10 Strategies to Avoid Raising a Narcissist
Too much of the wrong attention, and too little of the right attention, can create a child that feels entitled, steps over other’s people’s feelings, needs to constantly be rescued, expects different rules than everyone else, and in spite of everything you give, still seems to be dissatisfied and unhappy. I’m describing a Narcissist, or what eventually becomes during adulthood, a Narcissistic Personality.
You know these guys (and gals). They make you feel small, incompetent, and unimportant. They may start out by placing you on a pedestal, but you will inevitably fall from grace and be on the outside of their “inner circle.”
Narcissists actually have a very shaky sense of self that is incomplete. They feel small, unimportant, incompetent, unhappy, unloved (and unlovable), and disconnected.
They cover all of that up with a persona that seems to be more important, more worthy, more intelligent, more capable, more more more!
It’s a façade, and a Narcissist will go to great lengths to protect that façade so you never see the small person underneath. They don’t want to feel that small person either.
How is a Narcissist Developed?
There are two ways you can create a Narcissist:
- Ignore your child, emotionally neglect him, leave him alone a lot, and be very permissive about his activities.
- The other way is to hover, rescue, cater to his every whim, demand different rules for him, avoid normal consequences for bad behavior, praise when undeserved, and tell him he’s better than everyone else.
Top 10 Strategies
Here’s my top ten strategies to help you avoid creating a Narcissist.
#1 Teach appreciation and gratitude for what is received.
It is a given that as a parent you will give a lot to your children. Absolutely. And you don’t expect them to show extreme gratitude for every act of service or love. That wouldn’t be possible.
Still, it is important that children learn to appreciate what they are given and to show gratitude for what they have. A child who knows and appreciates that her parents work hard to give her what she needs is a happier child. She feels this as love, and the internal message is that she is worthy of that love.
To show appreciation for the things that she receives helps her to connect, to be empathetic, and to have feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
If your child is in a constant state of “gimme,” then it’s time to pull back the reigns and point out the need for appreciation for what she already has and is given.
#2 Embrace mistakes and focus on repairing them.
Striving for perfection, accomplishment, or achievement are worthy pursuits, but being a total perfectionist that feels shame when mistakes are made is not healthy.
Show your kids that mistakes and failure are part of life, and then teach them how to make use of them.
Learning from mistakes is what’s important. A child who can accept that he has made a mistake or error, and can work towards correcting it, or learn the right lesson from it and go on, is on the road to becoming a well-rounded individual who can navigate life’s problems without beating himself up relentlessly.
#3 Allow your kids to feel the consequences of their actions.
Don’t rescue her every time she is unhappy, or something goes wrong, or she creates a situation that has negative consequences.
If you are a parent that goes running into school to get your child’s teacher to give her extra credit because she currently has a D due to not turning in homework, or finishing projects or studying, then you are not helping her. A better method would be to monitor her daily and enforce doing homework, finishing assignments, and studying until she shows she will do it on her own. When she handles it independently, you can let up.
By interceding with her teacher and giving her a way out, you are telling her the rules don’t apply to her and she can have special favors. Let her face her teacher and talk to her about where she is, and what she can do to improve, and then you can help to facilitate that.
#4 Reward with real praise and positive regard rather than with things.
We all buy our kids things, or reward them sometimes for accomplishments. That’s not a problem overall, and it’s one of the joys of parenthood.
It’s the parent that buys their child something as a reward for most every behavior, that creates a lifelong pattern that is problematic. Those kids will respond to any request with “What are you going to give me for it?”
Kids should participate in family chores, take care of themselves and their responsibilities, and behave with consideration for others. These are simply general rules of conduct and should not be rewarded with stuff.
Praising your child’s actions when deserved is great and necessary. It allows him to feel good about himself and encourages more of the same behavior.
Getting too many gifts or underserved accolades is bribery, and he will expect it.
#5 Give your time and attention.
There really is no substitute for spending warm, quality time with a child. Attentiveness and time spent are equated with caring and love. It is your love and real concern that a child will internalize, and that will ultimately give her a sense of worth, security, and compassion towards herself and others.
#6 Teach true regard for others’ feelings.
Use every opportunity that arises on a daily basis for helping your child learn to empathize with others.
It can be as simple as wondering out loud how someone else feels at the moment, or going over a scene in a TV show, or reading stories with lessons about empathy, or sometimes directly pointing out how it might feel to be in the other person’s shoes in a real situation.
Equally important is your capacity to show empathy to your child and to others, and to model that.
#7 Have a "no tolerance" policy for aggression and cruelty to any being, including animals.
You should never allow aggression. Teach assertiveness instead.
Under no circumstances should cruelty be permitted. It’s normal for kids to be cruel as they develop, especially among peers.
That does not mean it should go under the radar and be dismissed. Work with it. Point it out and strongly drive home the message of empathy.
It is particularly important not to let kids taunt pets and make a sport of it. I see this all too often, and parents brush it off. Bad idea. Correct it immediately and talk about what it feels like to be helpless and abused by someone bigger and stronger than you.
#8 Encourage achievement along side of humility.
It’s always a good idea to encourage your child to do his best. And to that end, teaching him to push himself within reason to achieve is also to his benefit. Nothing in life comes without self-motivation and discipline. “Be the best you can be” would be the motto here.
At the same time, encourage your kids to feel good about their achievements without feeling better than others. This is the humility side of it.
You know when you have accomplished something, or are very competent in some area, but you don’t use that to one-up the other guy. You maintain some humility along with self-assuredness.
#9 Insist on face-to-face interactions over technology communication.
We live in an electronic world, and texting, email and social media make keeping in contact easy. There’s nothing wrong with that. It has great value. The problem is when electronic communication supplants face-to-face interaction.
Research has shown that the majority of communication takes place through body language. Without being in front of the other person we’re communicating with, we miss a whole lot of the total interaction.
When you are face-to-face, it’s much harder to be inauthentic and get away with it. Social media allows kids to create personas before they’ve finished developing their personalities emotionally and psychologically. You end up with a lot of interaction based on falsehood. Worse, social media in particular is a haven for creating narcissistic personalities that are deceptive.
Rule of thumb is that there should be far more face-to-face interaction than electronic interaction, and everyone needs to have skills in speaking directly with someone while making eye contact. This type of interaction builds our tools of perception while also keeping us more honest.
#10 Make a real connection.
This is the most important item on the list.
Above all else, make and keep an ongoing, positive, and abiding connection with your child based on love, authenticity, and real concern.
Positive emotional connection is the basis for all of the other skills I’ve mentioned, and its existence and strength makes them all possible.
A real connection is something that is felt by both people involved, and it endures when not together. A child who is truly and positively connected to a parent will be able to soothe herself in the physical absence of her parent, remember what and how her parent would react to what she’s doing and feeling, and feel secure in her parent’s love at all times.
When that love and connection are there, the need to create a persona to make up for a lack of love and security is unnecessary.
Now it's time for your thoughts and ideas. What do you think about this subject, and do you have any experiences that can help other parents with it?