Learn the warning signs of raising narcissistic children as well as tips on how to avoid a self-centric generation.
“Look at me—I’m unique!” said one of the kids’ picture books, whose topic is all about liking oneself.
This normally wouldn’t catch my attention, except I started to wonder whether extreme praise can lead to narcissism.
Now, building self-worth isn’t the same as promoting narcissism, nor should we raise kids to be “people pleasers.” They should be reminded how one-of-a-kind they are in this world, and the special talents only they can deliver. We also want to boost their confidence, especially from a fragile self-esteem.
But sometimes, our intentions can go overboard, to the point that they have a difficult time thinking of others.
So, what are some of the problems with raising narcissistic people?
- A sense of entitlement. They believe that they have a right to everything.
- Lack of empathy. Narcissists can find it hard to develop strong friendships because of an inability to see how others feel.
- Inflated confidence and ego. Confidence is good, but not without humility.
- No accountability. Thinking too highly of oneself can prevent them from assessing their fault in a problem.
- Reacting to feedback in a negative way. Rather than acknowledging where they can improve, they feel emotions like rage, anxiety, or even shame because of their mistakes.
3 signs you’re raising narcissistic children
Now that we know the dangers of having narcissistic tendencies, what are a few symptoms that you might be unaware of? After all, we’re trying to strike a balance of promoting confidence and compassion, assertiveness and vulnerability.
Take a look at these three warning signs and, most importantly, how to course-correct:
Sign 1: Telling kids they’re special all the time
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Every parent thinks her child is the most amazing person in the world, and that’s all right. Why? Because it’s the truth: from our point of view, our kids truly are special.
The problem is when we teach them to expect the rest of the world to feel the same about them. Psychology professors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, authors of The Narcissism Epidemic, write:
“Many of today’s parents… seek to raise children high in self-admiration and self-esteem, partially because books and articles have touted its importance. Unfortunately, much of what parents think raise self-esteem—such as telling a kid he’s special and giving him what he wants—actually leads to narcissism.”
Think about parents who try to raise the next future genius or prodigy, or sports teams that award every player with trophies for joining the team.
Every parent should think that her child is amazing, because she really is. But stick to moderation when telling her how special they are. Heard too often, she may assume she’s the exception to the rule and that the entire world sees her brilliance.
Instead, she should feel special among loved ones without assuming she’s superior to everyone else.
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Sign 2: Giving kids too much choice
Another good intention gone wrong is giving kids too many choices.
We offer choices to empower them in a world where they can feel small, but giving them too much say puts them in a position they’re too young to hold.
Some parents have even gone as far as involving their children in adult-oriented decision-making. Things like the type of car their family should next buy, or choosing dinner every night (“Grilled cheese sandwiches again!”).
And don’t give a choice when there isn’t one. If you have to take him to the store, don’t ask, “Do you want to go to the grocery?” Instead, simply say, “We’re going to the grocery.” Don’t feel like you always need to offer choices as a way to involve him in the family.
The best tactic for offering choices? Stick to feasible ones. He may not have a choice on how long he can use a tablet, but he can choose which apps or games he’d like to play.
Sign 3: Praising your kids too much
We want to promote positive behavior and self-esteem with praise, hoping our kids continue those actions throughout childhood.
But this tendency to praise too much can leave them incapable of accepting or working on feedback. Should a teacher or coach offer constructive criticism, they might feel attacked or brush their advice aside. This can even affect how they take negative feedback in adulthood.
Kids who hear too much praise can also rely on other people’s attention to feel good about themselves. They should feel good regardless of whether someone is there to tell them.
You don’t have to shower your child with special treatment, calling every brushstroke a work of art out of guilt that she’ll stop painting if you don’t. It’s really okay to reserve praise for when it’s deserved. Your job isn’t to make her feel happy 24/7 or regard her as the golden child.
What can you do instead? An effective exercise, according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, is to discuss the hardest obstacles of the day. This scenario focuses more on your child’s effort and resilience, not only on perfection or achievements.
Point out not only when she succeeds, but on how she overcame her mistakes and setbacks as well. Praise effort, not inherent characteristics (“You tried hard” vs “You’re so smart”). And choose descriptive praise (“You kept pedaling your bike!”), not evaluative (“You’re so good at riding your bike!”).
I had done this exercise with my then-four-year-old and asked, “What was something hard you did at school today?”
“Stringing,” he replied, before continuing, “But I was able to do it after a while.”
We can take a cue from the days when parents shushed kids from showing off and didn’t pressure them to stand out from the crowd. Our kids are special, but not at the cost of bad relationships, entitlement, and narcissistic traits.
This doesn’t mean they’re destined to have low self-esteem or that they should put themselves last all the time, either. So, how can we balance nurturing confidence and self-love with humility and understanding for others?
Don’t feel like you have to tell your child she’s special all the time—this can make her think that the rest of the world thinks the same of her. There are plenty of other ways to show your unconditional love. Avoid giving her too many choices, and instead stick to feasible, age-appropriate ones.
And lastly, reserve your praise for when it’s well-deserved. Even then, focus on her effort and resilience, not on supposedly innate and natural talents.
As important as it is for kids to love themselves, this shouldn’t come at the price of thinking they’re above everyone else. Yes, they are unique, but the ability to relate to others and find what’s special about them is just as admirable.
Get more tips:
- How to Stop Kids from Talking Back to You
- How to Teach Gratitude to Children
- The Downsides of Having Too Many Toys
- How to Raise a Kind Child
- The Biggest Reason Parents Should Stand Their Ground
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