How to avoid raising narcissistic kids

Excessive praise shown to make children score high on narcissistic qualities.

Andrea Alfano, writing for Scientific American, reports on the first longitudinal study in children that supports the theory that parents with unrealistically positive views of their kids foster narcissistic qualities:

Over the course of 18 months, 565 kids aged seven through 11 took multiple surveys designed to measure self-esteem, narcissism and their parents’ warmth, answering questions about how much they identify with statements such as “kids like me deserve something extra.” The parents filled out reciprocal surveys about their approach to child rearing.

In a March issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, the Dutch researchers report that children of excessively praising parents were more likely to score high on narcissistic qualities but not on self-esteem. They also found that lack of parental warmth showed no such link to narcissism.

The correlation shows that positive feedback should be tied to good behavior in a child rather than piled on indiscriminately, says psychologist Luke Hyde of the University of Michigan, who did not participate in the work. A 2008 meta-analysis of 85 studies showed that narcissism is on the rise in young adults in the West, which could stem in part from a cultural emphasis on praise, with the goal of boosting high self-esteem, notes Eddie Brummelman, lead author of the PNAS paper. “It might be well intended,” he adds, “but it actually backfires.”

This is interesting but not surprising.

It’s so easy to praise everything our kids do. I hate the thought of hurting my two girls’ feelings, but if I praise everything, I am effectively praising nothing.

It’s a balancing act.

And it is different for each child at each developmental stage.

The praise I give to my three year-old for a drawing she shows me is — and should be — different to the praise I give my six year-old. Praise has to be realistic and proportional.

I’m very much still figuring this out, but I know I don’t want to raise narcissistic children, and so this report is a good reminder to praise wisely.

Us for them

Same-sex couples now welcome to have mundane and unfulfilling marriages