This Parenting Trait Produces Narcissism in Children!

In the last few weeks, I discussed praise and some of the negative effects it can have on a child. There was one thing that I forgot to mention… Narcissism.

We all have a general idea of what it is and how a narcissistic individual impacts those around them. Maybe you have experienced a narcissist, or have heard stories from friends or family, but it is clear that they can be more than a bit unpleasant.

What is Narcissism?

“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” (source)

Narcissism can be a genetic trait, but, more often than not, it is developed overtime in relation to a specific parenting style.

Researchers wanted to know what parenting styles were more likely to create a narcissistic personality, so they surveyed 565 children ages 7 to 11. They also interviewed their parents (415 mothers and 290 fathers).

Their results showed that parents who praise their children excessively, tell them they are superior to others, and deserve special treatment are more likely to raise a narcissistic child, who may grow up to be a narcissistic adult. This is especially true for children between the ages of 7 and 11.

Researchers stated in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

“When children are seen by their parents as being more special and more entitled than other children, they may internalize the view that they are superior individuals, a view that is at the core of narcissism. But when children are treated by their parents with affection and appreciation, they may internalize the view that they are valuable individuals, a view that is at the core of self-esteem.”

Which kids were more likely to be narcissistic as time went by? Parental overvaluation was the largest predictor of a child’s narcissism over time, but interestingly, it did not predict self-esteem. In other words, telling kids how exceptional they are doesn’t produce kids with good healthy self-esteem – it just makes them more narcissistic.

Encouraging Children and Not Narcissism

It is important to show affection, but not teach your children that they have your affection because they are better than everyone else. It is also important to remember that narcissism may develop because of a child’s need to protect an insecurity they may feel about themselves.

There are ways to help a child feel good about themselves without encouraging narcissistic tendencies. Here are some tips!

  • Teach children to connect not impress. Make sure to tell your child you love spending time with them because you love them, not because of what they can do. They will mimic this in future relationships.Repeatedly telling them how unique and special they are plays into their tendency to crave and hog the limelight, as well as their anxiety and resentment when they’re not the star.

    On the other hand, genuine warmth—telling and showing children “You are special to me” rather than “You are special!”—can help them develop a sense of deep acceptance that underlies genuine self-esteem. The greatest compliment a parent can give a child is, “I enjoyed your company!”

  • Teach Empathy. Children need to understand that their actions can hurt another person. By teaching your child to be aware of other’s emotions or feelings, you are giving them social skills that will stay with them into adulthood.Children need help learning to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings and responding in caring ways. We can talk about feelings as they come up as we are reading books or in real life. I like to do this in stores we are shopping. We can encourage empathy and recognize kindness and teamwork. We can even let them experience the quiet thrill of doing an anonymous act of kindness!
  • Encourage friendships. It is important to allow your children to build friendships. Friends will tell them the truth and teach them that they do not need to be perfect to be liked. It is also a good learning situation for teaching your child how their actions affect others. I believe we have a tendency to try to protect our kids from other kids because we think they will be exposed to ‘bad’ influences. Guess what? The world is full of bad influences but we need to support their efforts to connect with peers. Let them interact with their peers on a real level (in playgroups, the park, the library, etc).
  • Be gentle. At their root, most children, and especially narcissistic children, are sensitive. Discipline is important, but do it with respect and care. Remind them that it is okay to make mistakes, but it is important to apologize. They know they did something wrong. Teach them how to make it right. I try to show this by apologizing to my children for the mistakes I make. Many parents don’t apologize to their children when they are in the wrong because they believe they lose their power when they do so. I like to challenge parents against this by reminding them that our kids take their cues from us, the parents. When we apologize to our children or to other people, we give them the blueprint and license to do the same.