For most parents, praising their children is a natural occurrence that they don't give too much thought to. It's just a simple way to show their affection, convey their approval and build their child's self-esteem.
But a new study about narcissism in children shows that there's a major difference between giving your child a pat on the back and putting your child on a pedestal. Parents who consistently overvalue their child by praising them for every accomplishment are actually doing them a disservice. Instead of building self-esteem, they're inflating their child's ego and could unintentionally be raising them to become narcissistic.
To conduct the study, a group of researchers from the Netherlands surveyed 535 children aged between 7 and 12. They asked them to rate how much they agree with questions like "Kids like me deserve something extra," and "Kids like me are happy with themselves as a person" to determined the kid's levels of narcissism and self-esteem.
The researchers then surveyed their parents and asked about the value of their children using questions like "My child is a great example for other children to follow."
Finally, they asked all the participants questions about how much warmth parents showed their kids.
The results showed that parents who had consistently overvalued their child were more likely to have a child that's narcissistic. The results also showed that it was affection and appreciation not praise from parents that have an effect on a child's self-esteem. This means telling your child they're perfect isn't going to make them feel better about themselves, it's only going to make them feel that they're better than other people.
"Narcissistic children feel superior to others, believe they are entitled to privileges, and crave constant admiration from others," study author Eddie Brummelman told Forbes. "When they fail to obtain the admiration they want, they may lash out aggressively. Narcissistic individuals are also at increased risk to develop addiction. Subgroups of narcissists, especially those with low self-esteem, are at increased risk to develop anxiety and depression."
At the moment there isn't a definitive way to combat child narcissism, but the researchers of the study do have some suggestions.
"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 children on a pedestal, without conveying to them that they’re more special and more entitled than others," said Brummelman.
So next time your child comes home from with an A+ on a test, instead of praising them for being perfect, give them a hug and say you're proud of them for working so hard!