Are we raising narcissistic children? Learn the warning signs of raising narcissists as well as tips on how to avoid a self-centric generation.
“Look at me—I’m unique!” says one of my four-year-old’s books, whose topic is about liking oneself. I hadn’t thought anything negative about the book, but since I had just read a book about narcissism, I wondered, can too much praise and self-centric focus raise narcissistic children?
We have good intentions. We want our kids to have confidence and feel involved in the family, but sometimes our intentions may end up causing harm.
What are some of the problems with raising narcissistic children?
- Lack of strong and deep relationships
- Inflated confidence and ego
- No accountability
- Lack of empathy
- Reacting to criticism with anger or shame
Are we raising narcissistic children?
Check out the following signs you’re raising narcissistic children:
Sign 1: Telling kids they’re special all the time
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It’s fine for kids to know their parents consider them special. It’s true: we think our kids are the most amazing people ever, and that’s all right. It’s when we teach our kids to expect the rest of the world to feel the same about them that’s the problem.
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 new parents who try to raise the next future genius or prodigy. Or sports teams that award every team player with trophies for signing up and wearing a uniform.
It’s wonderful to think your children are amazing, because they really are. But stick to moderation when telling kids how special they are. Heard too often, they may assume they’re the exceptions to the rule and the entire world will agree.
Kids should feel like they’re special among loved ones without assuming they’re above everyone.
Sign 2: Giving kids too much choice
Another good intention gone wrong is giving kids too many choices.
We offer choices to children to empower them in a world where they can feel small. But giving them too much say can give them a role they’re too immature to hold.
Be mindful of the choices you give. Sure, ask them whether they want to wear the red or blue sweater, but don’t give them free reign to wear anything.
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!”).
My husband and I have even stopped asking my son, “Do you want to go to the grocery?” and now say, “We’re going to the grocery” (for those times when he has no choice but to go).
The best tactic for offering choices? Stick to feasible ones (color options for sweaters, but sweaters nonetheless). Don’t feel like you need to offer a ton of choices as a way to involve kids in the family.
Sign 3: Praising your kids too much
We want to promote positive behavior with praise, hoping our kids continue those actions. And certain praise can rouse them towards positive behavior and self-esteem.
But praising too much can leave kids incapable of accepting or working on criticism. Kids who hear too much praise can also rely on other people’s attention to feel good about themselves. And “cheerleader” parents feel obligated to shower kids with praise upon praise.
It’s really okay to tell your kids they’re not doing something right.
You don’t have to call every scribble a work of art for fear they’ll stop drawing because of one missed praise. You can keep your kids in line and check them when they become too obnoxious. They won’t be happy 24/7 and it’s not your job to make them feel that way.
An effective exercise, according to Standford psychologist Carol Dweck, is to sit around the dining table and discuss the hardest obstacles of the day. This focuses more on their effort and resilience, not on what they’re supposedly good at.
When kids realize they make mistakes and are vulnerable, they’ll have less over-inflated egos. Point out not only when they succeed but when they make mistakes (and learn from them) as well.
I ran this exercise with my four-year-old recently and asked, “What was something hard you did at school today?”
“Stringing,” he replied, before continuing, “But I did it.”
I praised him for trying and acknowledging it was hard. Even if he didn’t master stringing, I would’ve been just as proud of his effort.
Simple techniques to counter raising narcissistic children
- Teach empathy. If another child is crying, use that as an opportunity to ask your child, “He seems sad. Why do you think he feels sad?”
- Hold your kids accountable. Don’t “save” them from their actions, no matter how uncomfortable the consequences may be.
- Don’t promote entitlement. Our own kids are special to us, but they shouldn’t think the whole world has to agree. Or that they’re entitled to certain things over others.
- Offer realistic choices. Choices empower our kids, but left unchecked, can inflate their perceived powers and ego. Instead, give simple, realistic choices.
- Don’t praise too much. And praise effort, not inherent traits (“You tried hard” vs “You’re so smart”). Choose descriptive praise (“Look at you—you kept pedaling your bike!”), not evaluative (“You’re so good at riding your bike!”).
- Don’t treat your kids like they’re celebrities. Because they’re not. They’re kids who should be playing, not watching YouTube videos of themselves.
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 large egos.
Download my PDF, The Power of Empathy, and learn how to prevent power struggles and instead better connect with your kids, all by understanding their perspective. Join my newsletter and get it below—at no cost to you:
Get more tips:
- The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell
- How to Stop Kids from Talking Back to You
- How to Teach Gratitude to Children
- The Downsides of Having Too Many Toys
- The Biggest Reason Parents Should Stand Their Ground