I realise that I am an approval seeker. Other people's opinions affect me a lot.

I want to understand what kind of childhood incidents lead to such a behaviour in adulthood and what can I do better to prevent my toddler from becoming an approval seeker.

Before you say, "Love her unconditionally", I want to understand what that means. Do you mean that if she repeatedly lies to me, I should still love her unconditionally? Well, I can't love liars.

  • 1
    Part of approval seeking is living well in your society. There is some of the DNA of that which you may want to retain. Oct 26, 2015 at 0:22
  • 1
    I was constantly nagged (Nagged, NAGGED!!) by my grandfather for every little thing I did even if it wasn't something I was doing "wrong" per say, just not the way he wanted. I feel that this has made me resistant to anyone trying to tell me information or give me instructions about something. I immediately jump to "They think I'm too stupid to know this / do it on my own." - Sorry that doesnt answer your question but I wanted to back you up on the childhood incidents cause long term personality "issues" idea.
    – user7678
    Oct 27, 2015 at 17:47
  • Why can't you love a "liar"? Loving a child doesn't mean you have to like all of its actions, or cuddle all the time. ;-) Oct 29, 2015 at 7:34

4 Answers 4


In my experience, both over-criticizing and over-praising can lead to a child who desperately seeks approval from others around them. The problem with most praise/criticism is that it is about us, the parents. How we feel about what the child has done, not how the child feels. Our approval is an external reward, which doesn't teach a child how to be motivated internally. If the child views everything they do as only of value (or not) based on your opinion, then they have to keep coming to you for your opinion.

Two common suggestions for building internal motivation in kids:

  1. Make praise about the child - Instead of "I'm so proud of you", try "You must be so proud of yourself"

  2. Focus on the effort, not the result - "You really studied hard for that test" says that the internal effort was important, vs "Great Job getting that A", which says the external result was important.

The book "How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk" has a section about internal/external motivation and praise.

How to Avoid Raising a Praise Junkie

How I Learned to Stop Nagging My Kids and Start Motivating Them

  • 2
    +1 for the "You must be so proud of yourself" I am going to try to praise that way from now on (about their feelings not the adults). Thanks.
    – user7678
    Oct 28, 2015 at 16:41
  • Note: In case the hyperlinks in this answer brake, you can find the text of those links here: parenting.stackexchange.com/a/22792/19552 Oct 29, 2015 at 10:16

I realise that I am an approval seeker. Other people's opinions effect me a lot.

This is true of most humans. People that don't care about approval either hide it well or are sociopaths.

I want to understand what kind of childhood incidents lead to such a behaviour in adulthood and what can I do better to prevent my toddler from becoming an approval seeker.

We are hard-wired to want to be loved, to want to be in community with others. Not being loved or in community is called loneliness.

However, if you don't want your child to be controlled by their desire for approval, raise them to be resilient. Resilient people have

  • close relationships with family and friends
  • a positive view of themselves and [reason-based] confidence in their strengths and abilities
  • the ability to manage strong feelings and impulses
  • good problem-solving and communication skills
  • feelings of being in control
  • know how to seek help and resources
  • see themselves as resilient rather than as a victim
  • cope with stress in healthy ways and avoid harmful coping strategies, such as substance abuse
  • help others
  • find positive meaning in their lives despite difficult or traumatic events

In other words, if they have integrity, and behave with integrity, they will have self-respect. People who respect themselves (not the same as having an inflated opinion of oneself) will rely less on the respect and approval of others.

Well, I can't love liars.

I don't like lying. In fact, I detest it. Trust is such a critical element of a deep relationship with a person that I would have thought I couldn't love a liar.

One of my children is very "gifted". Gifted people have a tendency to experience certain problems like, well, selective laziness. And my son chose to lie to cover up his laziness. He told whoppers so preposterous that they are still repeated (with merriment) to this day.

When you have children, you learn things, especially to hate the sin and love the sinner. Which is as it should be.

Edited to Add: You can love someone but set healthy boundaries in order to keep yourself safe and sane. That is an appropriate way to deal people you love but who might still hurt you. And it is, kind of, conditional love. But that's ok.

The Road to Resilience


All I can give you is an example of personal experience. My husband is an approval seeker. I am not. His mother praised him lavishly most of the time, even when he didn't deserve it. I think he spends his life trying to get back that unrealistic level of approval. My parents almost never gave me approval, only criticism, so I learned not to even seek it.

I also have a long time friend who is a very strong approval seeker; her mother constantly criticized her. From this I can only draw the conclusion that people are so complicated that you cannot take a simple set of rules and apply to all. Everyone has a vastly different genetic makeup that interacts with their external environment to produce a unique person with a complicated set of flaws and strengths.

But this is all beside the point.

I think you should rethink your attitude toward your toddler's behavior. You should not love lying (the act) but you must assure your child that you will always love her (the child). If you cannot separate a person from their actions you will become very critical person. Unconditional love is for people, not for actions.

If you only love people who do no wrong, you will be a very unloving person. There is no-one who does not do wrong at some time, and children are not expected to know wrong from right until they are taught to do so, and they cannot be taught until they are old enough to understand. Punishing a child for doing something when they cannot understand why they are being punished is essentially no better than giving them random slaps and expecting them to learn something positive from the experience.

To specifically address your example, a toddler is not old enough to understand what a lie is. (AACAP: Children and Lying) (Parenting.com: Why Kids Lie Age By Age)

I would also recommend that you think about getting some counseling. We all have wounds gained from our childhoods. It is good that you realize that you are an approval seeker; the first step toward healing from those wounds is being able to identify them. Being an approval seeker is not in itself an entirely bad thing, it is when your need for approval causes you to behave in ways that harm others and your relationships with others that it becomes a problem.

When I read your words, I hear anger there. You must understand that we often have much anger inside us, and that the anger often comes out against those who do not deserve the anger. This is not meant as a criticism against you, it is my desire that you hear your own anger and hurt and find a way to face it and maybe heal from it. Please find a counselor if you can afford it, and if not please find books written by people whose experiences and feelings resonate with your own. Often what they have written about their emotional journeys can help you with your own.


Links of the accepted answer may die, so I am posting the text of the links for future usage.

How to Avoid Raising a Praise Junkie

As a parent, I find it nearly impossible not to lavish praise on my kid. I mean, he does something kind, considerate, empathetic, helpful – and “you’re such a good boy/sweet boy/smart boy” just flies out of my mouth! I wrestle with “good job” on a daily basis. But there is more and more parenting wisdom that points us away from over-praising our children in hopes that they will have an easier time grappling with failure, perfectionism and the like. We reached out to Amy McCready, author and oft-featured parenting expert to give us some tips on how to cork our own over-praising tendencies and give our kids a solid sense of self-worth without needing to hear how great they are all the time. — Sam Kurtzman-Counter, Exec VP of TMC

By Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions

“I’m so proud of you!” “You are such a good boy!” “You’re so smart!” “You were awesome!” “You are such an amazing artist!”

Admit it, you have uttered statements like these to your child. It’s good parenting, right? You’re showing your approval and it makes your child feel good. When they feel better about themselves, they’re more confident and they’ll grow up to be independent, successful adults… or so the thinking goes.

Actually, while parents who praise their children have all the right intentions, the underlying result from the praise is a child who begins to need, crave and even depend on praise for their motivation, and the “praise junkie” habit is formed.

The praise junkie is a person (kid or grown up) who needs consistent affirmation from others to feel confident in his or her own ability or choices. Younger praise junkies may seek approval from parents and teachers. “Do you like my painting, Daddy?” “Was that a good shot?”

As kids get older, the praise junkie will turn to the peer group for approval, which is not what most parents hope for.

Praise junkie kids eventually become high maintenance employees -– needing ongoing awards, “at-a-boys” and recognition to affirm that he or she is doing a good job. Fortune 500 companies grapple with how to motivate praise-seeking employees. Ron Alsop, author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up,” says that “Millennials (born after 1980) seek loads of attention and guidance from employers. An annual or even semiannual evaluation isn’t enough. They want to know how they’re doing weekly, even daily.”

What can you do to avoid raising a praise junkie? Here are three key steps:

1. Shift the focus from external to internal motivation.

When your child says,”Do you like my painting, Mommy?” Respond with, “Well, it’s more important how YOU feel about it. What do YOU like about your painting?”

Instead of letting “I’m so proud of you” roll off your tongue, instead say, “You must be so proud of YOURSELF!”

It’s fine that they know you’re proud of them, but it’s more important that they be proud of themselves. We want to instill in them the internal pride and motivation to take on new challenges, to work hard and to make their own decisions even if it is counter to the pressure of the peer group.

It may feel awkward at first when parents say, “You must be proud of yourself,” but you’ll notice your child beam with pride – from the inside!

2. Focus on the process versus the “end product.”

Pay less attention to the end product -– the ‘A’ on the science test, the goal she scored, the “amazing” painting — and focus on the process it took to get that.

For example: Instead of saying, “Wow you got an ‘A’ in science!” -– say, “Wow, you must have put in a lot of hard work and study time.” (Again, it’s great to get A’s, but how will your son feel if he works like crazy, but brings home a ‘C’ in Spanish? Should he feel bad about that if he did his very best?)

Parents should focus on the process -– the hard work and perseverance, especially when things get tough. Encouraging those qualities can help all kids to feel good on the inside -– not dependent on others for approval.

3. Avoid Labels – positive or negative.

Most parents know that negative labels are discouraging to kids. However, to avoid raising praise junkies, parents should also avoid positive labels. Labels like smart, pretty and athletic are external labels that put unnecessary pressure on kids to always live up to those labels.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s Columbia University research on the impact of praise concluded that when kids were labeled as “smart,” they felt the pressure to protect their “smart” label. In her study, the children in the “smart” control group were less likely to take on challenging problems for fear they would compromise their “smart” label. On the flip side, students who were encouraged for their hard work were willing to take on more challenging tasks and even enjoyed trying to come up with new solutions.

It’s best to stay away from labels all together. When you’re tempted to use a label, think about the qualities or traits that make up that label and encourage that in your child. For example: “That’s what I call perseverance!”

Parents should also avoid the over-used “good boy” or “good girl.” Instead, focus on the specific behaviors that you value. “I really appreciate the way you offered to help without being asked. That made my job a lot easier.” Or, if the behavior wasn’t appropriate, talk specifically about that behavior instead of labeling the child as “bad” or “naughty.”

All parents want kids to be capable, confident and motivated. However, praising kids too much can have the opposite effect. A good rule for parents to live by is to treat praise like candy – a small amount is fine, but a steady diet can be toxic.

How I Learned to Stop Nagging My Kids and Start Motivating Them

The first thing I understood is that I should use praise/reward instead of criticism/punishment. The argument is that criticizing or punishing often kills a child's spirit and self esteem. If you focus instead on praise, you reinforce the child's self worth and since children inherently want to please their parents, this will make them want to behave instead of misbehave.

A couple of tips to handle situations that necessitate criticism/punishment:

Describe the Situation Instead of Fixing Blame

For example: Instead of screaming. "I told you to sit down while eating your dinner. Now, look what a mess you've made!", try saying "If we don't sit down when we eat, food falls everywhere and makes a mess." Stop at that and get your child in the habit of cleaning his/her mess. Wait to catch at least one instance when the child eats without making a mess, and show your appreciation. Rinse, repeat, until things turn around. Say Nothing

Children know when they've made a mistake. Instead of lecturing them, just take yourself out of the situation and let them work it out. Once they realize by themselves that they made a mistake and take ownership of it, they're less likely to repeat it. This may sound simple, but from my own experience, this is one of the hardest tips to follow! 10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Parent

Raising a child is full of surprises. No matter how many books, parenting forums, and Dr. Sears… Read more Express Your Feelings

Instead of lecturing, just express your feelings: "We need to leave now, otherwise mama will be late for work and get into trouble. And mama becomes sad if she gets into trouble." Amazingly, this works a lot better than criticizing my daughter as we try to get out the door in the mornings. Put Things in Perspective and Let Things Slide

There, I said it! For someone who is a bit of a control freak, even saying this out loud is pretty painful. Most of the time, I can't get myself to do this, but telling myself very often "She is just a five-year old," does seem to help. Slowly I got in the habit of avoiding criticism and waiting to catch my daughter in the act of doing something good, and then showering her with praise. Except, as I looked more into it, I began to read:

  1. Not all praise is created equal (i.e., there is a right way to praise and a not-so-effective way to praise).

  2. While it may result in good short terms gains, excessive praise may have some negative long term consequences.

Praising the Right Way

When I started to focus on the right way to praise, here's what I found out.

Make the Praise Descriptive Instead of Generic.

For example: Instead of a generic "good job!" say, "I like the way your shared the toy with your friend!" or "You did a good job cleaning up your toys today!" The equivalent of "good job" in adult terms is like saying "Let's meet downtown," whereas a descriptive praise is equivalent to saying, "Let's meet at the intersection of 2nd Street and Colorado Street."

10 Things to Stop Saying to Your Kids (and What to Say Instead)

Current research shows that some of the most commonly used and seemingly positive phrases we use… Read more

The latter is a whole lot more helpful, right? The logic behind this is that kids inherently need our attention. By telling them exactly what it is that they did right, we empower them with the knowledge of exactly what to repeat to get our attention again. Focus on the Effort Instead of the Outcome

When you have no clue what the masterpiece is that your toddler just handed you, instead of faking "That's so beautiful!" say, "Wow, it looks like you put a lot of thought in it, what do we have here?" or, "Wow, you used so many colors to make this picture so beautiful!" The logic is, by focusing on the effort instead of outcome, we can avoid raising praise junkies whose sole intention is to finish the project to get praised by us (instead of taking pride in their own effort and what they have accomplished).

Focus on Encouragement Instead of Judgement

For example: Instead of "I like that you cleaned up your room!" which could send the signal that "mommy likes me only when I am being good, "say, "You cleaned up all the toys! The room looks so clean and beautiful! Thank you!" The idea here is to focus on "You did it!" and then highlight the consequences and express your happiness about it. No, you don't have to break up all your responses in that way as long as the general message you send your children is that they did something right that resulted in good consequences. This helps the child develop a sense of internal evaluation, allowing them to take responsibility for their action and pride in their achievements.

Six Communication Tricks That Will Get Your Kids to Cooperate

As the parent of a preschooler, I often notice myself feeling frustrated and asking myself, “Why… Read more Raising Internally Motivated Kids Instead of Externally Motivated Ones

So that leads us to the holy grail of positive reinforcement: cultivating internally motivated kids instead of externally motivated ones.

Frankly, I'm a long way off from getting to this point. I hope this month's exercise in being positive, and specifically my focus on positive reinforcement, will help me get a little closer. I just want to put a few options on the table based on what I have read. Please note that this is not all from experience (yet!) and this is by no means a comprehensive list. (If you have a few additional tips, I would love to hear them—just drop a comment below!)

Acknowledge, but Do Not Explicitly Praise

It sounds so simple, yet, it's very hard to let your child know that you agree what she did was right without resorting to platitudes like "Good job!" or even descriptive praise like "I love that you cleaned your room." But, once a good parent-child bond is established, you can just stand by the door of the clean room and smile appreciatively or pat your child on the head to let them know that yes, you do agree with their internal assessment that what they did is right.

Ask Questions, Instead of Jumping in with Praise

While you work up to just a nod of the head, there are other options to let your child know that you've noticed without having to shower them with excessive praise. One of the suggestions by Dr. Alfie Kohn in the article Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!" is to just ask questions. In the example above, you could just describe what you see in the form of a question: "Did you do some magic in here? This place looks so clean and neat!" or, "Hey, it looks like put away all the toys back in their place! Did you figure out all by yourself what goes where?" and then let the kids describe with a beaming smile how they put away all the stuff and cleaned up the room. How to Manipulate Your Kids into Doing What You Want

In an ideal world, parents would always be patient and nurturing, and kids would always be… Read more

Say Thank You

As pointed out by Dionna in the article 7 Alternatives to Telling Your Child "Good Job!", many of the situations where we use "good job!" are situations that make our life easier. Why not come out and say it? In the example above, "Thank you for cleaning up your room. Now, that's one less thing I have to worry about when the guests arrive!" will convey a heck of a lot more than "good job!"

No we have the whole positive reinforcement spectrum—and here's a handy-dandy illustration of it:

How I Learned to Stop Nagging My Kids and Start Motivating Them

For me, going from nagging/criticism to whatever it is I need to be doing to get her to want to sit down and enjoy a meal in peace has not been easy. As far as I am concerned, my goal is to stay out of pink/red and make progress towards the green/blue. Babysteps, remember?

Where on the positive reinforcement spectrum are you? (It's normal to be all over the place, even within the course of a single day, as we react differently to different situations. Just think of one time period–ex. this morning from breakfast to lunch—and try to figure out what you did the most: punish, criticize, bribe, reward, praise, encourage, or work towards an increased level of internal motivation?) What is the one thing you need to stop doing when you interact with your kids to start moving towards the right of the spectrum?

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