Psychologists Explain What Causes Children to Become Narcissists

Psychologists Explain What Causes Children to Become Narcissists

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Many people believe narcissists aren’t born that way. Psychologists aren’t sure the exact cause but think children become this way due to their environment. We have a more in-depth look into what causes children to become narcissists.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Let’s look at the clinical definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). This is a diagnosed mental health condition, not just a term to toss around lightly.

Mental health professionals look for signs like the following: arrogance, chronic attention-seeking, manipulation, entitlement, fascination for wealth and power, and hate for criticism.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is hard to diagnose in children or teenagers. At younger ages, humans are always growing and changing. The personality traits of a narcissist usually worsen with age.

So just because a person feels the need always to be right or is selfish, those actions do not mean that they have a mental illness, necessarily.



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The Study Of Narcissism In Children

There was a study in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences done by the University of Amsterdam on narcissism in children. This study helped figure out the levels of children’s self-esteem due to parental involvement. The researchers concluded that narcissism was predicted more by parental overvaluation than by the lack of parental warmth.

Psychologists’ View of What Triggers Narcissism in Children

Psychologists do agree parental behavior is a contribution to developing a narcissistic child. This doesn’t mean all narcissists are created by their parents. We’ll also examine some people are just born with that personality. Some psychologists believe children are more likely to show these traits when parents throw praise on them. Others think they show these traits because they don’t shower them with love and affection. We’ll dive into both of these views.

1 – Need For Approval

There are a few things that can cause children to become narcissistic. It’s normal for children to want their parents’ approval and their attention. Sometimes when a child cannot get that attention because the family is very competitive and only values high achievement, the child gets left behind. Sometimes the child only feels loved when they win. If they don’t get recognition for second place, they feel like a disappointment.



If a child grows up in a narcissistic family, they only see these values. They set up a lifelong pattern of chasing happiness. Other times the child feels defeated as they’re told over and over again that they aren’t good enough. They decide to love themselves and make the world like them since their parents don’t show them enough love.

Sometimes they go as far as to do outlandish things because they crave attention. When they don’t get approval, they push the bar further and further until someone has to “see” them and approve them. It becomes a vicious cycle.

2 – Striving To Be Perfect

When children believe they are only loved and praised when they “win,” they start to feel insecure. They think they’re only valued when they are unique. The child begins to try to be “perfect” to be seen. They strive for perfection to prove they don’t have flaws. The parent continues to put them down when they don’t get all A’s or score goals in a game.

If the child isn’t good enough in their eyes, they are set in a hypothetical corner of the room. The problem with this is the child loses touch with themselves. They don’t even know who they are at the root. They spend their time trying to perfect every activity instead of concentrating on their development as a person. A child should be able to be imperfect at times.



They cannot always score the winning goal. If a parent doesn’t tell them it’s okay to miss a goal, they’ll feel defeated at all times.

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3 – Parents Who Make Kids the Center Of The Universe

Many parents make their children the center of their universe. This doesn’t mean the child will suddenly become a narcissist. Toddlers go through a stage that many call “The Terrible Twos.” If a toddler is neglected through this stage, they sometimes leave the stage without completing it. This scenario may sound like a dream to a parent, but it’s a negative thing.

They will mature into adults with this same perception of the world. During this stage, they should realize there are other people in their world. They understand they need other people, but they want to be independent. This is just a normal stage. Young children need boundaries.



If they aren’t allowed to fail and know their limits, they grow up without any expectations. They learn these limits by throwing tantrums, screaming, manipulating, and making up emotions. If they don’t learn any of these things, they might become narcissists. They expect the world does revolve around them, and they should get what they want.

The scary part is that this toddler then becomes an adult having a tantrum. They think they deserve attention.

4 – Parents Heap on Too Much Praise

Many parents overly praise their children. It’s the world of participation trophies we live in. You can work with your child to ensure they don’t go down this path.

As a parent, you have to help them realize they are going to fail. It’s okay to fail. Teach them empathy and kindness to others. Show them with your actions. Set boundaries for them daily. There are a million different “rules” on parenting in the world. Some say you praise too much. Some say you don’t praise enough.

The most important thing is to work with your child, so they understand you love them, but you have to set boundaries for them as well.

5 – Parental Mirror Image

Many times narcissists as children learn from their parents. When the parents treat the child as if they are perfect, the child starts to believe it. Praise is lovely to a child, but praising their every move can be detrimental to their development. When the parent shows narcissistic tendencies, the child might start to act the same way.

They see the parent showing off, living like the rules don’t matter, and treating people with disrespect. Children often mirror what they see in their parents. They start to do these same things without realizing it.

6 – Nature Vs. Nurture

Some children are born with a tendency to fell less emotional empathy than others. By nature, they are simply not as empathetic as other people. They don’t feel much emotion. This doesn’t mean they are a narcissist. It just means they don’t have this emotion as much as others.

Nurture is a learned habit. If narcissists have a mental illness of this sort, they usually are taught relationships aren’t as meaningful. They see people as objects at times because it is learned. They were born with the ability to love, yet don’t feel it because they aren’t shown enough love. Note that this does not mean that every child who isn’t nurtured with love will become a narcissist.

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Noticing Narcissistic Traits In Children

It’s important to watch out for ways the child shows narcissistic tendencies.

  • When they start to act entitled, it’s time to step in and show them who’s boss.
  • They also may become aggressive.
  • When they don’t get their way, watch out. Many times the worst parts of a narcissist will show when they are threatened. Their ego is their protection.
  • Once you push it, they sometimes crumble under stress.
  • They do not like it when their self-esteem is damaged. W
  • hen they feel failure, they often lash out.

The Tough Truth

It can be tough to see these traits in children. Narcissists don’t seem contrary to the exterior. They act how you think they should. A person might seem to have all of the right intentions but always has an angle.

They often deflect blame onto anyone around them. Furthermore, they charm you with their angelic actions, only to later show their true selves. Children and teenagers often show all sorts of these traits just because of their age. They might not have a mental health issue but are just everyday kids. It’s important to watch them closely over time to see if their personality changes in a positive way.

Help For A Narcissistic Child

The problem with narcissistic people is that there is no cure for their behavior. If it’s changed and worked within childhood, they can hopefully let the other positive parts of their personality shine. They have to want to change. Adults must work with children that have these tendencies to protect their future social relationships. Many claim it’s almost impossible for them to have intimate relationships because they see affection as a means to an end.

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Final Thoughts on Why Children Grow Up to Become Narcissists

Overall, a narcissistic child can change if they get intervention at a young age. Changing an adult’s perspective is much harder. Children grow and learn by those that guide them through life. It’s great to praise their strange artwork, but only if you do it to an extent. There’s a balance between neglecting your children and overpraising them.

Narcissists create an unfavorable environment for anyone in their path. Therefore, it’s essential to work with children to ensure their future is positive and healthy.



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