A recent study by The Ohio State University suggests that increasing narcissistic development in children may be attributed to parents’ over-valuation of their child’s abilities and achievements, consistently over time. That is, parents believing that their children are more deserving and special compared to others. The findings also suggest that the development of narcissistic traits stem partially from socialization experiences, and in the case of children, how their parents interact with them. There is a difference in the way “narcissism” is defined, and how it is different from a person who has high or healthy “self-esteem” though.
For starters, the study defines narcissistic individuals as those who “feel superior to others, fantasize about personal successes, and believe they deserve special treatment.” On the other hand, “confidence”, may be simply referred to as “a measure of one’s belief in one’s own abilities…”, according to Kansas State University professor, Candice Shoemaker. Based on anecdotal evidence and empirical studies, it would also appear that individuals who’ve a healthy degree of confidence in their abilities also tend to perform better in their chosen areas of application.
In a nutshell, the confident person has realistic beliefs in his/her own capabilities and enjoys higher chances to succeed, whilst the other holds an inflated belief that they better than the rest, often feel entitled to receive a (positive) result, but tend to perform poorer than the former.
Whilst it is natural for many of us to think the world of our flesh and blood, and go the extra mile to support them during their formative years, praising them to the high-heavens doesn’t help. In fact, over-praising was found to be the largest predictor of narcissism in children – and that had no effect on the self-esteem levels (i.e. self-respect and confidence in their abilities).
How can parents and caregivers help nurture confidence in children and minimize the risk of arrogance then?
Here are ten tips to help you to do so:
1. Allow them to fall (and be there for them when it happens)
I’m starting with probably the biggest and hardest point to swallow – how to let them fall.
Falling and failing hurts. It’s a natural way our mind alerts us to danger… and motivates us to do better. Pain is a survival instinct that reminds us that we need to skill up and adapt to our environment.
When our children fall, parents feel the pain twofold – one because they can relate to the pain their children are going through.
Two, when they see their baby cry – and out of love and concern, they become all too eager to put a smile back on their children’s faces.
Sometimes, the pressures of the world also mean that some parents want to “fix things”, stop the crying and move on as well. Unfortunately, we won’t be with our children forever, so it’s better for us to teach our kids how to pick themselves up after a fall and recognize areas for improvement rather than to dismiss it or blame others for it.
I learned a great way to teach kids how to pick themselves up from losing, from seeing my nephews and nieces playing with board games.
Games being games, there’s going to be a winner and losers. Yes, plural. Seeing them attempting and playing together starting at the tender age of three showed me the best and worst (then) sights of child. The periods of competition, victory, joy, disappointment, gloating – the good and bad – became teachable moments for these young minds, and parents want to be there reinforce positive traits and guide them through negative behavior when that happens.
As the adage goes, “when one hits rock bottom, the only way is up.” Funnily enough, when we’ve become experienced enough with our initial fears and difficulties, we learn to handle them better – and with that comes a deeper sense of confidence.
2. Teach them to be accountable for their actions
By teaching our children to be accountable for their actions, they begin to appreciate the power of their choices and develop greater sensitivity to the consequences of those choices. Our children begin to learn and see that life is what they make of it, and not merely subjected to the actions of other people – parents, society etc. Naturally, there will always be things beyond our control, but that’s what all of us are subjected to in this world. Some of the world’s richest and most accomplished individuals are shining examples of how they struck gold when they strove to make “lemonade from the lemons” they were given.
Some famous names that come to mind are, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Chris Gardner. Teaching our children to be accountable for their actions helps them learn about the power that’s in their hands. It’s the power to shape and chart their future in spite of the environment and competition surrounding them. It challenges them to see things in perspective, to see opportunities, their strengths, and potential pitfalls. It’s a skill they will continue to learn and hone long after we’re gone.
3. Let them help around the house (and celebrate milestones)
A large part of confidence comes from having a sense of competence, and children also need opportunities to build and demonstrate their skill and competency levels as well, and a great place to do that is when they’re at home. Getting them to help, even when they’re to little to help with cooking, setting the table and making beds helps everybody see tangible results of their actions, and provides an avenue for them see and feel that their contribution is valuable.
Too often, many parents are afraid of the mess that might come about during the early days, and rush to rescue their children when they fall. Yet that “mess” is merely a small and temporary problem to a larger and longer-term solution
4. Challenge them
As our children make progress in the various aspects of their lives – be it setting the tables or making the soccer team, it’s not sufficient to merely validate their achievements. The nurturing role of the parent also requires them to challenge the children to push their boundaries and strive for the next challenge. This could mean our children graduating from making the bed they sleep in, to sweeping the bedroom floor (conquering their bedroom!) before moving into helping out the living room and finally into the kitchen.
Similarly, they may do well to make the soccer team as a striker or defender, and whilst we celebrate that achievement, we’ll be encouraging them to actually score a goal or keep a clean sheet.
After all, there’s only so much one can rave about and commend our kids for actually kicking the ball and encouraging them to become better also helps them keep their feet on the ground.
5. Put your child in charge
Every so often, put your child in charge of family activity. This could be what the family might be having for dinner, movie, or where to go as a family. Putting your child in charge provides them with the opportunity to make decisions, not only for themselves but with their family (and others) in mind. It may be prudent to rotate this privilege between each member, so that more assertive siblings do not dominate
6. Encourage play and the pursuit of their passion
Like so many of the points above, inculcating a sense and desire to learn is not only a great way to build competency (and hence confidence in their skills), but also keep your child’s feet on the ground. Helping our children find and encouraging them to pursue their passion not only helps them nurture their love for learning, but also liberates them to explore freely and find their feet in the world.
Like many of the greatest discoveries of our world, many were found by accident. Who knows what talents they might unearth when they’re having fun?
7. Encourage them to express themselves
Encourage them to take part in discussion, be open and respectful to disagreement and be open to every member’s right to share their opinions and emotions about a particular matter. Sharing and challenging each members’ opinions help our children understand that more than one opinion has the right to exist in our world, and that there’s never a clear-cut solution to life’s sophistication.
In turn, showing respect for another’s opinion also shows our children how to be respectful towards others as well; and in certain instances, what it means to be assertive and passionate in one’s stand and perspective as well.
8. Listen and and help them relate to emotions
When your child is trying to tell you something, stop and listen to what he/she has to say, even if you don’t understand all his words. They need to know that their thoughts and feelings matter.
Help them recognize and get comfortable with their emotions by acknowledging them. You may say, “It sounds like you are sad because you have to say bye to your friends.”
Doing so helps them recognize emotions such as sadness, frustration, anger, and shows that you are accepting their emotions without judgment. It shows that you validate their their emotions, and show that you value what they have to say.
Likewise, when you share your own feelings, like “I’m excited about going to your play”, they’ll gain confidence expressing their own.
9. Don’t be afraid of calling them out their strengths, values and negative emotions
Every so often your child might get frustrated because they can’t do things their friends can, like painting as well as Peter (for example). Empathize with their disappointment by saying, “I can see that you are feeling frustrated, and I’m glad to hear that you are determined to do better”.
You may also remind them they’re good at “building things / putting things together” (again, for example), something which Peter really isn’t good at. This can help your child learn that we all have unique strengths and limitations, that there are other values worth acknowledgement, and that they don’t have to be perfect to feel good about themselves.
10. Resist sweeping comparisons
When we make comments such as “Why can’t you be as hardworking like Alice?”, we are more often than not making our children feel bad about himself. For some, it’s a hope that shame inflicts enough pain for them to take action.
Interestingly, even positive comparisons, such as “You’re the best player in your team” could be damaging – not only because a child now has a skewed idea of reality without taking into account the contribution of others, it can also be hard to live up to this image.
Better it would, when we learn appreciate our children for the unique individuals they are rather than how they measure up against others generally.
In that way, it’s more likely that they will learn to value themselves too.
Featured photo credit: Petr Dodek via flickr.com