This article has been circulating the interwebs lately https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/03/09/parents-stop-overvaluing-your-kid-you-may-create-a-future-narcissist-study-says/. It’s about a research study that aims to link narcissism to parental praise. I get it – no one wants their kid to be an as*hole. And a lot of parents unfortunately will read this and stop telling their kids they are smart, and talented and beautiful. And that is sad. If you read closely, the study was looking at parents that told their kids they were “better” than others, which is completely different from complimenting your children. It could be argued that what makes your kid a little jerk isn’t telling them how special they are, but instead comparing them to others and telling them they are somehow better. How about instead of not praising our children, we tell our kids how kick as* they are AND teach them to celebrate others’ talents and show them humility?
I want my child to be HIS best, not THE best. I also want him to be confident, proud, and unashamed of everything he does and everything he is. I want him to love himself, to believe he is smart, talented and capable. I want him to know that no matter what other people think he is special and valued. I know that there will always be people in this world that will try to tear him down, make him doubt himself, tell him he can’t. I know he will fail, lose and not be “the best” at everything he does. But I also know that it is 100% in my power to let him KNOW in his heart that despite those people and experiences that he is valuable, incredible and uniquely amazing. And I can give him this by telling him everyday that he is smart and talented and capable. I can acknowledge when he puts the pieces of the puzzle together correctly. I can give him a high 5 when he successfully snags some mac and cheese on his fork and makes it seamlessly to his mouth. I can tell him how cute he looks in his new t-shirt. I can wrap him up in my arms and tell him how smart he is when he tells me about all the animals and the sounds they make. I can tell him what a good job he did putting his toys away. Because every time I build him up, praise him, tell him “good job”, “you’re so smart”, “you are adorable”, compliment him, shout hooray when he jumps, smile back at his proud face when he puts the shapes in the shape sorter, or just reaffirm all the things he does, I am building his confidence. I am letting him know “I see you”, “I’m proud of you”, “I think you are special”.
I hear all too often of beautiful, talented, smart kids killing themselves. And it breaks my heart. I don’t know why these kids don’t see how valuable they are, but I don’t ever want Avery to feel that way. I want quite the opposite for him. Have you ever seen someone dancing freely without a care in the world, like they couldn’t care less who is watching or how they look. I want that for Avery. I want him to try fearlessly, fail boldly and move freely. I want him to believe that he can dream big and accomplish bigger. I want him to never doubt for a second that he is special. I know that if he is anything like me, he will inherently be self-critical and strive for perfection. So if he does something and looks to me to see how he did, which kids do, I will respond back with resounding praise at his attempts. I will tell him his unidentifiable artwork is brilliant. I will tell him he did a good job throwing the soccer ball and kicking the football. I will compliment him. Because I love him. And because I’m his mom. And honestly, I do think he is smart, and talented, and funny, and beautiful. And I want him to know I believe that. And I want him to believe it too. I have no worries that he will become a narcissist. Because, alongside the unending praise, I am also teaching him empathy, compassion and respect for other people.
Let’s not decide that telling our kids how great they are is the “wrong” thing to do. Instead why don’t we keep doing what inherently feels right – teach our children to be good citizens, compassionate, sharing, giving, aware people. And let them know everyday how loved, valued, incredibly special they are.
* Photo Credit: Brienne Michelle – Hi Peanut Photography