Is your child a budding narcissist?
Recent statistic: The number of college students labeled as “problematic narcissists,” according to Harper's magazine, has risen 60 percent since 1982. The thought that one of our little angels — who might be labeled just “bratty” today — could, one day, be labeled a narcissist sends shivers down the spine of every loving parent.
Narcissism is defined as the excessive love of oneself: vanity, smugness, self-centeredness. You might wonder, “Don't we want our children to love themselves?”
Of course, but not when narcissism overtakes appropriate self-esteem. It is normal to be absorbed with oneself as an infant, but self-absorption in an older child or young adult is unhealthy — and obnoxious for those who have to suffer the behavior.
What's a parent to do?
• Stop false or overreaching praise. Most young children do not have the ability to decipher the subtle meanings behind what you tell them about themselves. So, if you tell a young child that she is the most beautiful little girl in the world, she will believe that everyone in the world thinks so. What you mean is, “You are the most beautiful little girl in the world — to me.” The same unrealistic promise comes with every trophy your child receives just for showing up at soccer and doing what is expected (translation: “Wow. I am a great player.”). Your child should be praised for real achievements, balanced with your support (“You put such great effort into playing soccer. It makes me proud.”). Excessive, unearned praise is not supportive or helpful to living in the real world.
• Don't cave into every whim. Too often, parents believe that if they cater to their child's every urge, their child will love them even more. The truth is, this will only teach your child the narcissistic belief that his every desire should (and will) be met; unfortunately for him, the rest of the world does not feel obligated to meet your child's whims.
• Say “No.” If you can't say “No” just say “Yes” less frequently. It's hard to say, “No” to those big, brown eyes you love, but when your child crosses a boundary (i.e.: hits you, talks back, whines for ice cream after you told her to stop whining, is otherwise disrespectful), this is the time to hold your ground. Tell your child the correct behavior you want her to exhibit and use the word “No” when appro-priate.
• Balance with love. According to a recent Huffington Post report, there is also strong evidence that a child raised without the love and support every child needs can become narcissist to compensate. I am confident your children are well-loved, but not every child is. Be supportive of other children when you can be, and, perhaps more importantly, teach your children to be supportive of others, as well.