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Narcissism in Children
Children constantly need affirmation and encouragement in different degrees and forms as they go through their different stages of development. However, when they exceed limits of selfishness and arrogance, they can be corrected and guided with the help of parents, relatives, teachers and friends.
Children are naturally narcissistic (and some adults too) but not to a pathological degree--they can still take criticism and reprimands, and learn from their mistakes because they are capable of having healthy relationships with parents and teachers who correct them. This is unlike those with narcissistic personality disorder who cannot take criticisms because they believe they are already perfect and that they do not have a healthy relationship with others.
In other words, being narcissistic (a negative trait) does not necessarily mean one has NPD which is a pathologic disorder. So when is narcissism in children considered pathologic?
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Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in Children
Psychiatrists do not usually diagnose people below 18 years with personality disorders since they are still in the process of personality development and many of their traits may still be learned and unlearned through more life experiences. However, there are instances where traits are pervasive and persistent, and affect daily life and personal relationships.
Such is the case with narcissistic personality disorder in children, where there are more than the natural tendencies for self-love or self-centeredness. Children affected with this personality disorder have constant need for admiration and attention, with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They cannot take criticism, and although they may seem haughty and proud, deep inside they have a sense inferiority and envy of others. There is no motivation for self-improvement or learning from mistakes, instead, they make excuses or rationalize and blame others for their faults.
What makes these traits disordered is that they affect relationships with others, in that the NPD child may lack empathy for people's feelings, show ingratitude and fail to reciprocate the good intentions of others. They may not feel guilty about hurting people and in the process cannot form a normal conscience that will distinguish good from bad. Ultimately they may become anti-social and paranoid towards others.
There are some risk factors that have been linked to narcissistic personality disorder in children. Many NPD have been found to be:
- Children of narcissistic parents
- Children of divorced parents
- Children of wealthy families or successful parents
- Children who are over-indulged
- Adopted children
Children and adolescents from these backgrounds who develop NPD may do so because they are raised in an atmosphere of over-indulgence where they are made to feel entitled to respect and pampering. They may also be brought up to feel that they are naturally talented or gifted, which can mean that any criticisms that come their way are not handled well. Attitudes are carried on to adolescence and into adulthood, so that the personality disorder is developed.
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Psychiatric Annals Online, “The Cracked Mirror: Features of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Children", accessed 1/5/11
Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder", accessed 1/5/11