Q: I recently read that narcissistic behaviour is on the rise, and this seems to confirm my own observations of a culture that seems to be increasingly selfish and entitled. I’m especially concerned about my children growing up with these influences. Is there anything I can do to prevent them from developing these negative traits?
A: According to our counsellors, though a genetic predisposition to narcissism may exist, it is most commonly understood as a learned behaviour.
Renowned psychologists Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend identify two parenting factors that can contribute to the development of narcissism. Parents may 1) ignore the bad and 2) fail to limit the grandiose perceptions of their child. Both lead to an unrealistic, over-exaggerated sense of worth that impacts all future relationships.
While the first few years of a child’s life are usually characterised by “narcissistic thinking” (including a lack of awareness of others, an all-knowing attitude, magical thinking, insensitivity, and lack of interpersonal boundaries), this should be a temporary state. For the narcissist, however, these traits continue into adulthood if he’s not taught consideration of and empathy toward others, an accurate assessment of his own mistakes, anger management, boundaries, and interpersonal skills.
So what can you do to prevent narcissism in your child? Consider the following:
- Avoid anything that suggests to your child he is superior and deserves every advantage in life.
- Allow your child to experience the natural consequences of his actions, while providing clear feedback and helping him maintain his dignity.
- Listen well and provide a safe, respectful home and community environment.
- Provide age-appropriate information and guidance in establishing boundaries.
- Encourage your child to develop his potential, thoughtfully evaluate choices, and value interpersonal relationships.
- Affirm your child for their consistent positive and selfless behaviours.
Finally, model unconditional love while helping your child come to grips with and take responsibility for wrongdoings – including the need to ask for and accept forgiveness.
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