Dr. Ramani Durvasula estimates that she has treated 50 narcissists in her life.

They all had one thing in common, she says: “All 50 were difficult kids. They will own it.” 

There are two parenting styles that lead a child to develop into a narcissist, Durvasula says. And, oddly enough, they are opposite from each other. 

“There is the traumatized, neglected, poor attachment style pathway, and then there is the overindulged, spoiled child pathway,” she says. 

Children learn by seeing

Children learn by seeing. If a person grows up in a household where their feelings were never acknowledged, they learned that recognizing or respecting the feelings and needs of others isn’t necessary. 

On the other hand, kids who were spoiled or told that everything they did and felt was valid, develop an inflated sense of self-worth.

“People telling their kids they are the most special and you deserve everything — no, you don’t,” Durvasula says. “In the social media age where kids are props, where people are spending $10,000 on a Taylor Swift concert, what the hell is that saying to a kid?” 

Both environments reinforce a sort of self-centered existence, where the child is taught that what is going on with other people is not as important as what is going on with them. And both lead to poor emotional regulation skills, Durvasula says. 

People telling their kids they are the most special and you deserve everything no you don’t.

Ramani Durvasula

Clinical Psychologist

Kids can unlearn toxic behaviors

Children can unlearn toxic behaviors, much more easily than adults. 

If you notice your child developing antagonistic traits, you can help curb some of those impulses, Cody Isabel, a neuroscientist wrote for CNBC Make It. 

Start by demonstrating good emotional regulation, he wrote.

If your server gets your order wrong, for example, are you still treating them with kindness and patience or are you yelling at them? How you react will influence how your child acts. 

Mirroring your child’s emotions can also help them learn how to self-regulate, too.

“Mirroring requires you to meet your child where they are and help label their emotions,” Isabel wrote. “Validating their emotions means letting them know that what they’re feeling is reasonable.”

This can help them feel less shame, fear, and insecurity, all of which can drive narcissistic behaviors. 

And if your child is throwing a fit, call them out. Don’t shame them. Just ask them the following three questions: 

  • “What happened?”
  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “How do you think your reaction is making the other person (or the people around you) feel?”

“Instead of accepting their emotional dysfunction, you’re helping them flex their empathy, social awareness and emotional regulation skills,” he wrote.

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