As parents, we want nothing more than to see our children grow up happy and successful.
But what if your child—who seems pretty stereotypical on the outside—is actually hiding an insidious condition?
One that could be holding them back from achieving their dreams, or negatively impacting other people’s lives?
1. What is a narcissist?
A narcissist is someone who has an excessive interest in themselves, often to the exclusion of the needs of others and sometimes at the expense of the welfare of those same people.
They may also have fantasies about attaining great power, success or ideal love.
The word "narcissism" is rooted in the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water.
2. Signs of narcissism in children:
A classic symptom would be an over-exaggerated sense of self - the child's "specialness" is more apparent than real.
Children with narcissistic tendencies might insist on being the centre of attention at all times, or always have to be right, or want everything they see - regardless of whether it is theirs to have or not.
They can also be argumentative and easily negatively affected by the needs of others, especially if they are in direct opposition with their own wants and desires.
A child who is a narcissist may also lack empathy, which means that they are unable to recognize the feelings and needs of others.
As a result, they can be demanding of their parents' attention without considering how it might make the parent feel.
They also tend to be very good at "manipulating" people in order to get what they want and could easily result in them lying or breaking rules to serve themselves.
3. How to know if your child is a narcissist?
If you are concerned about narcissistic tendencies in your own child, here are some questions for you to think about:
- Are your kids unable to take criticism?
- Are your children overly-sensitive when other people don't share their opinion or follow their instructions?
- Do they exaggerate their abilities and achievements?
- Are they obsessed with "popularity," status and image?
If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, there is a chance that your child might be a narcissist or at least, displaying narcissistic leanings.
It's important to remember, however, that every child goes through an "I am the center of the world"-phase in order to try out new skills like walking or talking.
This is both normal and healthy - parents need to guide children when they start hurting others (or themselves) with their demands or aggressive behaviour or acting without considering how other people feel.
If you are concerned about possible signs of narcissism in your child, talk to someone who can help you, perhaps a teacher or therapist.
4. What to do about it when you realise your child might be a narcissist?
If you discover that your child has narcissistic tendencies, the best thing to do is to help them develop empathy for others.
While empathy cannot be forced, it's something that parents play a big role in developing because they spend so much time with their child/children and teach them how to behave towards each other.
Parents need to show them what "good" behaviour looks like by sharing positive examples of kindness and consideration for other people, and by encouraging those same behaviours in their own children.
It also helps if parents try not to criticise or punish children who are regularly expressing narcissistic traits such as selfishness, argumentativeness or a lack of empathy.
This can be a bit of a challenge for parents who are trying to help their child develop important social skills, however, it's important to remember that criticism or punishment will make a child feel shame and could have the opposite outcome.
Children also need to see that the consequences of their behaviour affect other people in a negative way in order to begin to develop a sense of empathy.
Generally speaking, parents can help by being loving and patient with children who have narcissistic tendencies because these children may likely struggle with rejection.
5. How can I prevent my child from becoming a narcissist?
By the time children grow into teenagers, they have developed their own personalities and parents should encourage autonomy which, in turn, helps kids practice empathy.
Teens should be encouraged to make their own choices about things such as their clothing or their choices of hobbies or activities to participate in - even if those choices don't match up with what others think is best for them.
The aim is to continue to teach your teen that there are consequences for bad decisions, but it also allows them to feel powerful because they are given options to try out new things on their own.
Parents who are involved but give their children space to grow, create environments where teens are able to learn responsibility without feeling ashamed or incompetent.
6. How can I help my child who already shows signs of narcissism?
Parents should try to remember that children are still learning how to behave appropriately in the world and their behaviour is an expression of what they've seen at home, at school, on TV, etc. (their influences can be both many and varied).
The best thing parents can do when there's evidence that their child might be suffering from narcissistic tendencies is to look at themselves for answers.
Hard as it is, parents need to ask themselves whether or not they are modelling negative or positive behaviours; are they being loving, respectful and kind towards others or are they overly critical, demanding or selfish?
If your answer is "yes" to any of these questions, you may want to consider some form of therapy to understand and work on some of these negative traits, so that these are not unintentionally passed onto your own children.
Other tips for supporting kids with narcissistic tendencies:
- Set limits and boundaries with empathy; if you set too many or harsh limits, your child will feel shame and reject these limits, which exacerbate the problem. Keep in mind that because children who suffer from narcissistic tendencies often struggle with rejection, they may initially resist any attempt to help them develop empathy and good social skills. Still, it's important to try not to get angry when you're dealing with a child with this disorder because that can lead to power struggles. Remember, your goal is to help them learn positive behaviour without making them feel bad about themselves!
- Don't give in when kids say "no" all the time; all children will test their parents' limits and sometimes to the extreme but children who are narcissistic often will say "no" just because it makes them feel powerful. They're more likely than other children to see limits as challenges as opposed to just that: LIMITS. When parents fully accept these, they risk enabling their child's narcissism which means the problem could get worse over time. Healthy limits establish trust between children and their parents but if you give in all the time, your child won't learn that there are consequences for negative choices. It might seem like common sense advice, but think about how many times you've given into your own kids' demands when you know deep down—or even at the moment!—that taking away a toy or forcing them to do something might be the best choice.
- Avoid power struggles; Set firm limits with empathy and encourage your child's independence. When you give in every time a child says "no" or resists a limit, it forces them into a position of power which can actually reinforce their narcissistic tendencies. When children feel like they've won these battles, they're less likely to cooperate because research shows that narcissism becomes even stronger when people get what they want all the time!
- Encourage empathy for others by sharing books about feelings or how other people might feel in certain situations; If kids don't show concern for others' feelings, parents need to try different teaching approaches until they find one that works—which means kids may need to try more than one method too.
7. What can parents and schools do to help prevent future generations from becoming narcissists?
Parents and schools should aim to create nurturing environments where children feel loved and appreciated for who they are, whilst learning the importance of empathising with others and working together.
This means we need to stop praising children solely for their achievements or how smart they are.
Parents should encourage children's passions, interests and individuality rather than focusing on things that will produce an external reward later on such as getting into a prestigious college or being [the best] at everything you do.
If we want our teens to grow up without a "What's in it for me?"- mentality, we need them to understand what it feels like to love something simply for the sake of loving it... because when they get to college, they won't find much time to do what they want.
They'll be busy working hard towards their future careers and their own well-being.
Finally, parents need to lead by example and set boundaries.
For example, if your child throws a temper tantrum in public because they don't want to share their toys with their friend, show them how to apologise and make amends (even if the other child has lost interest in the process).
This will teach them empathy for others + how to take responsibility for upsetting people (a technique that could come in handy throughout their lifetime)!
Parents need to learn how to say "no" without making their child/children feel bad about themselves. If they are given too many choices, they will often refuse because it is a way for them to have power over the situation and ultimately, over their parents.
Sometimes this is just testing limits but if you give in every time, your child may never learn that there are consequences for negative behaviours or actions—and this could affect them in the long-term.
Healthy limits establish trust between parents and children but it's important to remember that your child needs to learn how to accept "no" for an answer so they can become less narcissistic adults!
How do you handle saying "NO" without making you or your child feel bad?
Leave us a comment below!