How to raise a child with self-confidence, but not a narcissist

How to raise a child with self-confidence, but not a narcissist
How to raise a child with self-confidence, but not a narcissist

Praise and encouragement are the most enjoyable part of a relationship, there's hardly any argument about that. In our daily contacts with many people, it often happens that we praise or hear good words about something we have done. When it comes to parenting and praise, they are not two mutually exclusive concepts, on the contrary.

In raising children, encouragement is a key point and it should be present in their upbringing. However, what can become a developmental problem for a child is when excessive praise affects self-esteem to the point of being labeled as narcissistic.

Every parent dreams of their child having self-confidence, self-love, self-esteem and respect, as we know very well that this is the way he will establish himself as an independent person.However, when can our desire to build self-esteem and self-confidence in a child go beyond limits and turn into serious narcissism? And how can we feel if we are making a mistake with frequent praise?

University of Amsterdam researcher Eddie Brummelman studies the complex relationship between praise and narcissism – and what it actually takes to build he althy self-esteem in children.

Here's what Dr. Brummelman says.

What are the most interesting insights your research provides?

When I started studying narcissism, I thought it was almost like self-esteem, and that narcissists were people with very high self-esteem. One of the most important things my research shows is that narcissism and self-esteem are very different. While self-esteem contributes to mental he alth (e.g., by reducing anxiety and depression, helping to establish he althy relationships, etc.)n.), narcissism can harm mental he alth from an early age.

How is narcissism different from self-esteem?

In the psychoanalytic literature of the 1970s, narcissism was often defined as inflated, exaggerated, excessive self-esteem: self-esteem on steroids. But if you take a closer look, narcissism revolves around the idea that you are superior to other people, and that others are placed below you. Relationships tend to be competitive and a zero-sum game - there can only be one winner and that's me. Self-esteem, on the other hand, revolves around the idea of ​​being valuable as a person and not necessarily feeling superior to others. In fact, you see others as equals. Relationships are horizontal and it's not a zero-sum game - we can both get what we want.

Is narcissism a character trait we are born with or is it acquired through socialization? How much of it is natural and how much is nurtured?

Narcissism, like any other personality trait, has a genetic component. At preschool age, children who are prone to further narcissism are active, want to be the center of attention, are emotionally unstable, become angry or sad when they don't get what they want.

But whenever we say that something has a genetic component, we automatically assume that it is made and created, cemented. This is a misunderstanding. Narcissism is shaped by the experiences of communication. Our research shows that children develop more narcissistic traits when they are overvalued by their parents-when their parents see them as unique and special beings who deserve special treatment.

Overvaluing parents tend to overestimate, exaggerate and overpraise their children's abilities, and pressure children to be different from others. Over time, in such an environment, children may conclude that they are indeed better and that they deserve more than others.

As narcissists grow older, they tend to embrace competition more than cooperation, which enables them to excel, to be praised and respected by others.

How can you tell when a child is self-confident and not a narcissist?

Narcissism first appears around age 7. This is the time when children acquire the ability to make large-scale self-evaluations through social comparisons. If you ask a young child to describe themselves, they usually say: “I'm a good brother/sister” or “I play soccer very well.” These are specific self-evaluations in which social comparison is absent. Narcissism is a general self-evaluation that includes social comparison: “I am better than others.”

Some children are very confident and their self-evaluations can be unrealistically positive, but the key characteristic of narcissism is this belief that you are better and more deserving than others.When a kid says "I'm such a good artist and I can play soccer so well" doesn't mean it's a narcissistic thing. But when a child believes in their own superiority and says things like "I'm so much more special than others" and "Others get the reward I actually deserve," it can be narcissistic.

There is a hidden theory in Western society that we need a dose of narcissism to be successful. The basic idea is that if we don't assert our superiority and if we don't take what we think we deserve, other people will take our place. It's an empowering belief that could actually be harmful.

If you think you are superior to others, you are more likely to put others down and respond defensively or even aggressively when you receive criticism Narcissism limits you from objectively evaluating criticism and taking learn from this criticism in order to develop your personality.

What is the proper way to praise?

Try to reward behavior rather than character. Otherwise, children may get the impression that what they do and how they do it (for example at school) changes your opinion of their character.

You want to praise them for something they can really control and change within themselves. Let's say, for example, that a child gets a really, really high grade. It's much more effective to say, "That's really great because I know you're studying very hard" because that way kids can associate success with the process and the work they've done. I also tell parents to try not to over-encourage because you can unconsciously set very high standards that are difficult to meet on a daily basis.

I think it's always good to be aware of the undeniable messages we send to our child; even well-intentioned compliments could contain messages you don't intend to convey.On the other hand, keep in mind that things can always change, personality is not set in stone. Even when children are older, there are many experiences that can limit or enhance certain character traits.

What advice would you give parents to raise children with he althy self-esteem and help them develop?

Perhaps the most important thing is to realize that we can be warm and loving to our children and raise their self-esteem without putting the child on a pedestal. You can spend time with the child, make him feel that you appreciate his company, play games together that are based on reciprocity, touch, hug, caress. These are the things that will make them feel that you value them as a person and that you value your relationship with them without having to tell them, "I think you're special and impressive and way better than your classmates, and you deserve special treatment.”

If you know your child has narcissistic tendencies, don't panic, it's common The important thing is to recognize the beliefs that lie beneath the narcissistic image. Try to find out - does your child really like it? Isn't his image more fragile? Think about the messages you or the environment around you are sending to the child and whether they complement those beliefs. Talk about the values ​​that are important in life and therefore how people are inherently equal and how no one deserves special treatment.

Interview excerpts translated from

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