Family, Self

No, Praise Won't Make Your Kid A Narcissist, But THIS Sure Will!


Recently a number of articles made the rounds about a study of children who have narcissistic tendencies, with pieces from Fox News, NPR, and Washington Post, among others.

The titles of these articles are extremely misleading, suggesting that praising your child turns them into a little bratty, entitled narcissist.

No! No! No! ... not even close.

Moms and dads ... it's critically important to note that what the original study ACTUALLY said ... is that just praise alone isn't the problem; rather, parents need to avoid praise that compares the children to others and suggests they are superior in the comparison.

Praising our children isn't bad thing, it's praising them as we criticize others that's the problem! 

Narcissistic behavior in children is not just self-centeredness; it is also extreme selfishness and disregard for others. Narcissistic adults have trouble in relationships, are often uncompassionate parents, and are generally unenjoyable human beings.

Trust me, you don't want to raise narcissistic children!

So, here are a few tips to help you acknowledge and praise your children without turning them into nasty narcissists:

1. Don't compare your children to anyone ... EVER. Acknowledge your children for who they are, without comparing them to others. If they have done something wrong, say so, but don't say so in comparison to someone else (like a sibling, neighbor, classmate, etc).

Comparison is dangerous because there is always someone who can out perform your child in some area, so they feel endlessly doomed to failure. If your children stay focused on themselves (and achieving their own personal best) they'll succeed or falter on their own merits. 

2. Get to know your children. The actual cause of narcissistic personality disorder in adults is hard to pin down. There are some mental health professionals who believe narcissism stems from abuse, while others believe it comes from over-involved parents who project their own desires onto their children (i.e. dad wants an athlete whether the child wants the same or not). 

Either way, you can't go wrong by listening carefully to your children, understanding who they uniquely are, and acknowledging their distinct wants, thoughts, and feelings. You don't always have to agree with them, but you'll give them a great boost in life by really, truly letting their true self shine.

3. Focus on positive personality traits, not achievements. Your child's achievements are fleeting, but their kindness and good character (if nurtured) are likely to stick with them for life. Acknowledge when your child demonstrates dedication, a great work ethic, compassion, helpfulness, or is just a pleasant person in general.

It's OK to periodically praise your child's achievements, too, but limit the frequency and the intensity when you do so. Focusing on their effort, character and personal traits (versus their achievements) leads to more confident and less conceited children.

4. Don't be a Martyr Mama (or Father). Yes, you like to feel needed and important in your childrens' lives, but don't do EVERYTHING for them. I repeat—do NOT do this!

Letting your children think that your world revolves entirely around them leads to a sense of self-centeredness (and helplessness) in children. And they grow up expecting everyone else who "claims" to love them to also order their lives around meeting your child's every whim and wish. Show your children that you have a life of your own and have complete confidence in their ability to do things for themselves.

Not only is it miserable to neglect your own life and needs as a parent, it also sends a truly dreadful message to your children. Being a martyr for your kids doesn't lead to confident, happy children and it certainly won't make YOU happy.

Narcissistic characteristics are the worst! They're extremely unpleasant in children (as anyone around such a child will certainly tell you). Narcissistic personality disorder is also extremely complicated and difficult to treat in adults. Although there is no solid evidence as to the exact cause or cure for narcissism, there are a few things you can do to hedge your bets and help raise non-narcissistic children. You will be really glad that you did.

Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at You can reach her at