The 1 Thing To Avoid If You Don't Want Narcissistic Kids

I've definitely done it. Have you?
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There’s a Bluey episode you might’ve seen where Muffin (a young dog) is told she’s ‘special’ by her dad. When Bluey and Bingo want to play libraries, Muffin thinks she doesn’t have to follow the rules and ends up ruining the game for everybody else.

When Muffin’s dad finds out about this, he ends up backtracking and telling his doggy daughter she isn’t actually special – and before long the tiny pup is playing along nicely with her peers again.

Using the ‘S’ word is something a lot of parents have done at one point or another. I’ve done it myself in the past. But unfortunately it turns out that vocalising such thoughts regularly is, well, probably not for the best.

Unless you want to raise a narcissist, that is.

Narcissists typically have a grandiose sense of self-importance and need for admiration, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They might also come across as entitled, can lack empathy and be willing to exploit others – not exactly the most positive character traits.

Family psychotherapist and young person’s mental health expert Fiona Yassin says: “When someone has a grandiose sense of self they truly believe they are entitled to and more deserving of special privileges and are often of the belief that others should recognise their special traits.”

People with high narcissistic traits can develop antisocial behaviours, adds the therapist, such as being unkind or cruel, trying to outdo or outperform others and rule-breaking, which could cause problems later in life. For example, ending up on the wrong side of the law.

The 1 thing parents do that can fuel narcissism

Yassin, who is founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, says one of the most common ways parents cultivate narcissism is by overindulging in their child. And research supports this.

“Overindulging in children can give them a false sense of confidence. Leading a child to believe they are more special, more powerful, more intelligent or wealthier than others can give them an elevated sense of self,” she explains.

The expert offers some problematic phrases parents might use that can lead to a child developing narcissistic traits, such as:

  • ‘You are more special than anyone else’

  • ‘I was nothing until I had you’

  • ‘I can’t live without you’

  • ‘I would rather die than not have you’

Messages like this can breed an unhealthy sense of self because children internalise them. “When a child hears that they are better or more deserving than others, it leads them to internalise the view that they are superior individuals and it becomes their reality. It is this view that is at the centre of narcissism,” says Yassin.

Chelsey Cole, a psychotherapist and author specialising in narcissistic abuse, agrees that overindulgence can play a part in fuelling narcissism.

She told USA Today: “Narcissism tends to develop in environments where there’s a mix of both overindulgence and under-indulgence.

“Typically, it’s an overindulgence in focusing on status, money, appearance, how things look to others or just to focus on external achievements, and there’s an under-indulgence in teaching kids about compassion and empathy, really developing their sense of self and their self-esteem and connection to others.”

It’s not always parenting that can influence whether someone grows up with these beliefs, however. Genetic factors can also play a role, as can growing up as a victim of trauma and abuse.

What can you do differently as a parent?

Nobody is saying you need to stop telling your child you love them, but thinking your child is better than others or pushing that message to them consistently can lead to narcissism, says Yassin.

The good news is that being narcissistic in childhood does not mean someone is destined to be narcissistic in adult life.

If you want to nip things in the bud now, here’s where to start:

1. Be aware of your own parenting style

Reflect on your own parenting style. Ask yourself: Do I come from a grandiose or narcissistic position? Do I recognise any narcissistic traits in myself?

Acknowledging your own experience and parenting style is a positive step towards changing behaviours.

2. Encourage activities that help others

Giving back to others in the community and having purpose can help children learn that the world is full of people who are equally as deserving as them. A simple way to do this is to collect used and no longer needed clothes/toys and take them to a charity shop or baby bank.

3. Help your child understand they are part of something bigger

A gentle and beautiful way to explain to young people that they are part of something much bigger is to use the example of planting trees. Explain the wider need for everyone to have oxygen and the role trees play in that.

4. Encourage sharing and respect for others

Sharing teaches children about compromise and fairness. It also helps them to learn that if they give a little to others, they can get some of what they want, too. It’s also important to encourage children to be respectful of others, for example taking turns to talk and speaking in appropriate tones.

5. Help children understand their actions impact others

Calmly explain to your child that their actions can really impact other people and that the relationships they have should be equal.

6. Encourage healthy leadership

Narcissistic children tend to dictate in games, at school and in the home. Encourage your child to take a healthy leadership role which is kind and considerate instead of dictatorial.

Joining groups such as Brownies, Guides, Scouts or signing up for the Duke of Edinburgh, are all great ways for young people to learn inclusive leadership skills, says Yassin.

7. Maintain a sense of realism

It can be difficult to tell whether a child is being extroverted or boastful. If you believe your child is boasting, or if you find they are exaggerating or not telling the truth, it’s really important to take them aside and gently correct the viewpoint they have of the world.

By keeping it real, parents are able to instil healthy confidence and excitement, and help to avoid their children developing problems later in life.

8. Consult a mental health professional

Rather than narcissistic children having increased self-worth and valuing themselves and others, they often have a high level of self-loathing and self-hatred, says Yassin.

So it’s really important that when a parent sees narcissistic behaviour in their child, they give them the opportunity to explore this with a mental health professional.