A new study has found that parents who give their children too much praise or overemphasize their “specialness” may have the unintended side-effect of raising a narcissistic child. Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam, and his research team tested out two competing theories for the cause of narcissism in children to find out which was more prevalent.
The first was that a child became a narcissist when their parents fail to give them warmth and affection; thus the child will overvalue his own self, compensating for the lack of affection from his parents. The second theory, on the other hand, says that parents "overvaluing" their child could lead the child to a false sense of exceptionalism.
The researchers questioned over 500 children aged 7 to 12 – when first signs of narcissism start to emerge – about how much love and affection they felt from their parents. They also surveyed the corresponding parents on how much they believed their child was more special and entitled than other children.
Results from the study showed that parents overvaluing their children, believing that their child is more special and entitled than other kids, led to higher chances of narcissism.
“Children become more narcissistic when they are put on a pedestal – when they are given the feeling that they are more special, more entitled and more unique than others,” Brummelman explained.
On a positive note, the researchers also found that kids who received love and affection from their parents had higher self-esteem. Withholding affection, on the other hand, had no effect on narcissism.
“People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others," Brad Bushman, a co-author of the study, said. “Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society.”
So what’s the middle ground, and how much love and affection should parents give their children? “One approach, given our findings, might be to teach parents to express warmth and affection to children in a way to raise their self esteem without putting their children on a pedestal, without conveying to them that they’re more special and more entitled than others,” Brummelman suggests.
He adds that “Self esteem is more about feeling good about yourself. Narcissism is more about wanting to feel good about yourself.”