Skip to main content

Being a parent is no easy task, and even the most well-intentioned parents can end up making major mistakes that their children ultimately end up paying for. And while no one sets out to raise a narcissistic child, unfortunately, it does happen, more often than most would like to admit.

As a growing body of research continues to emerge, researchers are beginning to shed more light on childhood narcissism and its causes. In one paper published in Behavioral Science, researchers explain that symptoms of narcissism can be spotted in children as early as eight years of age. For parents who are keen on understanding this topic more deeply, Nurturing Narcissism: Recognizing Pitfalls and Raising Emotionally Healthy Children is an insightful book on the matter.

For many, when we encounter a young narcissist, our first thought is “How did this happen?” And while there are a number of factors, the vast majority of the cause behind this toxic shift is based on how the children are raised. Here are 8 things parents do that encourage narcissism.

1. They “overvalue” their kids.

Let me be clear, the research isn’t saying that it’s a bad thing to love or cherish your child. However, what it does show is that when you teach your children early on that they are superior to everyone else, and deserve special treatment, you are setting a precedent that will not help them in life. Researchers who followed nearly 600 children around ages 7-11 discovered that children who believed they were more special than other children had higher rates of narcissism.

2. The lack of warmth.

From the time children are born, they look to their parents for love and affection. When they are met with a cold and callous attitude from their parents, their development becomes compromised. Such emotional neglect is heavily tied to narcissism. The Warmth Factor: The Role of Affection in Child Development delves into the crucial role of warmth and its effects on children.

3. They over-indulge their kids.

We all want to give our kids whatever they want to make them happy and fulfilled, however, when it comes to their well-being, sometimes it’s best not to. Children who are indulged and given their every desire grow up believing they are entitled to whatever they want, which can eventually grow into the extreme entitlement that is associated with narcissism.

4. They don’t delay gratification.

If you want to put your child on the fast track towards narcissism, give them praise and accolades for things they do not deserve or earn. When children learn early on that they don’t have to work or earn anything, and are given praise just for existing, they learn that they are entitled to such. If you’re interested in teaching your child the value of delayed gratification, The Marshmallow Test: Understanding Self-Control and How To Master It” provides techniques and strategies for parents.

5. They don’t have boundaries.

Children need boundaries. Really, everyone needs boundaries, but boundaries begin early on. When your child never hears the word no, they never learn to accept the fact that sometimes, you simply don’t get what you want.

6. They don’t encourage emotional management.

Characteristics of a narcissistic child include aggression and poor emotional management. As parents, it is our job to guide our children through their emotions and teach them how to manage them in a healthy way. Without this structure, children begin to vent their feelings through aggression and in other unhealthy ways. Emotions in Check: Guiding Your Child Through Their Feelings offers comprehensive strategies for parents aiming to teach their children emotional regulation.

7. They mistake happiness for goodness.

While we all may want our children to be happy, sometimes it simply isn’t possible. There is no way to make your child happy all the time, and the focus should be on goodness rather than their happiness. When happiness is prioritized over goodness, you are encouraging very deceptive and selfish traits in your child.

8. They mistake wants for needs.

Kids haven’t developed enough to understand the difference between what they want and what they need. A 5-year-old may ask for a smartphone, but do they need it? It’s our job to navigate between the two and discern what is needed and what could prove problematic. Going even further, delayed gratification (making them wait) helps them to learn valuable traits like resilience and a growth mindset.