3 Toxic Parenting Situations That Turn Kids Into Narcissists

Are you making these parenting mistakes?

toddler girl with crown on head Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock

When talking about a narcissistic person, we most likely think of adults. Narcissists have an inflated sense of their self-importance and need admiration from others.

But to truly understand where narcissistic personality disorder comes from, we have to look at childhood development.

Children are most susceptible to influences on their personality because they are just developing a personality. And who are we surrounded by the most when we are kids? Our parents! Good or bad, the way our parents treat their children affects that child's personality in adulthood. Our parents! Good or bad, the way our parents treat their children affects that child's personality in adulthood. 


So how do people become narcissists in childhood?

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Elinor Greenberg, Psychologist, Author, Lecturer, and Consultant on Narcissistic Disorders explains that certain parent-child relationships in early childhood can cause narcissistic personality disorder in adulthood. She shared three scenarios that dive deep into why someone could have the disorder and explain how they translate into adulthood.

Read on to find out what goes wrong in early childhood development that could cause narcissistic personality disorder. There are three common childhood scenarios that I hear about frequently from my narcissistic clients.


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Here are 3 toxic parenting situations that turn kids into narcissists:

1. Parental values

In this situation, the child is raised in a family that is very competitive and only rewards high achievement. The family motto was: if you can’t be the best, why bother?

Love was conditional: when you came in first in the race, won the science fair, or starred in the school show, you were showered with praise and attention. When you didn’t, you were a disappointment.


Children in these families do not feel stably loved. It is hard for them to enjoy anything for its own sake if it does not confer status. They only feel secure and worthwhile when they are successful and recognized as the “best.” This sets in motion a lifelong pattern of chasing success and confusing it with happiness.

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2. Devaluing narcissistic parent

In this scenario, there is a very domineering and devaluing parent who is always putting down the child. The parent is generally irritable, easily angered, and has unrealistically high expectations.

If there are two or more children, the parent will praise one and devalue the others. The “good one” can quickly become the “bad one” and suddenly a different sibling is elevated. Nobody in the family feels secure and everyone spends their time trying to pacify the explosive narcissistic parent.


The other parent is often treated exactly like the children and belittled as well. When he or she disagrees with the narcissistic parent, they too are devalued.

Children who grow up in these households feel humiliated and inadequate. In later life, they often try to prove to themselves, the world, and the devaluing parent that they are special and their parent was wrong. Proving they are special becomes a lifelong mission, while underneath there is always a harsh inner voice criticizing their every mistake — no matter how minor.

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3. "The golden child”

These parents are usually closet narcissists who are uncomfortable in the spotlight. Instead, they brag about their extremely talented child. Often the child is talented and deserves praise, but these parents sometimes take it to ridiculous lengths.


Occasionally the child becomes embarrassed by the excessive praise and feels burdened by this role. As one such mother told me: “My son is the flagship of the family who will lead us all to greatness.”

Punchline: The commonest childhood routes to developing narcissistic personality traits involve a focus on winning at all costs, the continual threat of devaluation, or parents who put you on a pedestal and insist you stay there.

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Shelby Henderson is a freelance writer, editor, and reporter for Bolivar Herald-Free Press.