Before we even delve into such a loaded question, let’s note that actual narcissistic personality disorder is a complex and only partially understood condition that afflicts a small handful of people. There is also evidence that both genetics–or nature–and environment–or nurture–play a role in the formation of narcissistic personality disorder.
Having said that, many people—their numbers seem only to increase in the age of social media and public division—display some of the most unpleasant signs of narcissism. Their actions and patterns of thinking can be delusional, aggrandized, and harmful to others. Even without a formal diagnosis, an individual’s narcissistic tendencies can disrupt relationships and damage lives.
Children who are indulged at every turn certainly run a higher risk of developing narcissistic tendencies, even full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. They have poor impulse control and have been conditioned to see themselves as more important than others. Check out this post for more information on how narcissism develops, but suffice it to say that overindulging your child can play a role.
Read on for some insight on how spoiling children can lead to noxious narcissism, as well as some advice on how to undo the impact of overindulgence.
The Limits of Indulgence
When very young children are growing up, their developing minds are constantly learning and testing the boundaries of behavior. A toddler throwing a tantrum is an example of how children will push boundaries and attempt to bring attention to themselves. Your response to them gives them cues on how to behave in the future.
Gauging how your children respond to the word “no” is important in order to check yourself on how much you reward negative behavior. Giving in to tantrums or granting your children the power of veto—they ultimately get what they want, regardless of your initial objections—creates a dynamic of overindulgence that can blossom into narcissistic behavior. Often, parents accidentally spoil children simply because it’s easier to give in than to stand up.
Another characteristic of the spoiled child is that they always want more. No matter how many toys or games or pairs of shoes they have, they demand more. If you continue to give into these unreasonable and selfish demands, then you are signaling to your child that they are entitled to whatever they desire.
Spoiled children are also impatient. Not only do they constantly want more, they want more right away. This fixation on immediate gratification leads to poor impulse control, which has been linked to inferior academic performance as well as fewer professional opportunities later in life.
Spoiled Rotten Smells like Narcissism
The spoiled child will gradually begin to exhibit behavioral patterns that are at the core of narcissism. For instance, children who are consistently spoiled start to believe that everyone and everything revolves around them. They don’t play with other kids and feel that they are superior to their peers.
They also become sore losers. Another hallmark of the narcissist, the inability to accept that you cannot always win, that you aren’t always the best leads to sullen and sometimes angry responses. Their losses aren’t their fault; the game is rigged or others have cheated. Shifting blame onto others is also a characteristic of narcissism.
Children who have been overly indulged can also become skilled manipulators. If they don’t get what they want from one parent or adult, then they will simply go to another, softer target to try again. When parents don’t provide a united front, the spoiled child becomes quite good at playing them off each other.
This can also devolve into routine extortion. This is when a child refuses to perform chores or complete necessary tasks unless they are rewarded. This kind of bribery is the ultimate expression of emotional manipulation, as the child wrests control from the parents.
Warding Off Progressively Bad Behavior
There are, thankfully, ways in which you can halt the progression of your child’s gradually developing narcissism—even if you have heretofore engaged in indulgent parenting. First, regain the ground you’ve lost by explicitly declaring that things are going to change. Set clear expectations and guidelines for future behavior.
To end tantrums and other inappropriate patterns in the face of “no,” such as whining or manipulation, don’t allow yourself to engage. You must change your parenting tactics here. You might walk away or impose a consistent set of consequences for spoiled rotten conduct, depending on the child’s age. If you give in, it signals to the child that this behavior is acceptable.
The best way to head this off at the pass is to be direct and clear with your child. Let them know what the consequences will be right up front and stick to them. Consistency is key in retraining a spoiled child to build better interpersonal skills.
You must also understand that your new parenting style will not win you many friends, at least at first. It’s hard to say no, especially when a child seems inconsolable or when you are just really tired. If you hold fast, though, you will be creating the conditions for a much brighter future.
Nipping the Narcissist in the Bud
Once you establish some of the above parenting techniques, dealing with your child will become progressively easier. In the first place, practicing saying no will only make you better at it. In the second place, the child’s reactions will grow less volatile over time. They will begin to accept and expect boundaries.
Also learn to parent with appropriate praise. When your child does something generous or responds civilly to hearing no, notice and acknowledge this. A child needs to know when they are doing something good, just as much or more so than they need to be corrected for bad behavior.
Teaching your formerly spoiled child the joys of earning a reward is another powerful parenting tool. Instead of feeling constantly entitled, your child will begin to experience the pleasure of effort rewarded. This fosters an invaluable sense of self-worth and self-respect in your child.
Don’t be afraid to bolster your new parenting decisions by imagining the impact that this will have on their future. If you want them to be successful and self-sufficient, both in their personal and professional lives, then you know that—no matter how hard at times—you are doing the right thing.
Spoiling children can create narcissistic tendencies that can hamper a child’s future in many ways. Overindulgence leads to feelings of entitlement and superiority that interfere with interpersonal relationships and professional achievement.
Shifting your parenting style from indulgence to consistent limitations can disrupt the progression from spoiled rotten kid to toxic narcissistic adult. Learning to earn rewards and work with others nurtures a healthier and happier human being.
Whatever causes narcissism, what can help you is to understand how to stand up to the narcissist in your life. This video has some tips for what to expect when you choose to confront the narcissist in your life.
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