Praise can ‘turn kids into narcissists’- study


Overvaluing children may lead to those children exhibiting narcissistic behaviour, a recent study has suggested: Researchers in the Netherlands have concluded that constant, undue praise for small achievements or even in the absence of achievement can result in the unintended creation of over-inflated egos in children, according to Forbes.

The results of the study have already raised eyebrows in parenting and academic circles as they’re in contrast to traditional theory on narcissistic behaviour.

My perfect princess, my faultless prince

The theory is that when parents treat their children as more deserving than others, even when the children are not more deserving of praise turns children into narcissists. This is in opposition to traditional psychoanalytical thinking that children become narcissists when their parents withhold attention, leading to the kids seeking approval themselves.

Eddie Brummelman, a researcher in the study, commented that when parents place children on a pedestal, they become more narcissistic, feeling that they are more special, more entitled and more unique than other kids. When they feel threatened, they also tend to react more aggressively.

The research was designed to better define how parents can express warmth and affection for kids in a way that increases those children’s self-esteem rather than place them on a pedestal.

Brummelman said that the difference between narcissism and self-esteem is that self-esteem is about feeling good about yourself, while narcissism is about wanting to feel good about yourself, according to Time.

Although the topic of narcissism in kids has not been widely researched, childhood behavioural experts have long lobbied for constructive praise as a means to building healthy self-esteem.

Constructive praise

Constructive praise is given to the child for an achievement or behaviour which can be replicated, resulting in the child learning to appreciate the value of that achievement or behaviour.

In addition to this, parents are encouraged to praise the specifics of the achievement rather than simply saying “you’re so clever!”. Relating the praise to an event helps the child to understand that it’s a specific occasion which merits the praise rather than the sense that the child is gifted in some vague way.

The bumpy path to self-esteem

Self-esteem issues may arise if the child is bullied for their appearance (overweight children, for example). It can also be a symptom of depression. Healthier lifestyle approaches such as outdoor activities, better nutritional practices and encouragement may all help to boost a child’s self-esteem. Household chores can even help your child to appreciate small achievements.

Spending more time with your child will allow you to better gauge their levels of self-esteem, too: you could read with them or play with them and ask them questions to find out how they see themselves.

Although healthy self-esteem in the constructive sense is important, studies have also suggested that the craving of self-esteem-related praise can lead to destructive, addictive behaviour. Teens may become obsessed with seeking the approval of others- the difference between enjoying self-esteem and craving it. The fine line between self-esteem and narcissism, as Brad Bushman suggests.

The path to self-esteem, then would seem to be a carefully-navigated one which is closely related to self-discipline, the environment in which the parents and children live and the manner in which praise is given.

Is your child's self-esteem healthy, over-inflated or non-existent? Let us know, email

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24