Narcissism In Children: What Are The Signs And How To Deal With It?

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Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by a constant pattern of magnificence, their need for self-admiration or special treatment, and an illusion of lasting power or importance. Narcissism in children can cause problems in their relationships in the longer run. NPD is a much more complex and advanced mental condition when compared to only narcissism. About 50 to 75% of all people diagnosed with NPD are males (1). Untreated NPD in children may lead to several complications as children grow in age. Continue reading this post to learn about the signs, causes, diagnosis, treatment, complications, and home-care for children with NPD.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

A narcissistic child

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When a personality disorder is related to a person’s immense love for oneself, self-admiration and importance and one’s own requirements, desires and well-being, it is called narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) (1).

The child believes they are superior and deserve to be treated better than anyone else. They also have complete disregard for the feelings of others.

However, simple self-love or selfishness cannot be termed as NPD. Let’s see how a child with NPD is different from a child without NPD.

A Child With NPD Vs. A Child Without NPD

Here are some key differences between children with and without NPD (2):

CHILD WITHOUT NPDCHILD WITH NPD
The child craves attention but it is age-appropriate. They are grateful and appreciate the attention.The child seeks attention as their right, but does not express gratitude to the parents for being kind and nice to them.
The child aspires to be big or role-plays as a superhero, etc., but they know that’s not true.The child believes that they are great and the others are lower than them.
Their needs are realistic and can be fulfilled.They have high and unreasonable expectations from others.
They make friends and have a good relationship with the familyFind it difficult to make and maintain friendships.

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Signs/ traits Of NPD In a Child

Arrogance, signs of narcissistic personality disorder

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The following traits, if occurring together, can be the signs of a typical narcissist (3) (4):

  • High levels of self-importance
  • Unpractical ideas of limitless achievements and power
  • Feel that they are entitled to everything they ask for
  • Gaze aversion, wherein they do not look into the eyes of the speaker
  • Separation anxiety
  • Pathologic play
  • Believe that they are better than all the other kids around
  • Expect enormous respect and adoration
  • Opportunistic behavioral pattern
  • Don’t understand the needs of fellow beings
  • Arrogance
  • Exaggerate their personal abilities or success
  • Exploitative nature
  • Envious of others’ achievements
  • Formal manners even in personal and close relationships
  • Inability to take constructive criticism and get hurt or insulted easily
  • Blame others for their failures

If you think that your child is on the higher side of most of these traits, then they might be having NPD. But how could a child have such a personality disorder?

Did you know?
Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms have been found to be more in males compared to females (16).

Causes Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Causes of a child being narcissistic

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The exact causes of narcissistic personality disorder are unknown. However, several factors like early childhood experiences, ambiance and psychological causes are thought to result in such mental conditions (5). Some of the reasons could be:

  • Negligent parenting, parents being detached or unresponsive to the child’s care.
  • Codependent parenting, where the fine line between being protective and over-protective, love and obsession is not maintained.
  • Excessive pampering in childhood or making the kid the golden child of the family, where anything they do is praised indiscriminately.

Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS, MSW, a New Orleans, Louisiana-based psychotherapist, consultant, and author, says, “I often see parents who are scared to say no to a child due to fears of hurting their feelings. Sometimes they overvalue the child above all other children, or even above all other needs of the parents or the family. This creates a child who believes they are more entitled and more important than other human beings.”

  • Excessive pampering can also make one a narcissistic extension child, meaning that they are supplied with the admiration or attention they demand.
  • Narcissistic parents can affect their kids. Such parents see the child’s individuality as a threat, and curb it. Such behavior, in turn, makes the kid a narcissist when they grow up, thinking this is normal.
  • Too much negative criticism makes kids feel inadequate and bad about themselves, so they develop narcissism as a defence mechanism.
  • Being an adopted child or having divorced parents can make a child insecure and vulnerable. They often don’t feel loved, so self-love helps them carry on in life.
  • Irrational expectations from parents can make a child think either too highly or too low of themselves. Both conditions can lead to narcissism.
  • Abuse of any sort can make people feel victimized and unloved. They become narcissists unknowingly and prefer not having to see the world in its entirety.
  • Hypersensitive children have a chance of getting narcissistic.
  • Genetic anomaly or some genetic aberration can lead to this mental condition due to some changes in the brain.

NPD is not life-threatening but it is good to get it diagnosed and treated for the child to have a better behavior and social life.

Research says
Certain gray matter and white matter abnormalities in the brain were found to be associated with the pathophysiology of narcissistic personality disorder (17).

Diagnosis Of NPD

The process of diagnosis will involve a few of these steps (6) (1):

  • They will talk to the child to understand their level of self-love and importance.
  • The child’s behavior towards the therapists is also analyzed to know whether they are condescending or cordial.
  • A physical examination may be done to eliminate other physical conditions that may cause the symptoms.
  • If no other cause is found, the doctor will come up with a mental healthcare plan specific to the child.
  • The diagnosis of NPD usually involves understanding the patient psychologically; therefore, the doctors use questionnaires, assessment activities, and scale tests.
  • The doctor may ask questions on the child’s academic performance, quality of friendships, number of friends, etc.
  • Diagnosis is also done to check if the condition is narcissistic personality disorder or something else such as hypomania.
  • The expert also observes if the NPD symptoms or characteristics displayed by the child are persistent and not phase or mood-based.

A common belief is that a person diagnosed with a mentally complex condition tends to remain like that all throughout their life. But NPD is manageable.

Treatment For NPD

The most effective treatment therapy for narcissistic personality disorder is psychotherapy instead of an outright medicinal treatment.

Some of the widely used therapeutic models are:

  1. Cognitive behavior therapy: This enables the patient to recognize the problem. To identify the thought and behavior patterns that are adverse and negative. The therapy helps change them with positive and constructive thoughts (7).
  1. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy: This targets the child’s grandiose self, their defense mechanisms against poor performances, and interactions with parents and peers. The therapy also involves the counseling of the parents and family of such NPD children (8).
  1. Family therapy: If narcissism is the result of over-evaluation and excessive love from the parents, then a psychotherapist might talk to the parents against such behavior and regulate their emotions towards the child (9).

Doctors prescribe antidepressant medicines to some, as they tend to get depressed and suffer from anxiety. Otherwise, no specific medication is used for the child.

It is important for the child and the parents to follow the treatment process to avoid any future complications.

Did you know?
Transference-focused psychotherapy was developed by Kernberg and his collaborators in the USA. It facilitates a deeper understanding of one’s emotions and other mental processes in NPD (18).

Complications Arising From NPD

A narcissistic child may abuse drugs

Image: Shutterstock

Gillis says, “Narcissistic children often go on to be narcissistic adults unless they work on developing empathy and insight into their behaviors and how they impact others.”

Possible complications that may arise from narcissistic personality disorder are (10) :

  • Indulgence in drugs or alcohol when they grow up.
  • Relationship crisis with friends and family.
  • Getting socially awkward and lacking a social circle.
  • Difficult relationships at school and home.

You can avoid the long-term damage by complementing the treatment with personal care at home.

Homecare For A Child With NPD

Meaningful conversations about managing NPD at home

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If you observe that your child is showing the traits of narcissism, help them understand the dynamics of emotional and social relationships with these tips:

  1. Be firm but not violent. Violence and aggression can set your child off from you completely. Narcissists have an inflated ego and they take things personally and get hurt. They suffer from “narcissistic injury” or vulnerable self-esteem. Try to discipline your child practically.
  1. Curb the sense of entitlement: Make your child understand that they are very much like others in the family and will not get a special treatment. For example, if your child feels their siblings and friends are entitled to them, and behaves bossily, tell them they cannot bully others or expect others to be subservient. At the same time, do not ridicule the child.
  1. Moderate conversations: Make your child understand that listening to others is as important as talking. The conversations should be 50% of speaking and 50% listening. Make them practice this at home.
  1. Have a balance in relationships: Make your kid understand the dynamics of a relationship, starting from your home; how chores are shared and how everyone has to be considerate towards the other for a better living. Explain to them how you and your spouse share the responsibility of taking care of the family, earning for them, and providing food, while the kids in the family go to school, study and behave well.
  1. Provide unconditional love: Do not attach your love to something the child achieves. Do not pamper them with gifts when they achieve something and bombard them with insults when they fail. Maintain neutrality, and love them uniformly, always.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. At what age does narcissistic personality disorder develop?

A narcissistic personality disorder may begin in the late teenage and early adulthood. Most personality disorders, including NPD, are diagnosed at 18 years or older. Although some may show signs in childhood, a definitive diagnosis is often made in later years (11).

2. Does childhood trauma cause NPD?

NPD is linked to childhood traumatic experiences. Childhood sexual trauma might be associated with a high risk of developing personality disorders. Children who face severe verbal abuse in childhood can also develop NPDs or other personality disorders in adulthood (12).

3. How do parents create a narcissistic child?

Parental overvaluation can create narcissism in children. Parents showing their child is unique and entitled to others and creating high self-esteem by over-expression of affection and warmth can root the development of narcissistic behaviors in children. Early socialization experiences and overvaluing during developmental years can lead to narcissistic personality development unless some measures are taken on time (13).

4. Is narcissism a learned behavior?

The origins of narcissism are not well known. It can be a learned behavior or linked to genetics. However, the increased risk of developing narcissism in positive family history can also be due to learning narcissistic behaviors from parents or close family members rather than inheriting specific genes. There are two theories defining the origins of narcissism, and the social learning theory holds that overvaluing by parents leads to narcissism. In contrast, the psychoanalytic theory says that lack of affection from parents plays a role in developing narcissistic personality traits (13).

5. How can I live with a narcissistic child?

You should articulate non-negotiable boundaries to deal with the selfish behavior of your child. You may negotiate to make them do the right things rather than emotional outbursts. They may use gaslighting phrases to attack your self-esteem, and you may wisely deal with them rather than getting emotional or bursting out of anger. Seek support and therapies to tighten your self-esteem and reduce stress (14).

6. How do I discipline a child with NPD?

Avoid overvaluing your child for their achievements. You may compliment them by saying “how attentive they were in the game” rather than saying “great job” or “you are the best”. Never compare them to others. Teach them empathy, such as how other people feel about specific actions or behaviors. Encourage them to take responsibility for their actions even though the outcome is not impressive. Moreover, parents should be the role models to develop good behaviors in children.

Narcissistic children are self-centered and believe themselves to be superior. They tend to blame their failures on others and have no regard for others. Childhood abuse or having negligent, overprotective, or narcissistic parents may contribute to children developing such behavior. Narcissist personality disorder (NPD) may be diagnosed and managed using cognitive behavior therapy, psychotherapy, and family education. Narcissistic children find it difficult to establish relationships with others and may end up falling prey o drugs or alcohol. Although difficult, a person with this disorder can change with effective intervention, discipline, and willpower.

Infographic: Homecare For A Child With NPD

Your love for your child may make you overlook the concerning narcissistic behaviors. But if you don’t control your child at home, it can lead to risky habits and problematic relationships in the longer run. To help you with that, we bring effective tips to handle your child’s narcissistic behavior.

dealing with a child with narcissistic traits [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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