According to a study from the Netherlands, too much praise can make a normal child turn into a narcissist.
“Parents should be warm and loving, but not give their child blanket praise. We should not boost self-esteem and hope our children will behave well. Instead, we should praise our children after they do well.”
A narcissist is someone who is arrogant to an exceptional degree and who lacks empathy for the people around him or her. Experiencing failure provokes an extreme reaction from someone with this form of personality disorder. So, it makes sense that too much praise can be the underlying cause.
Still, some don’t fully believe in the Dutch study’s conclusion, like Dr. Gene Beresin from the executive director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds.
He explains that it takes a village to raise a child, so praise from one source, parents, shouldn’t be the beginning and end to the development of a personality disorder.
“In the first place, parents are just one influence on a child. Teachers, peers, siblings and many others influence how a child feels about themselves and how they behave towards others.”
He added that the study’s age group, 5 to 12, was too young.
“I don’t see how you can label kids this young as narcissistic when it’s generally recognized that such personality traits aren’t fully formed until late adolescence, like around age 18.”
According to the Guardian, 565 Dutch children participated in the study, which can be found in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers would ask the parents to describe their children by selecting various phrases. Those parents who said their kids were “more special than other children” or “deserve something extra in life” were more likely to be the parents of narcissistic children.
The study would survey the parents and children about four times over the course of their participation.
Bushman explained, “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.”
Nevertheless, berating or overly criticizing children could also lead to problems.
The study’s authors found that warmth and encouragement, rather than too much blanket praise, would boost children’s self-esteem without leading to narcissistic tendencies.
Some may find it difficult to draw a line between high self-esteem and narcissism. Bushman explains that people with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than everyone else. Parents who praise children too much might also be thinking their children are better than everyone else, but for society’s sake they may want to keep that to themselves.
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