Does Excessive Adoration Lead to Narcissism in Children?

boy in superhero outfitParticipation trophies, praising children for no apparent reason, and encouraging every child to feel special are relatively new developments in parenting culture, and most of us have heard members of older generations decry this parenting style. It turns out that debates about how much adoration children should receive constitute more than a generational divide, though. Children whose parents “overvalue” them are more likely to develop narcissism, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Perils of Overvaluing Children

The study—which co-author Brad Bushman says encouraged him to change his own parenting style—recruited 565 Dutch children and their parents. Child participants ranged in age from 7 to 11. Each parent completed a psychological survey every six months over the two-year duration of the study. The surveys asked parents to indicate how strongly they agreed with statements comparing their children to others. For example, a parent might be asked whether his or her child is a good example for others.

Researchers also explored how warmly parents behaved toward their children. Parents answered surveys asking them to indicate whether they took specific steps to make their children feel loved. Children completed similar surveys, indicating whether they agreed or disagreed with statements about their parents’ expressions of warmth and love.

Researchers then evaluated children’s self-esteem and narcissistic tendencies. Children with high self-esteem believed they were as good and deserving as others. Children with narcissistic tendencies, on the other hand, felt they were better and more special than others. Parents who ranked their children as “more special than other children” or who believed their children deserved more out of life than others had children who scored higher on narcissism measures. Children whose parents were warm and loving were more likely to have high self-esteem, but not narcissistic tendencies.

Researchers believe that parents may tell their children how special they are in an attempt to boost their self-esteem. But children believe what their parents tell them. When parents emphasize that a child is better or more deserving, the child may grow to believe it.

How Much Adoration of Children Is Too Much?

Avoiding excessive adoration doesn’t mean you have to give up praising your child or working to nurture his or her self-esteem. Instead, the study’s authors believe the key is to praise children without making them feel superior to others. This sense of superiority, they say, is what seems to lead to narcissism.

A simple change in parenting style can work wonders. Instead of telling your child he’s the best, smartest, or best-looking, try praising him for his actions and efforts. Compliment your child for working hard to help a friend, for committing extra time to her science project, or for diligently practicing piano. Previous research suggests that praising children for their efforts rather than their results or innate traits encourages them to work harder and be more persistent.

References:

  1. Avoid ‘overvaluing’ your child to prevent narcissism. (2015, March 11). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290687.php
  2. Collins, N. (2013, February 12). Praise children’s effort, not their intelligence. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9862693/Praise-childrens-effort-not-their-intelligence.html

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  • zane

    zane

    March 11th, 2015 at 1:45 PM

    I cherish my kids just as much as the next guy but I have never bought into the thing that they should feel great about everything that they do, or think that they are wonderful in everything that they try. Life is all about learning about what you are good at and the things that you aren’t and then deciding whether they are worth enough to you to try to improve ant the things that you could always do better. It shouldn’t be about thinking that the whole universe revolves around you.

  • Matthew

    Matthew

    March 12th, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    As an only child my parents did this to me and I had to learn very hard lessons apart from them that I was not the end all and be all.

    I had to get torn down a few notches in college before I could really understand that.

    While I love my parents and I understand that as their only child they thought that they were doing right by me, kids need to know that they are not always “it” and that that is alright.

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    March 13th, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    While raising my children I always stressed the belief that no one is better than another; especially when it comes to social status and the existential/philosophical aspects of life. I also believe that pumping a child up too much can lead to dissapontment and fear of failure which can lead to depression and low self esteem. Life is hard enough without adding to it.

  • Lisa N.

    Lisa N.

    March 13th, 2015 at 3:18 PM

    As an outstanding childcare business owner I have always stood my ground with physiologists, Ofsted and parents that children need to think for themselves in an environment that teaches then right from wrong and allowing them to learn by their mistakes. I do praise children for good listening, sharing, turn taking, having empathy and acknowkedgment for themselves and others, respecting individual choices, beliefs and values. But at no time should any child or adult think that they are more worthy or superior to any other respectful individual.

  • Jubie

    Jubie

    March 14th, 2015 at 7:13 AM

    Yeah, so, what if we DID receive NO praise while we grew up and made the mistake of expressing our appreciation for our child “too much” so that they became narcisistic adults????
    It is great to know all you are perfect. But what if we are not?
    Is there anything that can be done to help the child who seeks praise (by the way, another article stated that children who have been abandoned by their father will continue to seek father approval throughout their lives, so identifying cause and effect is harder than these articles make it seem)?

  • Cindy

    Cindy

    March 14th, 2015 at 3:55 PM

    I am sorry if you feel threatened. No one is perfect! Parenting does not come with instructions. Is it praise the child wants or simply attention? Hard to say. All we can do is our best:)

  • Jubie

    Jubie

    March 14th, 2015 at 7:15 AM

    I should add that my child, perhaps, is not narcicistic in that s/he does not perceive him or herself as superior to others except on a few skills. On the contrary, feels inadequate absent constant praise.

  • Jubie

    Jubie

    March 14th, 2015 at 7:15 PM

    I didn’t feel threatened. Interesting conclusion though. I felt frustrated. I am a believer in systems theory. In other words, I do not think it is any one thing; the all-powerful parental praise, or biology, or what one eats etc. It is all of the above. I just thought it was interesting that people jumped on this article touting their abilities. If only it were those singular things, we might understand what makes people tick. It is not as easy as all that.

  • Marilyn S.

    Marilyn S.

    March 16th, 2015 at 11:00 PM

    I have one grandchild 4 years old. She will be the only one and she is the “MIRACLE CHILD”. SO I know there is danger of treating her as too precious and special. An example of what I try to: in recent weeks my visits w/ her include her building w/ magna tiles (translucent plastic). I must say I am impressed by how she is becoming expert at using them and more and more inventive. Instead of saying “Oh, that is so beautiful” which I do say sometimes.
    Or “you are so inventive” I try to really note what she is doing differently– things like “Oh, today I see you are building on the floor and leaving the top open so
    you can look down inside.” Or “I see you used every
    tile. That took some effort.” Her balking at putting tiles away seems to have ended. Maybe I helped by saying “Look at that–you can put the all the tiles back in the box and close the lid. That’s not easy, I have tried it”. I don’t know if that motivated her, but it feels good to me and I think to her to take notice of what she does.

    That took some doing.” Or

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