Narcissism is in the political wind today. How do parents raise their kids to grow up to be empathic, industrious, happy adults with healthy mutual relationships?
Meet Your Child’s Needs without Overindulgence
Having early childhood needs for dependence and independence are normal. When met in a timely, developmentally appropriate, empathic manner the child learns his needs are understood and respected. He develops regard for others and the ability to wait a reasonable amount of time for what is desired. He feels safe and secure with loving parents.
If children are excessively focused on by parents so that they are overindulged almost always getting what they may want when they want it without regard for others, they may feel more powerful than they can manage. They may also develop a sense of entitlement that does not teach reasonable expectations. Too much power over parents actually can scare a child who may develop the above- mentioned fear response. Parents are helping children feel secure when they empathize and meet their needs in a caring, timely, reasonable, realistic way.
An example of frequent over-indulgence is with a child prodigy or precocious child. This unusually gifted child’s abilities may be overly focused on, minimizing or ignoring other positive characteristics of the whole child, because these particular gifts enhance parents’ feelings about themselves. That is, they believe they are raising an exceptional child who enhances their own self-worth and maternal/paternal satisfaction.
Such a child, while excessively admired, may come to believe they are worth while only because of their gifts. This is unfortunate, of course, because the child doesn’t feel a more loving, general unconditional positive regard for him or herself where both strengths and weaknesses are respected and accepted. The child does not learn to integrate their unusual abilities with their other attributes and traits.
The child’s identity is skewed by his or her parents’ overfocus on precocious particular unusual abilities. This child, like other youngsters, yearns for and needs parental approval, so if the child cannot gradually develop their own sense of self but instead feels they must mold themselves to their parents’ needs and expectations, they will have great difficulty regulating their self-esteem. As they grow older, they may say, “I don’t know who I am” and consequently feel anxious and fearful or depressed.
This confused sense of identity leads the child to feel they are indeed more special than others and are more entitled than others. They do not learn to share or relate and engage well with their peers who see them as always wanting to boss other kids around and only enjoy playing with others as the leader, the chief, the central member of any social group. Such children are not well-liked by others in due time because they do not consider other kids’ needs and interests, only their own.
This can result in deep feelings, ironically, of inferiority hidden under their outer cover of superiority. They feel solitary and alone, often friendless, relating more easily with adults who admire their gifts rather than with peers who want to play according to everyone’s rules, not only the rules set by this unempathic self-centered though gifted child who feels special, grandiose, and omnipotent.
When such children do not get what they want, they may be prone to tantrums for brief or long periods of time. Instead of their parents helping them find other ways to cope, they end the tantrum by giving in to this child they view as exceptional. Mothers and fathers may clash over their beliefs about how to handle tantrums, one being too indulgent, the other being too punitive, increasing the child’s anxiety because he is caught in his parents’ struggle about how to care for him well.
Meet Your Child’s Need for Admiration and Praise
Early childhood is a time of reaching many milestones that children need their parents to accurately applaud. It’s normal for young children to want admiring parents who show they enjoy their child and recognize their accomplishments. To neglect a child’s needs for reasonable admiration and specific merited praise that builds their self-esteem can result in an unending yearning for such recognition in the future.
Consider the normal development of a two- or three-year-old who has become agile, independent, and attained a substantial vocabulary to express him or herself. They may begin to have attributes that reveal perseverance, the capacity for healthy concentration and organization as well as particular skills that merit specific praise for their accomplishments. Should this child not receive reasonable recognition for their achievements which may be in either or both the intellectual or social spheres, they feel unnoticed, underestimated, unable to receive approval no matter what they do. Consequently they feel alone and even frightened because they don’t understand how to figure out how to be loved and accepted for themselves. This child can start to feel inferior, anxious, and depressed because their milestones and normal development are ignored.
General Parenting Tips that Build Healthy Narcissism (realistic self-love) and Self-Esteem Regulation
- Promote the child’s growing identity and self-image as separate from the parent.
- Set reasonable limits on your child’s behavior with empathic explanations.
- Praise and admire your child’s specific, earned achievements, not globally saying he is always great and special.
- Teach your child right from wrong so he develops a reasonable conscience with a capacity for remorse.
- Understand that all young children experience feelings of power and omnipotence naturally but that these feelings can be moderated over time in realistic ways.
- Help your child modulate or regulate his emotions so he can feel and express them without being overwhelmed by them.
- Help your child tolerate frustrations, disappointments, and realistic delays in meeting his needs.
- Encourage your child to find pleasure and satisfaction in independent functioning.
- Help your child recognize other people’s viewpoints.
- Value character traits such as honesty and kindness toward others.
- Recognize and discourage entitled attitudes and actions.
- Discuss greed and selfishness by teaching sharing with others.
- Discourage false blame of others for one’s own errors and failures.
- Avoid insisting on perfection and always being the winner or the best so normal failures are accepted with resilience and a desire to learn from mistakes.
It is hypothesized that these common sense yet easy parenting tips may actually ameliorate the effects of brain abnormalities in the areas of compassion and empathy.