Parenting a Narcissistic Child: 14 Effective Strategies

These days, it is very easy to label someone as a narcissist.

It’s one thing to show a few narcissistic traits, but it’s quite another if you or someone you love is officially diagnosed with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

There’s a big difference between showing a bit of narcissism, which can be a sign of self-confidence, and actually being narcissistic in terms of the true definition. 

What is the official definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder? According to Mayo Clinic:

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health condition in which people have an unreasonably high sense of their own importance. They need and seek too much attention and want people to admire them. People with this disorder may lack the ability to understand or care about the feelings of others.”

If your child has been diagnosed as narcissistic, you may not know where to turn.

Sure, there may have been red flags and telltale signs along the way, but noticing that your child is manipulative, insists on always being right, or has an overinflated sense of importance is entirely different from knowing how to handle it and coexist. 

Of course, loving and nurturing your child, despite their diagnosis, is a top priority for most parents, so you’ll be looking for ways/strategies to effectively parent a narcissistic child — and you’ve come to just the right place for those! 

Narcissistic Child Symptoms

According to Helpguide.org, a person with this disorder will be self-centered and arrogant and will generally lack empathy and consideration for others.

They may appear selfish, cocky, manipulative, and overly demanding. This behavior will crop up in family life, friendships, relationships, and even work life. 

A list of symptoms includes:

  • Excessive vanity
  • Inability to maintain healthy relationships with equals (usually chooses people they can manipulate)
  • Inability to take responsibility
  • Sensitive to criticism
  • Overinflated sense of being special compared to others
  • Obsessed with winning
  • Struggles to make eye contact
  • Actively seeks revenge
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Cheats at games
  • Sometimes experience separation anxiety
  • Needs to control or be “in charge” of situations

What Causes Children To Become Narcissists?

Unfortunately, little is known about the exact cause of children becoming narcissistic.

Some studies show that children who are “overvalued” by their parents from a young age may develop a sense of being more special than others, leading to the entitled and manipulative behavior of narcissism.

NPD can also be genetic because the child can inherit certain personality traits. 

According to Psychology Today, some children develop narcissism to adapt to their home life.

For example, when a child’s role in the family is centered around worshiping how great a narcissistic parent is, that can lead to narcissism in adulthood.

Psychology Today also states that a lack of unconditional love could be the root cause, where children are only praised or acknowledged when they achieve something great.

How To Parent a Narcissistic Child

Finding out that your child is diagnosed with narcissism can feel like you’re on the precipice of your life’s greatest challenge, but it doesn’t have to.

By understanding narcissism and strategically handling your child, you can successfully parent a narcissistic child. 

Below are some top strategies parents of a narcissistic child can implement for the best possible outcomes: 

1. Model the Behavior You Wish To See

If you don’t want your child to behave in a particular way, you must set the right example and never let the undesirable behavior sneak in.

This means you always maintain a sense of calm, show empathy, and communicate without demands or manipulation. 

2. Do Not Overindulge Your Child

Children need to learn about boundaries. If your child throws a tantrum, becomes belligerent, manipulates, or demands things when they don’t get what they want, don’t give in.

Overindulging your child because they’re making things uncomfortable is sending the wrong message, i.e., that manipulation, demanding, and tantrums get you what you want.

Instead, stick to the family rules and maintain boundaries with calm firmness. 

3. Show Your Child How Their Behavior Affects Others

Narcissistic children lack empathy and understanding of others’ feelings. However, they do understand feelings because they, too, have them.

When your child does something that hurts or upsets you, take the time to explain to them how they have made you (or others) feel.

Avoid using “you” sentences, and focus on “I” sentences that describe and explain feelings. This will also show your child a healthy and calm way of dealing with strong emotions.

4. Only Offer Praise When It’s Truly Deserved

Don’t praise a narcissistic child (or any child) for absolutely everything. Reserve praise for when praise is due.

Only provide positive feedback when your child does something good and worthy of attention.

This will help your child realize that negative behavior doesn’t get the desired effect, but if they work at behaving appropriately and positively, they will get the praise and attention they crave.

5. Be Specific With Your Praise

Don’t use blanket statements when praising your child for things done well or positive behavior.

Instead, be very specific with your wording so your child can connect the praise they want and the behavior that got it.

For instance, instead of saying, “Well done! Good job!” when your child has considered another child’s feelings and helped them clean up a play area, say something like, “Well done! It’s really nice when you help other people. Good job!”

An arrogant young girl with long hair wearing a jeweled crown.

6. Teach Empathy

The first step to teaching a child empathy is to show empathy toward them. For instance, address feelings when you can, such as, “Are you feeling nervous about the test tomorrow?”

Talk about your feelings and the feelings of others. You can also read bedtime stories about feelings and valid difficult emotions your child may feel.

For instance, if your child is in the middle of a tantrum, you can get down to his/her level and calmly address the feeling they’re experiencing by saying, “I can see that you’re very upset about this and frustrated. Can we talk about ways to make us both feel better?”

7. Teach the Value of Work

Narcissistic children may feel as if they are entitled to special treatment and favors. Often, this can translate to feeling like they don’t need to put in much effort for what they want or as much effort as others.

Using action and consequence can be a great way to teach the value of working hard for what you want.

If your child doesn’t put in the effort, don’t allow them to continue enjoying all of their privileges. Working for privileges is a great way to get children working for what they want in life.

8. Don’t Compare Your Child With Others

Because narcissistic children feel they are better than others and will do almost anything to assert themselves as the “best” or winner, comparing them with other children is not a good idea.

Instead, try to adopt an approach of “you’re only competing with yourself to be a better version of yourself.”

9. Don’t Be Afraid To Say No

As hard as it may be, saying “no” is important with children, narcissistic or not.

When you say no to something, you’re setting a boundary, which may teach your child that they cannot always get what they want.

Dealing with disappointment and learning to respect boundaries are important lessons for a narcissistic child. 

10. Gently Point Out Faults

Narcissistic children have a sense/belief that they’re always right. You can help bring them back down to earth by carefully pointing out their faults. It’s important to be gentle with this.

Don’t go in guns blazing, but say things like, “You weren’t very nice to Rachel, and you hurt her feelings. That was wrong, but maybe you can make it up to her by apologizing and trying to be more friendly on your next playdate?”  

A mother having a serious conversation with her daughter on their couch.

11. Explain How They Could Have Better Handled a Situation

Providing helpful ways to work around or correct faults can be particularly helpful to a narcissistic child. As per the above example, perhaps there was a reason your child wasn’t nice to Rachel.

Maybe ask why they portrayed the behavior and then provide healthier ways of handling the situation. 

12. Show Them the Joy That comes From Being Kind to Others

Showing your narcissistic child that you derive joy/happiness when you’re kind to others is a great way to demonstrate empathy and kindness.

When your child sees how happy you are being kind to others (you’ll have to lead by example here), he/she may want to experience that joy and happiness for themselves.

13. Love Unconditionally

Showing unconditional love toward your child is important. Narcissist or not, your child is deserving of love.

The more you show that you’re willing to accept, help, and love them, the more open they will be to showing softness, kindness, and acceptance to others.

14. Enforce Boundaries

The only way to survive a relationship with a narcissist is to set healthy boundaries, which is the same for a parent-child relationship.

Even if your child doesn’t like the boundaries, it’s important to show your child that you are worthy of respect and that your boundaries are not up for discussion.

How To Discipline a Narcissistic Child

  • Have clear rules in place, and ensure that they know the consequences of breaking them. 
  • Set healthy boundaries regarding how you expect to be treated and how they’re expected to treat others.
  • Don’t let it slide when rules are broken or boundaries are overstepped. Take the promised appropriate action every time
  • Don’t respond with hostility even if you feel pushed, frustrated, or annoyed. Always remain respectful, calm, and empathetic. This will set an example of appropriate ways to deal with negative situations.
  • Practice showing indifference to tantrums, demands, and manipulation. You don’t always have to react or even respond.
  • Sometimes showing love and acceptance is the only way, even if the behavior is wrong. Explain that even though they behave terribly, you’re still there and loving them.
  • If an interaction starts to get toxic, pause the interaction and explain that you’re not willing to engage in toxic communications. You can revisit the issue when both parties are calm and respectful to each other. 

Final Thoughts 

Parenting a narcissistic child comes with its challenges. Still, by educating yourself on narcissism, its causes, and how to approach it strategically, you can continue being the best possible parent for your child.