Do you smother your child with so much love and affection and tell him he is absolutely the cutest thing in the world? Rein it in a bit, because you might accidentally raise a narcissist.
What Is a Narcissist?
As parents, we think the world of our children. We believe they are the most wonderful creatures on the planet, and if we had our way, we want them to feel special every single moment.
And for the most part, thinking highly of our children is a good thing. After all, we should be their first cheerleaders and supporters. However, too much of something is always bad. If we overdo all the praise and affirmation, we might fall into the trap of raising children that are too entitled, or worse, are narcissists.
Mayo Clinic defines a narcissistic personality disorder as a mental health condition in which people have an unreasonably high sense of their own importance. Narcissists are people who think too highly of themselves that they crave too much attention and want people to admire them. They may lack the ability to understand or care about the feelings of others.
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Traits of a Narcissist
According to a previous article, How To Spot A Narcissist In The Family And 8 Ways To Deal With Them the following are common narcissist behaviour:
- They have a superiority complex or feel that they are better than everybody else.
- They have the urge to control everything.
- They often blame other people for their loss or their mistakes.
- They lack empathy and rarely think of other people’s feelings.
- They are afraid of being rejected.
- They have a strong desire for everything to be perfect – that events should happen exactly as expected, and life should play out precisely as they envision it.
No parent wants their children to become stiff, cold-hearted narcissists. However, it’s not as if narcissists were raised by parents who wanted their children to end up that way.
So, how do you avoid falling into the trap of raising a narcissist?
The Makings of a Narcissist
It is a common belief that narcissists come from dysfunctional families where they have not been given enough attention or affirmation, leading to having an inflated sense of self. And in part, this is true.
Children who have been rejected, neglected and overly criticised can grow up to be someone who has developed a grandiose self to compensate for feeling inferior in childhood. They feel that they always need to achieve or at least have the illusion of being an achiever for them to be accepted.
But on the contrary, not all narcissists are raised by absent or criticising parents. It can be the other way around.
Yes, doting on your child too much can lead them to have an inflated sense of sense as well. If you make your child feel that they are the most important person on the planet and deserve to be treated as such, then something will be wrong in how they view the world.
Here are mistakes overly-involved parents make that may be responsible for a child to have narcissistic tendencies:
- Using hyperbolic comments to praise your child; “You’re the smartest!” “You’re the most beautiful!”
- Overreacting when your child fails; “That’s not fair! You should have won the contest!”
- Shielding your child from rejection. For example, you help them with their homework to make sure they get good grades so they will not be sad.
- You keep them from getting bored to the point that you initiate activities for them to always feel good and entertained.
- Giving them the impression that losing is a disaster rather than just a normal consequence of actively participating.
- Making excuses for your child’s behaviour; “Raymond kicked his classmate because he was tired.” “She is not used to sharing her toys.”
- You spend little time explaining empathy to your child.
Again, no parent wants to raise a narcissistic child because these children can have trouble having friends and building healthy relationships.
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How Not to Raise a Narcissist
So, what can you do to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of raising a narcissist? You can start by trying the following tips:
- Reward the effort and downplay winning or failure. While it’s fine to celebrate when your child wins, remind them that it’s not about winning but participating. Normalise failing and trying again.
- Make it a point to teach them about empathy and why it’s important to put themselves in another person’s shoes.
- There’s nothing wrong with complimenting your child, but avoid exaggerated comments like, “You’re the smartest kid in the world,” or “You’re the best dancer/speller/singer.”
- Teach your child that boredom, disappointment and frustration are part of life. It’s okay to feel bored, defeated or frustrated. But they must work to process their feelings and find a healthy way to respond to them.
- Give them time alone to develop autonomy and independence. Let them struggle and find their way to a solution. Don’t control everything for them.
- Let your child spend time with their peers, to help them develop empathy.
- Limit your child’s screen time to minimise unhealthy influences that promote aggression or perfectionism.
- Finally, be a good role model. Pursue your own interests outside of being a parent. Show your child how you are pursuing a passion and how you respond to failures and challenges.
Psychology Today, Mayo Clinic