Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition in which a person has an excessive sense of self-worth and wants others to admire them. NPD is one of several recognized personality disorders Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).
The condition affects both children and adults, but there are some differences between the two groups. Learn more about narcissism in children, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
General symptoms of NPD
Symptoms of narcissism in children are similar to those in adults with NPD. However, there are some differences between the two groups and things to consider when suspecting narcissistic personality disorder.
Children go through multiple stages throughout their development, which may include self-centered tendencies or exaggerated images of themselves. This is normal. It becomes even more concerning when these traits persist after puberty.
General symptoms of NPD include:
- Pride and Superiority
- belittle others
- Only want to associate with people who are seen as superior to others
- entitlement (feeling they have a right to something they don’t have)
- Excessive need for appreciation and attention
- exploit others
- Extremes, negative emotions or lack of emotions about negativity or lack of attention
- Extreme self-importance, talent, or sense of accomplishment
- Fantasy of unlimited access to things like power, sex, money, and attraction
- Unique feeling, as if they were special
- Hidden insecurities and shame
- Perfectionism and Negative Emotions About Imperfection
Types of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Signs of NPD in Children
Some symptoms and characteristics of narcissism are a normal part of childhood development. Therefore, only adolescents under the age of 18 who can be formally diagnosed with a personality disorder are those with suspected borderline personality disorder (BPD). Narcissistic traits can be noted, but NPD cannot currently be diagnosed until age 18 because personality is thought to be variable until adulthood.
Children as young as 2 may show signs of narcissism. This is good because environmental and parenting influences can be changed early to reduce the chance of a child developing NPD.
There are other signs to consider when evaluating this condition in children that are unique to young adults or that do not apply to adults. For example, children may show signs that are related to their behavior and attitudes at school and how they play independently and with other children. These include:
- Impairs friendship quality or relationship interaction
- Discomfort or self-awareness associated with fantasy play
- Hypersensitivity to criticism or loss
- Excessive social media posting, especially self-image
- Expecting special treatment from parents or other caregivers
- Check mirrors often
- inability to maintain eye contact
- inflated ego
- lack of friends
- Learning difficulties unrelated to limited intelligence
- Loss of interest in playing with toys
- Lying as a form of defense, especially without remorse
- separation anxiety
- tantrums beyond normal range
The causes of childhood narcissistic personality disorder are not fully understood. It is thought to be related to biological factors (such as genetics) and environmental factors. However, research on the environment and parental influences of narcissism is also conflicting.
For example, some people believe that parents showing love and appreciation for their children can lead to narcissism. However, research shows that while these parenting behaviors help boost a child’s self-esteem, the parenting behaviors that can actually lead to narcissism are those that reinforce a child’s rights. If a child thinks they are special compared to other children, they are more likely to have NPD.
Other factors that can cause a child to develop NPD include:
- Abuse (physical and emotional)
- cultural influence
- death of parent or carer
- parents divorce
- extreme expectations from parents
- Genetic or biological factors, including inherited personality traits
- High sensitivity
- Narcissistic Parents
- Neglect by parent or caregiver
- Overindulgence or pampering by parents or other caregivers
- Overprotective parenting
- Parents act as if their children are more qualified or special than other children
- peer or social influence
- traumatic experience or trauma
How Parents Raise Narcissistic Children
Children’s experiences as they grow up affect their development. In the case of narcissism, parenting styles and the way parents view and interact with their children can affect a child’s chances of developing NPD.
For example, parents can help build their children’s self-esteem when they express their gratitude to their children and interact with them warmly and lovingly. Conversely, childhood narcissism occurs when parents believe their children are better or more empowered than other children.
NPD is not anyone’s fault
Narcissism is not the fault of the parents, nor is it the result of poor parenting. However, parents can change their parenting behaviors and interactions to help their children overcome narcissistic tendencies.
The first step in the child narcissism treatment process is to obtain an evaluation from a mental health professional, such as a child psychologist or child psychiatrist. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a treatment option for NPD and early symptoms of narcissism in children. There are many types of child therapy that can help develop pathological (personality) characteristics, such as play therapy and therapies involving families, such as parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT).
Changing parenting styles is another option, especially when addressing NPD in children. Because parental behavior can have a significant impact on a child’s development, changing these parental behaviors could serve as an intervention to reduce narcissism. Family therapy can help improve parenting behaviors.
Types of mental health treatment
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental health condition that affects children and adults. It deals with entitlement, an inflated sense of self, and interpersonal and relational challenges.
Childhood narcissism has special considerations, such as normal stages of child development, including egocentricity, behavior, and interactions during a child’s learning and development. In addition, parenting styles and behaviors can influence narcissism in children, and they can be adjusted to help improve early signs of narcissistic tendencies.
Professional support from a child psychologist or therapist can help guide treatment and parenting change.
Childhood narcissism can be challenging and can be accompanied by feelings of shame. However, it is not the parents’ fault, and changes can be made to prevent and help children cope with NPD.
Get help if you think your child may be showing signs of narcissism. Seek support from a health professional such as a psychologist, therapist or other mental health provider.
Personality Disorders: Types and Characteristics
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you deal with a narcissistic child?
When a child is suspected of being narcissistic, or a child is showing signs of narcissism, the first step is to seek the support of a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychologist or therapist. These professionals can assess and diagnose, and then help parents learn strategies to better support children with narcissistic personality disorder.
Is Narcissism Linked to Psychological Problems in Children of Divorced Parents?
While parental divorce can be stressful for children and may increase the risk of narcissism, it does not mean that parental divorce leads to children with narcissistic personality disorder. Environmental risks for narcissism are related to overall stressful life events and lifestyles, including parenting styles and how parents interact with their children.