Am I Raising a Narcissist?
by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
Read on Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine
THE PROBLEM: I have recently learned that one of my friends is a narcissist (as diagnosed by a clinician), so I have been doing a lot of reading about the disorder. I am discovering that my daughter demonstrates some of the characteristics of narcissism, like being unkind to other kids, talking about herself all the time, and not appearing to feel remorse when she does something wrong. One example of how mean she can be is that she didn’t want to invite a little boy in her class to her birthday party because he ‘smells funny.’ I made her invite him anyway, but I don’t think the boy had a good time, since my daughter managed to show her displeasure by hardly talking to him at all. She’s only 6, but if she does have narcissistic tendencies, I want to get on it right away.
MARY SAYS: Many therapists agree that 6 years of age is too young for a child to actually be a narcissist. In fact, a certain amount of egocentricity is healthy at this age; children need to figure out who they are and how they fit in. As parents, it’s our job to guide our innately self-centered children into grownups who naturally feel compassion and empathy toward others. You’re doing the right thing by addressing these issues now, rather than waiting until your daughter is a tween or a teen, when she could conceivably cause more harm to others.
After all, you don’t want your daughter to be the ‘mean girl.’
From what you describe, it sounds as though your daughter may be struggling with some serious issues. Does she act like she’s better than other children? Does she feel entitled to get whatever she wants? Does she expect excessive praise, regardless of her performance? Is she often jealous? Does she lack the ability to imagine what others might be feeling? If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ your daughter (and your family) may be in for a bumpy road ahead, and change will only happen if you go first.
Often times, when a child demonstrates disturbing characteristics such as these, he or she has managed to take control over the parent-child relationship. Whether your child was simply born headstrong (and you’re not), or she’s learned these behaviors from somebody else (not necessarily you), she’s figured out how to manipulate you. For whatever reason, she is getting away with behaviors that are not acceptable, and she is behaving like this with permission.
It’s time for you to step into your role as a parent and take charge. You must communicate zero-tolerance for cruel behaviors that are harmful to others. Here are a few ideas on how to start:
Be Firm. When you see your child behaving unkindly toward someone else, tell her in a clear and concise way that you insist she be sensitive to other people’s feelings, not just her own. Perhaps you’ve told her this already, but then what happened? It’s not enough to simply point it out. For example, if she won’t allow another child to join a game, pull her aside and ask her how she would feel if someone excluded her. Then ask her what she should do about it. An apology is in order, and an invitation to play should follow. If you daughter can’t (or doesn’t want to) see this, it’s time for her to go home so she can reflect on it some more.
In an ideal world, your daughter will realize what she has done, or at the very least, quietly go home with you. It’s more likely, however, that she will become angry and defensive, blaming you, the other child, anything rather than taking responsibility for what she’s done
Here’s where you need to be strong. (I am imagining this is the point where your previous efforts have come unglued.) Refuse to engage in her argument. Repeat your directive, regardless of how many times she comes back with a new defense. The responsibility is hers to be kind to everyone, period. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and don’t get sucked into an unhealthy back-and-forth.
Always remember, you are the parent.
Don’t Over-Praise. Parents often lavish excessive praise on their children, in the mistaken belief that lots of praise builds a high self-esteem. It doesn’t. Rather, too much praise creates an individual who seeks affirmation from external sources, which puts someone’s self-worth at the mercy of other people’s opinions. We’ve all known (or read about) narcissistic adults who spend every waking moment making sure other people are thinking about them, talking about them, and admiring them. What a tiresome way to live!
If you praise your daughter for every little thing she does, please stop! A parent’s praise serves one true purpose, and that is to be a role model for when and how children should eventually praise themselves—realistically, with honest feedback, and with love. Over-praising will create grandiosity in your daughter, which becomes even more insidious (and MUCH harder to let go of) when she takes over for you and starts doing it on her own.
Balance Her Relationships. How many chores is your daughter expected to do? How often does she ask about YOUR day? Is she expected to help her siblings (if she has any), or feed, water, and walk a dog? In too many families, the singular answers to each of these is none, never, and no. In a home that is overly child-centric, the children are rock stars, and everybody else is there to admire them. While that may sound like a drag for ‘everybody else,’ it’s much worse for the child.
Children need to be needed. (Who doesn’t?) They want to learn how to diaper a baby sister, teach the family dog to do tricks, set the table. Don’t mistake “Aww, Mom, do I have to?” for not really wanting to. This is what we all say (even to ourselves), when we have to interrupt what we’re doing to do something else.
Self-sufficient young children are a joy to behold. They pack their own lunches, manage their own homework, even do their own laundry when they’re tall enough to reach. They grow into independent bigger children who see themselves as contributing members of a class, a sports team, a community.
And make it a point to tell your child something about yourself—every day—to help your child develop curiosity and interest in others.
With a focused effort, you can reverse the behaviors you are observing in your daughter. At first, she might feel like she’s fallen from her throne and can’t do anything right. But over time, she will get it. Your challenge will be patience; it’s important you execute your new plan with caring and love, not anger and disappointment. More than anything else, your overly self-centered child needs to know you love her unconditionally, and that no matter what she does, you will always be there for her.
Teaching your child to read? Learn about our online phonics program!
KRISTI SAYS: Let’s be real here, all children have “narcissistic tendencies.” They only think of themselves, they say rude things, they have no concept of personal space, and they think the world revolves around them. Like you said, your daughter is only 6-years-old. I would be slow to label her a narcissist and would instead look for ways to help her develop a healthy view of herself and to exhibit more compassion as she grows.
Isolating others and being mean can be a cover for your daughter’s own insecurities. It may reflect how peers have treated her, or it may protect her from being bullied. (By joining in on the bullying, she doesn’t become their target.)
Kids don’t always realize the impact their words have on other children. As parents, it’s our job to teach them. One thing I like to do with my kids when they use mean words is to turn it back on them momentarily. I find that it helps them to understand that what they say matters.
I might ask, “How would you feel if someone called you smelly? What if they said you were the stinkiest creature to ever walk the earth, and no one should play with you because or they’ll stink, too?”
I may also ask something like, “Now how does it feel when people say you are a good friend, and they can’t wait to play with you? What if they said you were the coolest kid, that everyone should want to hang out with you?”
Then I’ll follow up with something like, “One of these statements feels good to hear, and the other doesn’t. Which one feels good? Which one doesn’t? How does it make you feel? How can you use kind words with your classmates instead of unkind ones?”
When I use this tactic, it helps my children develop an understanding of the power of words. I don’t expect my children to be friends with everyone, but I do encourage them to be kind.
At school, children are in a bubble. They only experience life with the same group of kids, day in and day out. If you want to help your daughter develop compassion, expand her world. Take her to parks in other parts of town. Give her opportunities to connect with new kids. Let her experience what it’s like to be an “outsider.”
Get her involved in activities that require her to interact with a diverse group of peers, like a sport where kids need to work together. Maybe she could volunteer to read to shelter pets or participate in a food drive for the hungry. These types of activities will help her see a world beyond herself so she can develop a compassionate heart.
Let there be consequences when she is unkind and reward her with praise when you observe her being kind or helpful to others. For the birthday situation, you unfortunately set her up by forcing her to invite the boy she didn’t like. She was still around the same peers, and you added him to the mix, hoping she’d be kind. It sounds like she did a pretty good job given the circumstance. She may have ignored him, but it doesn’t sound like she purposefully tormented him or teased him, either.
She deserves praise for that. It’s a good step, one that can grow into something more.
One way to help correct her behavior is to have her practice apologizing. Even if she doesn’t “feel” remorse, she can still learn to do the right thing. You could have her say something like, “I’m sorry I called you smelly. It wasn’t kind.” Even if she only practices with you, it’s a way to help her verbalize what she did. Eventually, you can have her go a step further and actually say it to the person she hurt.
I always have my kids apologize to someone when they’ve done or said something hurtful. When they were little, they didn’t necessarily “feel bad,” and they were reluctant to do it. But I’ve noticed as they’ve grown older, the “feeling” of remorse is starting to follow the words.
Continue looking for the good in your daughter and don’t label her just yet. She’s still a child and has a lot of time to learn and grow.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you're looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn't around to ask, drop in! If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! email@example.com
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Son Has Anxiety About World Ending
by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
Read on Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine
THE PROBLEM: I’m afraid my 13-year old son has gotten into some stuff on the internet that’s causing him a lot of anxiety. He’s convinced the world is going to end soon, and he can’t stop talking about it. He’s lost interest in the activities he used to enjoy, like playing guitar and watching sports on TV with his dad, and he’s trying to convince everybody else to worry, too. (Again, by talking about it all the time.) He has also confided to me that he feels hopeless, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him after the world ends. He is suffering so much, and I feel awful for him, but I don’t know how to help him.
MARY SAYS: Have you ever found your mind grinding away at something you said in a work meeting or obsessing on an imagined health scare? You’re bee-bopping along, happy, and all of a sudden, bam! In an instant, your thoughts turn into a runaway train without brakes.
At best, it’s annoying, but at worst, obsessive thinking can consume you in a most uncomfortable way, which is what is happening to your son.
Unfortunately, heightened anxiety is a common fallout from a global disaster, which we have been in since—since—wow, it feels like forever. There’s no shortage of bad news to fuel endless doom-scrolling, which an anxious mind loves to feed on.
Common sense might tell you to limit your son’s internet use. But aside from dealing with the pushback you’ll get, it’s not that simple. To revisit our earlier metaphor, the train has already left the station.
Your son is in desperate need of coping tools. For whatever reason, he has joined the thousands of children who have lost the resiliency that comes so naturally to young people. He may be a particularly sensitive boy, or he might be dealing with another issue that is too overwhelming to look at, which makes obsessing on the end of the world an easier option.
He also might be picking up on how you’re feeling.
If you are a parent, you’ve probably met your own demons this year, having to deal with the demands of raising a family and having a pandemic thrown in just in case you didn’t have enough going on. How are you managing? What races through your mind while you’re lying in bed, eyes wide open, at 3 in the morning? Are you experiencing heightened anxiety or depression?
Most significantly for your son, what are you saying about all of this?
If you’re not doing the ‘everything’s coming up roses’ thing, that’s good. Trying times are best dealt with honestly, rather than putting on a happy face even when you don’t feel like it. But if your son is only hearing about your worries and fears, perhaps it’s time to share the helpful strategies you use for dealing with them.
And if you aren’t using any, now’s a good time to start.
First of all, be aware of projecting gloom into the future, which might sound like this: “COVID 19 is just the beginning. They say what’s coming down the pike will be a lot worse.” Or: “Kids are so behind in school. How will they ever catch up?” Or: “Now that I’m working remote, I feel far away, like I’ll lose my job any day now.” Indeed, you may believe all these things, but unless they come to pass, they’re just scary stories, invented to feed that insatiable anxious mind.
Mind your words, please. Our children need us to. At the age of 13, children want to be autonomous, and they want someone to be in charge. These opposing ‘wants’ create a breeding ground for uncertainty and fear, but they also offer an opportunity for growth.
True, we may find ourselves facing another pandemic in years to come. But does that portend a dark fate, or have we learned something about how resilient we humans can be? Yes, many kids have had a less-than-desirable school experience over the past 12 months. But could this gap in our children’s education possibly be a chance for them to get off the hamster wheel of pushing through? I mean, what’s the hurry? And have you ever lost a job? How often does that turn into something better?
These are not small issues. But a shift in perspective can turn setbacks into opportunities, while at the same time relieving suffering for everybody in your household.
I would also encourage you to give your son a device to use when he feels himself beginning to ruminate about death and destruction. This simple, 3-step ‘box breath’ is extremely powerful at calming down the nervous system. It’s quick, easy, portable, and nobody ever needs to know you’re doing it.
Here’s how it works:
Try it. Right now. You’ll be amazed how relaxed you feel. Your son may need to use this device 20 times an hour when he first begins, but over time, just thinking about the box breath will prompt his system to chill out.
And finally, keep in mind that although you might try to convince your son the world is NOT going to end, do we really know for sure what will happen next? Trying to control an outcome only offers temporary relief from anxiety. For a more sustained sense of wellbeing, one needs to come from a centered place, knowing deep down that no matter what, everything is as it should be.
People spend a lifetime trying to find that eternal nugget—through faith, centering practices, nature, and many other sources. Seekers always find. Share your own journey with your son, and perhaps you will discover in each other a companion to journey with—a hidden gem, buried deep inside these crazy times we’re living in.
Kristi is on vacation this week.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Teaching a child to read? Learn about our online phonics program!
Read more ASK MOM advice.
ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
Gertrude Warner Book Award
Moonbeam Children's Book Award
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