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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

Targeting Narcissism in Children

“I don't care what you think unless it is about me.” ― Kurt Cobain

“Kids these days are so entitled!” is something I’ve heard countless people say and I sometimes tend to agree. The issue is not that kids are entitled and believe they are better than everyone else. The issue is parents, family members, and other adults lead children to believe this to be true!

Special Snowflake Syndrome: The belief that one is a proverbial “unique and special snowflake”. Symptoms include inflated self-importance and an unfailing sense of entitlement. Those with exposure to excessive coddling in childhood are at especially high risk.

What we are talking about this week is different than Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) which is diagnosable and requires treatment. However, if children are overvalued and overindulged they may grow up to have NPD so let’s talk about how to prevent this from happening.

A recent article by the Washington Post titled “7 ways to nip narcissism in the bud” and another article from the New York Post titled “How not to raise a narcissist in 9 easy steps” can be summarized with the following tips:

1. Find a balance between ignoring/brushing off mistakes and over criticizing mistakes. Recognize your child’s failures and flaws and use them as teachable moments, emphasizing you still love them regardless.

2. Be specific with the praise you give. For example, instead of saying, “Good job,” you could say, “You did a great job cleaning your room today.”

3. Avoid using “always” or “never”. Point out present things your child has done well. For example, “You did a great job cheering on your team today.”

4. Find a balance with how much praise you give. Giving too much praise can create expectations for praise and a child may begin to seek praise even for minor things. On the other hand, not enough praise can hurt your child’s self-esteem.

5. Give praise for things deserving praise. No one needs told good job every 5 minutes. Give praise especially for the things requiring hard work and dedication. For example, praising the math grade that improved from a C to a B is more worthy of praise than the A+ your child easily gets in reading each semester.

6. Teach the golden rule. Treat others how you want to be treated. This will help ground your child and put them on the same level as everyone else.

7. Teach them how to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. This will help your child to develop empathy and compassion for others when seeing a situation through someone else’s eyes rather than their own.

8. Tell your child NO!

9. Teach your child manners to use towards everyone they meet as well as appropriate social skills.

10. Let your child learn to manage frustration and feelings of sadness. Not every team can get first place and therefore not everyone should get the same trophy or blue ribbon.

11. Teach your child that life is not fair and not everyone has equal things. Kids do not have to get a present just because it is their sibling’s birthday!

12. Model kindness in front of your child. If you yell at the waiter or cashier, so will they!

13. Travel to normalize everyone is different and comes from different circumstances whether it is race, culture, gender, or socioeconomic status. These differences do not make any one person better than another.

14. You can love your child and still redirect them. I often tell my clients and their parents that we redirect kids because, “I love you too much to let you behave like that!”

15. Read to your child. A recent study found reading fiction to a child helped them develop empathy. Empathy for others means they’re not totally focused on themselves!

16. Have your child run errands with you. Not every activity in life revolves around entertaining and pleasing children. Let them see that some activities are a necessary part of life and life isn’t always so magical.

Yes, your child is special.

No, your child is not more special than any other child.

Yes, your child is the center of your universe.

No, your child is not the center of the universe.

Accepting these statements and teaching your children the above tips will help your child to become a caring, compassionate, and independent adult who cares about others as much as they care about themselves.

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