Oct 23, 2018
by editorial team
We all know that child or adult: the one who thinks rules don’t apply to them, who throws loud public tantrums, insists on special treatment, and seems insensitive to everyone else’s feelings...
It’s normal for young children to be self-focused and have somewhat unrealistic positive views of themselves and their abilities. However, at around 7 years of age, children become able to compare themselves to others.
For some, this results in a drop in self-esteem. For others, it can mark the beginning of narcissistic behavior.
In recent years, we have seen a 70% increase in the number of students who score significantly higher on narcissism and significantly lower on empathy scales than they did in the 1980s. Of the adult population, 6% have a narcissistic personality disorder.
These numbers show no sign of declining in the future, so it is more important than ever for parents to understand how children become narcissistic, how to recognize the warning signs, as well as how to prevent narcissistic behavioral patterns from developing in the first place.
Narcissism is directly tied to one’s self-esteem.
The term refers to an inflated view of self and is often coupled with relative indifference towards others. It is more than just believing you are great at something; it’s about believing you are better and more important than your peers.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Amsterdam revealed that parental warmth (e.g. “My father/mother lets me know he/she loves me”) resulted in higher self-esteem six months later, but not greater narcissism.
On the other hand, parental overvaluation (“My child is more special than other children”) predicted greater narcissism six months later, but not higher self-esteem.
The study concluded that children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them (e.g. “I am entitled to special privileges” or “I am better than my peers”).
However, that does not mean that too much praise will turn a child into a narcissist, or that you should let them fail to “take them down a peg or two”. There’s plenty you can do to recognize narcissistic behavior early on and potentially help your child develop higher self-esteem without encouraging narcissistic behavior.
Here’s how to recognize narcissistic behavior in children:
Constant desire to be in the limelight. There’s nothing wrong with a little spotlight and some friendly competition, but narcissistic children often take this to an extreme and tend to lash out if they don’t get their way.
Caring more about admiration than genuine friendship. For narcissistic children, the desire to impress often surpasses the desire to connect with others in a genuine way.
Trouble putting themselves in other people’s shoes. Narcissistic children often have trouble understanding other people’s feelings and responding to them in a caring way.
Work on your own self-esteem. Narcissism is multi-generational: it gets passed down from parent to child. If you value and love yourself, and exhibit that in your daily life, you will have a better chance of teaching your child to do the same.
Avoid over-criticizing. Even if your child feigns indifference, your opinion matters to them. If you keep criticism to a minimum, they have a better chance at developing a healthy self-esteem. This may also help them avoid developing a “voice in their head” that tells them they are worthless unless they are better than others.
Avoid over-praising. If you over-praise your child because of their achievements, their self-esteem and value as a human being may become contingent on these achievements. Instead, consider praising your child simply for existing and show them that your love for them in completely unconditional.
Don’t assume anything. Before judging or lecturing, ask your child what they are thinking and feeling. Make sure to really listen to their side of the story. None of us are clairvoyant, and your child’s answers might give you an unexpected insight into their behavior.
Avoid competing with your child. Sometimes it can be difficult for us to accept that a child has surpassed us in a skill, and is ready to enter adulthood. At other times, it can feel downright threatening. No matter what you do, don’t try to compete with your child or sabotage them by adopting the same hobbies or trying to befriend their friends. Simply watch and applaud from the sidelines, and work on your own self-esteem in the meantime.
Tell the truth. Most of us have a way of “feeling” that somebody is not being honest with us, even if the truth never comes out. Vibes may speak louder than words, so be honest and open with your child, even if it’s difficult for you.
In essence, narcissism stems from disordered relationships.
While it might be tempting to “teach that child (or adult) a lesson,” it may not be helpful and can compromise your relationship further.
Keep in mind that narcissistic children and adults are by no means doomed or failed, throughout life. They still have the potential to grow and learn. Instead of trying to “take them down a peg or two,” focus on showering them with genuine warmth, teaching them empathy and valuing them because of who they are, not because of what they have accomplished.
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