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My younger daughter is a people pleaser. She always wants everyone else to be happy, often to her and her older sister's emotional detriment. She lets people take advantage of her generosity, buying things for other kids who can afford to buy their own, offering to give away expensive toys to near-strangers, and letting people monopolize her time doing everything they want to do and never having time to do the things she likes.

How do I teach her how to balance her good instincts to want to help others and make people happy while accounting for her own needs and feelings?

  • How old is her? – David Jul 11 at 13:44
  • @David going into 5th grade (US) in the fall, 10.5 years. – dissemin8or Jul 11 at 15:00
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Disclaimer: I do have personal experience with a people-pleaser, but not as a parent.

Christine Carter writes in Why It Doesn’t Pay to be a People-Pleaser (Greater Good Magazine, 2016):

I’ve spent the better part of my life as a people-pleaser, trying to meet other people’s expectations, trying to keep everyone happy and liking me. But when we are trying to please others, we are usually out of sync with our own wants and needs. It’s not that it’s bad to be thinking of others. It’s that pleasing others is not the same as helping others.

This is one of several arguments that may help you teach her, why people-pleasing is not good:

  • Helping doesn't equal pleasing. She can very well help others without pleasing them (maybe even infuriate them instead), while she can please them to their own detriment.
  • Such friends are not her real friends
  • It's too one-sided a relationship and she needs to also take care of her own needs (and it seems that her sister is also suffering from it)

This may help her understand why it's not good. Actually, she may already know (some of) it. That's why you need to dig a little deeper. Her people-pleasing, although it may seem as if she didn't benefit from it, is a way to fulfill some need. You need to find out what it is, what the reason for her people-pleasing is, so you can treat the disease, not just the symptom. She doesn't just need to understand why it's not good, she needs a way out and the necessary tools.

You may observe her and her interactions with others, and her sister could possibly also share experiences. Have a conversation with her in which you mostly listen and let her tell you about why she does it. That means she needs an environment in which she can open up and trust you.

One reason why she is a people-pleaser may be low self-confidence. Perhaps, she feels that she can only find friends if she "buys" them and not in any other way. Then, you'd need to work on her confidence.

Perhaps, she looks for friends in the wrong circles, in which case you should help her meet other people and find new (actual) friends. You wrote that they don't do what she wants, so their interests do not align. This is a good way to search for new friends for your daughter - children with the same interests.

If she actually believes that she helps these "friends" and wants to help people, find ways for her to actually help people. Maybe she can volunteer - look for opportunities for children of her age.

In short, find out why she is a people-pleaser first. Then help her find healthy ways to find and keep friends.

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I think you concern is legitimate and you should definitely have a conversation with your daughter on this topic (I think she's already old enough to understand the situation). I cannot talk from my own experience here, but a friend of time often talks about how, when she was younger, suffered from the consequences of being "too agreeable". . The main problem that she had (and your child may have in the future) is that the type of friendships that this attitudes help to maintain are the most toxic friendships.

First things first, we should still point out the positives in your child's attitude. Caring about preserving your relationships is great, but only if those relationships are healthy and bring something to both/all parts. There is also nothing wrong in spending a lot of time doing what different people like. That's a great source of different experiences. Of course, this doesn't mean she shouldn't also pursue her own interests.

The money and gifts thing is, in my opinion, much more concerning. Her pears will get accustomed to getting free stuff and "manipulating" your daughter, and they will get mad at her the first day she denies them something. Ask her if she really wants to keep giving stuff in exchange for nothing all the time. You should have a sincere conversation and explain to her that the people that hang out with her only because she pays things for them will not be her friends for long after she stops with that (and probably have never been in the first place).

I think that this is the main approach you should take, because I think she will be able to understand it if you frame it this way. Unless you can convince her that these kids are not her true friends, I don't see how you could succeed. Also make sure you don't do more harm than good by either reaching the opposite extreme or sounding like you are imposing something on her (like, trying to separate her from her friends or anything like that). Simply let her know what you think about that. If she loves you and respects you, she will think about your words and, maybe not immediately, she will realize you are indeed right.

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