What makes a kid a narcissist?

However, he has begun to do something peculiar. As I watch him from a bench perched near the edge of the pool, I’ve noticed he likes to clap for himself – often whenever he completes a task to his own personal satisfaction (surfacing for air seems to be sufficient enough).

After jumping off the ledge, he swims toward his dad a few feet in front of him, and then like a majestic dolphin, he rises out of the water with his little hands already clasped above his head to give himself a rousing round of applause for his high achievement. The kicker is he manages to do this with the proudest, happiest smile I have ever seen on his water-logged face.

After taking in the sheer cuteness of it all for about the fifth time, I have begun to wonder that maybe it’s not such a good thing that he praises himself like this, and that I encourage it.

Concerning questions have begun to whirl in my head: Where did he get the idea of it? Is his need for attention and adoration charting into narcissistic territory?

He does this with other “accomplishments” as well. For example, he has an alphabet puzzle at home, and every time he puts a few alphabet letters in their allotted slots, he will look up at me and clap for himself and wait for my praise. This is followed by a loud “yahyahyahyah” for himself, which is the equivalent of “Am I not so amazing, mom? Look at how great I am at this!”

Perhaps my husband and I have created a little narcissist, but everyone will tell you that kids this age need lots of encouragement to reach their developmental goals; it’s good for their self-esteem and helps them take the next step toward becoming a fully functioning member of society.

But where do you draw the line? Should I just withhold my praise and – dare I say it – ignore him until he completes the whole alphabet puzzle and make him work a little harder for that praise? Maybe I should just ignore it completely, or give him a simple smile and carry on doing whatever I’m doing.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Amsterdam defined narcissistic kids as those who “feel superior to others, fantasize about personal success, and believe they deserve special treatment.”

For more than two years, the team studied 565 kids and 705 parents, testing a hypothesis for what makes a child a narcissist: Is it due to parents’ worship, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, due to their lack of warmth?

The researchers found that those who worship their kids are more likely to create narcissistic kids. Not only does overvaluing their kids encourage them to have an inflated view of themselves, but also a less charitable view of others. Therefore, the kids grow up to expect others to treat them the way their parents do: in other words, like demigods.

Add in social media addiction (selfies, anyone?), smartphones and hyper-sexualized and violent images via movies and TV shows, is it any wonder this phenomenon has gotten worse over the last couple of decades, and shows no signs of abating?

When I think of my childhood and the lack of social media and compare it to what my son will be enduring in a few short years, along with the rest of the millennial generation he is surrounded by, it, quite frankly, frightens me.

I don’t want to perpetuate any narcissist tendencies and certainly don’t want him to walk around in life with a sense of entitlement, but the last thing I want is for him to have low self-esteem about his mind, body or life views.

He already has two parents who love him dearly, and he has the benefit of growing up on a beautiful island that is arguably less competitive than the “real world,” and he is surrounded by bright people and bright sunshine.

From where I stand, this kid has already won the lottery of life – does he really need to scoop the Encore prize as well? (Shout out to my fellow Canucks!)

Yet he craves attention and adoration and I keep telling my husband that maybe we should temper our praises and only encourage him when he has really done something new or above his perceived skill-level.

However, my husband believes he’s just a little kid and that you can’t break his spirit so young (“there’s plenty of time for that”), especially when he is not really talking in sentences yet or fully grasping the bigger picture of life. Coincidently, he also uses this same reasoning when it comes to disciplining and potty training him. My reply is always, “He knows way more than you think and understands everything we tell him!” My husband, of course, doesn’t agree with that.

I think at the heart of it is a basic evolutionary law – you are simply programmed to think your child is the cutest, the smartest and the funniest – and almost every parent I know is guilty of this flawed thinking.

I recall being at a friend’s house once, and she kept asking me, “Isn’t she the cutest? I mean look how cute she is!” Of course, I replied, “Yes, she is darling; you are so lucky!” But deep down – and this is before I had kids – I was thinking to myself, “Well, I wouldn’t expect her to be featured in any Gerber commercials anytime soon.” Of course, I bit my tongue, as you must in such situations.

Yet now that I’m out of the first-year haze of motherhood, I look back at my son’s baby photos and objectively see that he had sort of an old-man look to him with no hair and a frown and big duck lips… maybe not the baby Zoolander model I thought he was back then.

As the saying goes, “kids learn by example.” So as long as we are aware of our actions, intentions and responses as parents, and teach our children humility, kindness and service to others, in theory, they should not turn out to be raging egomaniacs.

Unlike Narcissus, the hunter from Greek mythology, I’m glad my son is coming out of the water clapping rather than gazing longingly at his own image only to fall in and drown.

Perhaps my son has taught me a life lesson: How to take a plunge with confidence and come up for air with an optimistic can-do attitude, no matter what others think!

That, in itself, is special. I’m his mother, after all, and he’ll always be my special little guy.


Worshipping your children can encourage an inflated view of themselves, leading to narcissistic behavior.
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Narcissus, the hunter from Greek mythology, fell into the water and drowned after gazing at his image too many times.

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