely right, and yet as your parent, there are times there’s going to be an exception to that that I get to decide because the number one important thing to me is your health and safety, and so I am going to hold your body while we cross the street or hold your hand or whatever.


I think it’s important for parents to have that language because sometimes they really do feel like a deer in headlights when their kids spit this language back at them. It’s like, oh, no, maybe they’re right. Maybe I don’t get to hold their hand while we cross the street. Or maybe it’s not my decision that they wear their seatbelt and it’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. No, no, no. Yes, those old parent decisions, a 4-year-old doesn’t know how to make those decisions.

Dr. Sarah (16:25):

And I think that speaks to another piece that we sort of laid the foundation for at the beginning of this, which is if we think about people pleasing as a product of something in relation to an attachment system, the more secure our attachment system is. That doesn’t mean we never people please, but the less likely we are to be chronically avoiding our needs in the service of others or monitor hyper monitoring the needs of others at the expense of our own. So I think it’s reasonable to say that a secure attachment is not going to prevent all people pleasing behaviors, but it may be a protective factor in having it be a primary mode of operating in the world. And so to speak to this idea of like, well, how do we create that secure attachment relationship with our child? It is being that container, that authority, that alpha, that decider, that safe protector.


Our 4-year-old five-year-old, 12-year-old in a moment might want to assert their power over us because that’s right in front of them, but far larger and maybe not so conscious is their need for us to be in charge. That is important to them. That is at the core of their sense of safety in the world, right in the moment. They do want you to get out of their way as they barrel through. I’m trying to think of an example where they want us to back off so they can do something risky or dangerous because that’s in front of them in that moment, but deeper down and far more profound in terms of shaping their personality and their relationship with the outside world is a need for them to believe and trust that we are in charge. And so they don’t want us to say, you don’t have to get a vaccine.

Dr. Rebecca (18:32):

And I think you’re right. I think in my experience clinically, it’s just this language that throws parents. I think there’s parents who really understand that concept and certainly will understand it if kids say, but I don’t want a vaccine, but I don’t want a vaccine. But when they kind of throw back the language that parents have tried to use in this kind of effort to avoid people pleasing, so a kid will say, only I get to decide things about my body. And a parent feels like, oh wow, is this still a situation where I can assert my authority? And the answer is yes. Don’t let the fancy language that your child is now using because you have used it appropriately, throw you in these situations where you do know in your gut that this is a parent decision using this language and these techniques to help your child tune into their compass so that they don’t become people pleasing, is not synonymous with your child, then gets to make all the decisions based on their compass.

Dr. Sarah (19:34):

A hundred percent. I could not have said it better myself, and I feel like that brings us full circle. So I really hope that that helps answer this question. It’s an iterative process too, is the one thing I’ll add is there is not one thing that will make or break this much. I talk about how attachment relationships are knitting a giant blanket and every single interaction we have with our child is one stitch. And so there’s going to be many, many, many, many stitches that make up the integrity of this blanket. That metaphor can be used in so many other things in how we raise our kids. There’s going to be many, many stitches, many moments, many interactions that are going to inform your child’s capacity to know themselves and assert themselves versus disconnect from themselves in the service of pleasing. Another. Not every single moment has to be that teaching moment, right? There’s going to be times where we’re like, yeah, you need to go to the bathroom right now because we got to go.

Dr. Rebecca (20:37):

We’ll never forget when my older son was like five, I want to say he got really upset about something, and I just remember we were in the kitchen and he stormed away and he started to cry and I said something like, oh, come on, you are not upset right now. And my husband was like, I have a feeling that your professional self would say that wasn’t perhaps the best thing to say. It was like, wow, I can’t believe that even came out of my mouth. That is literally antithetical to everything that I talk to families about saying, and yet sometimes your emotions get the best of you, and it’s so important to remember exactly what you just said, which is that that’s not a make or break moment. That’s a stitch in a tapestry that hopefully is dominated by the things that I’m more intentional about.

Dr. Sarah (21:25):

And I think hopefully that takes pressure off, right? Like, oh man, I’m trying to end this episode and I keep thinking of more things that I want to say. But one other thing, and then I promise I’ll let you all go until the next episode is we’re talking so much about how do we impart this stuff for our kid? But the one thing we haven’t talked about, which I think is so critical, is to model it for ourselves. You’re right, as a millennial woman, we have been raised and conditioned to be people pleasers and frankly the gen, I don’t even know what gen we’re on right now, but every generation forward from us still probably is going to contend with this to some degree, hopefully less and less and less, but you never know. My point is we have to heal that we actually as women right now, whatever age we are as mothers or as men or whomever, if you notice that you tend to people please find that permission to reflect on what you are protecting yourself from.


What are the fears? What are the threats? What are some core beliefs that you’ve internalized that perhaps you can challenge? And maybe that’s through therapy, but maybe it’s just by practicing out loud in front of your kid, noticing your internal experience, naming it out loud, saying it, even though you fear it might disappoint somebody. A good example of this is when we kind of white liar or fib to our friends that we were not available just to not hurt their feelings. Instead of saying, I want a night in, I want to just do something. I want to say no to you just because it’s what I need versus trying to make you feel better by coming up with some other fib. And we all do that, and it’s a kind thing to do, frankly. I don’t have to think it’s a bad thing, but it’s like when our kids see us doing that, what are we communicating? So looking at just our own stuff too, and modeling perhaps reflecting on our own people, pleasing tendencies as well. And even going so far as to heal some of that internal threat that we might be kind of acting off of.

Dr. Rebecca (23:35):

And now I have to add one more thing, which might be the subject of a whole other episode because it’s a tiny bit tangential, but not really as a mom of boys. And I’m very aware that making gender generalizations that are just generalizations, and there are certainly boys who are people pleasers and girls who are not, as Emily mentioned, her daughter, but being very conscious of pointing out to them when someone else says no or something that they don’t like to stop there, not to push through it, not to ask again. It’s like, no, that person said they don’t feel like playing with you right now. That’s the final answer. And to sort of point out not that as a people pleaser, it’s the other person’s responsibility to stop asking, and yet it’s kind and appropriate to do so. And so to highlight that for our kids also, if someone says no, if someone says something that doesn’t please you, how can you tolerate that as opposed to externally taking that discomfort and trying to convince them otherwise or to change their mind?

Dr. Sarah (24:44):

That’s such a good point. And yeah, we should do a whole episode on that. Stay tuned, everyone. All right, bye Emily and Rebecca, it’s always good to see you.

Dr. Emily (24:54):

Thanks so much.

Dr. Sarah (24:58):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.

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187. BTS: How can I parent my daughter so she doesn’t become a people pleaser?