Raise your hand if you were told by a parent or guardian that you were special as a child. It’s common praise given to us as kids, but when said too often or without merit, the result could lead to a narcissistic child. But what does the path to narcissism truly look like, and what parental behaviours impact the outcome? We spoke to Mary Zamil, B.A Hons. Psyc., MA., RP (Qualifying) at Psychotherapist at Positive Kids, and Kathleen Crowe, Autism Therapist for Southeast Region Autism Services, to gain a better understanding of how narcissism in children develops and how parents can navigate the complexities of raising kids in the modern age. Because in a world where technology and social media reigns supreme, parents are often met with an added layer of stress as children become well-equipped to be the star of their own show.
Understand how and where narcissistic personality disorder begins
Be mindful of your behaviour and actions around children
Know the difference between good and bad praise
Know what phrases to avoid saying to a child
Help children understand that perfection doesn’t exist
“When parents refer to their children as a product of perfection, they enable their child to internalize that belief and consequently, this idea of entitlement influences their beliefs, feelings and behaviour as a whole,” explains Zamil. Parents should also focus on what a child excels at versus the illusion of perfection that implies they are good at absolutely everything.
“We need to celebrate every child’s unique and individual strengths. Not every child is athletic, good in math, or artistic. They each have their own abilities, and it is OK not to be good at everything. Helping a child find their passion and running with it will do wonders for their self-esteem and help them understand that we all have strengths and weaknesses. Often you can use their strengths to help with areas that they struggle with.” says Crowe.
Scale back their use of social media
“Children who are raised with parents who lack unconditional love, warmth, affection and appreciation towards their child are also seen as contributing factors to the development of narcissists. These children seek admiration from others by eliciting an image that others would portray as an exaggerated sense of pride in achievements, talents and self-importance, the belief of superiority and envy of others, leading them to carry themselves with arrogance, being boastful and pompous,” says Zamil.
That said, the hard work begins with parents and their understanding of the impacts social media could have on their children. “It is of critical importance to recognize the influential factors and how they are set on the basis of societal expectations, parents expectations and other external factors such as social media that filters a certain set of personifications that embed the ideology of having one way of becoming accepted, successful and embraced.”
Learn to exercise empathy
This is based on emphasizing self-awareness and learning how to become aware of other people’s feelings other than their own ego. Children with narcissistic personality disorder may exhibit aggression and the unwillingness to forgive due to the nature of not having yet developed the capacity to process emotions due to cognitive dysfunction in the frontal cortex, which is responsible for, processing emotions, reasoning, control of drives and emotional behaviour.”
Allow children to learn from their own experiences
Develop coping strategies
Taking these actions could benefit parents a great deal when it comes to disciplining their children.
Provide unconditional love and support
“Narcissistic children have trouble with being able to process emotions and taking responsibility for their actions. Parents can be supportive by refraining from blaming their children for their behaviour. Instead, try providing them with guidance, affection and unconditional love by acknowledging their feelings — but not accepting impulsive behaviour. Children need to know that even if they make mistakes, they will still be loved and accepted by their parents. Children will take risks without the fear of being rejected, abandoned or judged, instead redirected, encouraged and guided in the right direction in life.”