We might also title this: “Four Things You Don’t Want to Do in Parenting.”
The term “narcissism” is thrown around quite a bit nowadays. It is often applied to someone who is very self-centered. Actually, narcissism is a rather rare mental disorder. A narcissist has an inflated sense of importance, lacks interest in other people, and is unable to feel sympathy or empathy.
However, narcissistic behavior is relatively common. For use in this blog, I’m describing a narcissist or narcissist-in-training as someone who acts like the world revolves around them and their needs. The disorder and behavior tend to be trans-generational. So a narcissist is often the child of a narcissistic parent. To use a Bible concept, the “sins of the parent” are sometimes passed on to the generations that follow.
So how does a parent raise a narcissist?
- Make your family and marriage child-centered.
Child-centered parenting happens when Mom and Dad plan, prepare, and do everything around the demands and desires of the child. Notice here I said “demands and desires.” Of course, it’s the parent’s responsibility to care for the needs of a child. But when the family unit suffers, or worse yet, a marriage suffers because Mom and Dad are running themselves ragged trying to keep little Johnny happy, that’s unbalanced and unhealthy.
It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to set boundaries and not do everything your child wants to do. Johnny doesn’t need to be in Karate, basketball, and CYT all at the same time.
When it comes to adult time with your spouse, it’s okay to tell him, “Mommy and Daddy are going to have some time alone together; you need to play by yourself or with your siblings for a bit.” Your child’s demands do not need to be your mandates.
- Tell your child how amazing they are, even when they aren’t.
Encouraging and building others up is good and godly. However, telling a child that they are gifted when they are quite average is not only a lie but potentially a set-up for an inflated ego.
Although narcissists are “in love with themselves,” it is more often the case that they are only in love with the idyllic image of themselves they wish was true. Deep down within the child, they know they are not perfect, and they can’t measure up to the false praise. So the result is actually crippling self-doubt coupled with extremely low self-esteem.
If you are truly going to build up your kid’s self-esteem by telling the child how special, amazing and gifted they are, then offer some solid foundations (i.e. facts) from which the child can function in truth.
When Johnny’s basketball team loses, and we say, “It’s okay, everybody is a winner!” we are actually building up his ego in a false way. Additionally, Johnny will never learn how to deal with disappointment and failure in a healthy and godly way if he isn’t encouraged to own failure.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12, “Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought.” Humility is holy. Arrogance and pride are not. It’s okay to be normal.
- Be so wrapped up in yourself that you only pay attention to your child when it suits your needs.
As mentioned, a narcissist is often the child of narcissistic parents. And narcissistic parents are often so wrapped up in themselves that they only pay attention to the child when it’s of personal benefit to do so. As a result, the child swings from very limited love and attention to the opposite, receiving love and attentiveness in abundance.
Remember, when it comes to parenting, more is caught than taught. For good or evil, we model for our children the behavior they will develop.
So, what does this feast and famine of parental attention teach a child? It teaches Johnny to manipulate others for his personal satisfaction.
The narcissist personality type often has a very big personality due to their superior (and often false) belief about themselves, and they can be very charismatic and charming at times. They use these traits to captivate others with the endgame of manipulating people for their own needs.
If your children have learned this behavior from you, it’s never too late to change and model repentance and growth.
- Ignore self-centered behavior in your child and blow it off as no big deal.
When Johnny fails, and he will, it’s your responsibility to discipline him in a consistent and constructive way. God put your children in your family because it’s supposed to be the best place for your children to grow in godliness.
At the core of our being is a sinful nature that is selfish rather than selfless. We don’t naturally drift to selflessness or sacrificial love. We must develop this behavior over time.
When Johnny puts himself at the center of his world, and it damages his relationship with you, his siblings, or others, it is your role to mold and shape his character. We must consistently correct self-centeredness and affirm selflessness. And this is best learned by your children as they see this way of life modeled by you.
I have no idea how or when someone crosses the line from narcissistic behavior to full blown narcissism. But I do know narcissistic behavior is not chronic or unavoidable.
We can grow. We can change. No child is beyond hope, and neither are you.