If you tell your daughter or son how smart they are, you might be raising a narcissist.
Uh oh. Does this mean you need to stop lying about “how incredibly beautiful” each haphazardly scribbled piece of artwork is? Not necessarily, but take a minute to think about what you are saying to your child.
According to an intensive study conducted by Brad Bushman, parents who overvalue and exaggerate their child’s achievements help them raise little narcissistic kids. As it turns out, the way we praise children impacts their personalities. Bushman’s research revealed certain compliments help boost self-esteem while others cultivate narcissism in children.
There’s a striking difference between self-esteem and narcissism. While self-esteem lets you know you are a person of worth, narcissism makes you think you are better than everyone else. Of course, parents want to raise self-confident children with a high level of self-esteem. That’s why you want to tell your daughter how special she is or how smart your son must be, right?
Not quite. These types of compliments boost egos and help increase the chance of narcissism, not self-esteem.
Over the course of a year and a half, a research team surveyed 565 children and their parents. Both groups were presented a variety of questions, some catered towards a narcissistic view (“kids like me or my kids deserve something extra”) while others helped boost self-esteem (“Some kids or my kids like the kind of person they are”).
The results were striking.
Bushman found that parents who overvalued their children’s achievements often had kids who were more narcissistic. Of course, compliments doesn’t a narcissist make. Environment, further parenting will continue to impact your children, even if they were judged as narcissistic at age 12.
However, Bushman’s study is something to keep in mind while you are raising your kids. Additional studies have linked the narcissistic personality trait to aggression and violent behavior, so preventative measures early on couldn’t hurt things. On the flip side, those with high self-esteem have been shown to have lower anxiety levels and a lower risk of depression.
Bushman’s study says that framing your compliments differently and by showing warmth can help raise self-esteem and not narcissism.
In an article for NPR, the researcher himself talked about how much this study has influenced his praising style. Bushman told NPR “It’s a lot better to say ‘You worked really hard’ than ‘You must be really smart’. If you tell the kid they’re smart and then they fail, they think ‘Oh, I’m stupid'”. Letting your children know you appreciate their hard work (You must have worked so hard!) helps build them up without inflating their pride. Additionally, you are teaching your child concrete skills like hard work, rather than entitlement.
The NPR article also linked to a quiz parents can take if you want to see where you and your child land on the scale. But if this game of compliment do’s and don’ts seems daunting, don’t despair. You can always say, “I love you” without a trace of doubt or worry.