Approval Dependency

How can parents go about effectively un-training their children from a dependency of approval? Once a child is in the habit of including external feedback into his or her activities in order to feel gratified, how can parents support the child in their play so that they can learn to feel gratified by their own thoughts of what they are doing? Also, is it OK for parents to let their child know that he or she is doing something well?

Dear Parent,

In one of my keynotes about praise, a mother protested, “But my child beams when I praise her. I understand the cost of praising, but I won’t take this joy away from her.” I told the woman that obviously she is free to parent in her own way. On the last day of the conference, I was exiting the restaurant when this same mother called me to her table.

She introduced me to her ten-year-old daughter. She told me that she passed on to her daughter what I said about praise and assured the child that she will keep praising her. To the mother’s surprise, the girl said, “No mom, don’t. She is right. Don’t praise me anymore.” Children can make the shift overnight. They are wise and open. They never wanted to do things to please us in the first place.

Not every child shifts as quickly as this girl did, but they are all eventually relieved when they don’t need to live up to expectations anymore. They say to themselves, “I can go back to enjoying myself for my own sake—wow!” For a young child, I suggest to simply stop dishing out the praise. If she asks, “Was I good?” put the power back in her lap with, “Did you enjoy doing it; do you like it?” If she insists on your feedback, you can say, “I love it because I love anything you do because I love you.” Or, you can offer an older child feedback rather than praise. Ask the child what she needs to know: “Would you like to know if your leg was straight in the air when you jumped?” or, “Do you want to know if the blue stands out in your painting?”

If the child is a bit older and verbal, you can actually share with her that you are working on freeing yourself from needing approval. Engage your child in supporting you on your path toward such freedom. She can point out when you seek approval. The best way to help the child is to help yourself. She is your mirror and will manifest your worldview. If she served your need, however, you can simply thank her and tell her how it made a difference for you. “You played quietly so I could sleep. Now I feel refreshed. Thank you.”

However, when she acts on her own behalf, the satisfaction comes from within and you can join her joy or her displeasure, but not cause it. Not saying anything is a great way to free her from dependency on approval. Just listen as she becomes her own source. There is no need to let a child know she did something well. She already knows. The whole idea is not to look outside for knowing if something is well done, and to be free of needing to always do things well. Freedom to try new things, and freedom to succeed comes with freedom to have things turn out however they do and stay confident. But, when children look for feedback, you can give it when they ask and respond to the specific request with specific information (not evaluation).

Give your child your love freely and your words of appreciation of who she is and how much you value her presence in your life, independent of anything she does. Unconditionally loved, a child won’t be seeking external approval. After all, she is already worthy simply for being herself.


Peace and joy,    Naomi Alodrt


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