Narcissism or the excessive interest in oneself, self-centeredness, or grandiosity is running rampant in today’s society. Statistics are showing a steady climb in rates of narcissism with rates in the 2000’s being far higher than rates in the 80’s and 90’s. Increases in plastic surgery, materialism (focus on fame, money, and fortune), a decrease in committed relationships, and even strange and unique child’s names showcase this ever growing epidemic. At the core of narcissism is a feeling of being superior to others. Therefore, narcissists often have unstable relationships, are prone to conflict and in some cases exhibit rage and aggression as they are struggle to value others in way they do themselves. The costs of narcissism on a personal and societal level can be vast therefore combating this ever growing epidemic at the start with children can have widespread impact.
Narcissistic traits don’t develop overnight; they often sprout out of the interactions children have with the adults in their lives (caregivers, teachers, etc) and exposure to the culture at large. Given the increase in reality TV, social media, and the emphasis on fame, fortune and achievement attention to caregiver interactions is that much more important to avoid these distressing characteristics in your child. With that in mind here are some of the ways parents can help their children develop a healthy view of themselves in which they view themselves as lovable, worthy and important rather than superior and self-interested.
One primary interaction that may be sending an inadvertent message of superiority is the way in which we praise our children. Praising your child for their achievements in small doses is okay, however constantly praising your children for the outcomes of their actions (ex: You did awesome scoring the winning point) sends the message that they are valuable when they are winning or on top. Additionally, praise that involves comparison to others for example “You are the best on your team” or more subtly “You are the most beautiful girl ever” in high doses can teach your child to view themselves as superior.
Every caring parent wants to make sure their child feels special and important. And they are! However, today more and more there is an emphasis on giving children a false sense of achievement and accomplishment without this being the reality. Yes, I’m referring to the “Everyone gets a trophy” epidemic. The intentions behind this behavior are good, however the outcome of this epidemic may in fact not be so good. Overvaluing our children teaches them they are deserving of notoriety even when they did not win or achieve. It creates a faulty expectation from the world that when childhood is over the world may not provide. So in place of the trophy, praise your child’s efforts, normalize not winning and discuss ways to improve next time.
Lastly, in our ever so competitive society children are constantly getting the message that they are only good enough WHEN they are winning or “the best”. This emphasis on achievement, fame or “image” is like receiving a wrapped gift with nothing inside. As teens and adults this evolves into conditional self-acceptance and feelings of unworthiness and incompetency when not on top (because who can be on top ALWAYS?!) which often underpin narcissism. Instead as a society and as parents, the emphasis should be on compassion over achievement. Modeling care for others through volunteering, simple kind acts, and the way you speak to and of others in front of your kids is vital. Additionally, noticing and valuing your child when they are showing this compassion can help combat all of the above and help children grow into adults who place others needs on an equal plain as their own.
Don’t let the narcissism bug infect your family! Use these simple tips at the get go to get your children loving themselves and others in ways that are lasting and enduring. Remember the key to “success” does not lie in winning or being the best, rather it lies in the character.
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