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Helping People-Pleasing Teens to Just Say No

Updated: May 24, 2023

By Preety Kaur, MA AMFT, Supervised by Marte J Matthews, LMFT





Noticing People-Pleasing Behavior in Your Teen?


Sometimes (maybe all the time!) we love it when our kids just do as we say without any questions. As nice as this is, it is not always a healthy thing for a child to do, especially when we need to prepare them for interacting with the world outside of the home.


Unhealthy people-pleasing behavior can be linked to any stressful event in the home. For example, if a parent has a demanding job and appears exhausted, parents are divorcing, a death happens in the family, a family member becomes ill, or a recent family relocation.


Since kids take in everything around them, they can usually sense the stress, sadness, or discomfort of their parents. Some children, with the sweet intent of not wanting to add any extra stress to their parents and other family members, might try to behave “extra good” to ensure that they are not an additional burden. While the intent of this behavior is very kind, the impact can be detrimental to your child’s ability to express their needs, get their needs met, and authentically operate in the world around them.


They may say yes to things when they really mean no. This can be safety issue when interacting with peers that may not have the best ideas for them. If the behavior continues, they can end up in relationships that are not so give and take, and that involve giving and giving. People-pleasing can also lead to depression, as the more a child stuffs away what they need and want, their self-esteem decreases, and their own sense of value goes down the drain with it.


So, what can you do as a parent?


When stressful events happen in the family, you can send the message to your teen that they are allowed to have reactions to whatever is happening in the home and that you want to make space for their feelings too, including feelings that may seem on the surface to be negative or selfish. Below are simple things you can say to them:


“Even though a lot is happening right now in my life, I want you to know that I am getting some help, and I have a plan to make things better. Everything is going to be okay.”


“How are you feeling about what is going on? I imagine this situation is pretty stressful for you. What can I do to support you?”


Having conversations like these often with children shows them that there is space for their feelings too, and that you, as the adult can handle the life situation.


Need help managing people-pleasing behavior? Please contact Child & Family Counseling Group to find out how to get started with one of our therapists.


Article by Gupreet (Preety) Kaur, an Associate MFT with deep experience and education when it comes to working with tweens and teens. She

has a variety of tools in her belt, including CBT, IFS, Somatic, and Positive Psychology. She “gets” the immigrant and second-generation experience and connects well with immigrant families. Equally at home working with parents and adolescents, she has a unique ability to find the best leverage points from which to gently nudge toward positive change. She has a wonderful attunement with children with abandonment issues due to loss of a parent because of divorce, drug addiction or death. Both deeply kind and deeply practical, she can help adolescents with anxiety and depression find new skills and new hope to live to their highest potential.


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