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Science Says Doing This One Thing Can Prevent Unhealthy Narcissism in Children

Sometimes, good intentions can lead to unpleasant outcomes.

Photo By Nathaniel Tetteh on Unsplash

Narcissism is on the rise today. Anyone with a smartphone and internet access can become a Social Media celebrity. If your friends’ friends Instagram dinner shots don’t annoy you, then you’ll probably be bothered by your child’s dinner selfies. Or the ones with your dog, his cousins and even neighbors.

A 2015 study on narcissism concluded that the culprit for the attention-seeking behavior in kids these days is their parents’ faulty way of providing emotional support. Researcher Eddie Brummelman teamed up with psychologist Brad Bushman at the University of Amsterdam to evaluate the development of narcissism in kids.

Together they followed a group of Dutch families with 565 kids from 7 to 11 for two years. Every six months, the researchers checked the way the parents praised their kids and how much this praise affected their self-esteem. The questionnaire had statements like My child is a great example for other children to follow and inquired the parents about the type of connection they had with their kids. For this survey, they used statements like I let know my child how much I love him/her.

The researchers then analyzed the participants for signs of narcissism. The conclusions were that showing love and warmth to the child leads to healthy self-esteem. On the other hand, praising the child doesn’t have the same positive outcomes. Brummelman and Bushman think that giving too much praise increases the need to feel special in the child.

Some parents in the group considered their kids to be so unique that they were above others in their classroom. After two years of evaluating the children’ self-esteem, Brummelman & team noticed increased levels of entitlement and narcissism. Praising the child puts a lot of pressure on him. He will need to rise up to the expectations of being better than others. When he fails to meet these expectations, his self-esteem will be bruised, therefore, unhealthy narcissism can develop.

People who are affected by Narcissistic Personality Disorder rely on a need to feel special. Dr. Craig Malkin reached this conclusion in his book ‘Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad-And Surprising Good- About Feeling Special’. The psychotherapist thinks that narcissistic people need others to feel special and get a constant supply of attention. That’s probably why their social media is filled with glamorous selfies.

In order for people to not turn into toxic narcissists, they need to become vulnerable with others and connect emotionally with them.

Malkin believes that kids can be helped to become more vulnerable by discouraging the need to compete with others. They can also be taught to handle their emotions.

For example, whenever your child gets upset, you should comfort him. This way the child grows up feeling safe and will not rely on others to feel good about himself. He will also learn that reaching out to others is a successful coping strategy for pain. That the world is a kind and nurturing place.

All in all, raising children with healthy self-esteem is not an easy task, but one thing is clear: instead of using praise for everything they do, hug them more often. They’ll thank you later.

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