Belfast Telegraph

Why it's time we toned down the praise for our children

By Sinead Moriarty

My six-year-old asked me recently - after a particularly long and repetitive rendition of Let it Go - if she had a "beautiful voice". Suffice to say that the correct adjective to describe the sounds that came out of her mouth would not be "beautiful".

I was about to say "Yes, absolutely", but then I paused. I had a flashback to those teenagers who go on the X Factor and The Voice thinking they're the next Mariah Carey and then get laughed out of the studio.

So, I decided to opt for the truth. I told my daughter that she had a nice voice, but I thought she was better at other things. This did not go down well at all.

I realised that my default mode is to over-praise my children and, as a new study has shown, we are not doing our children any favours by over-praising them. In fact, we are turning them into narcissists.

A new study - carried out by Eddie Brummelman and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam - suggests that the constant praising of our children's smallest accomplishments may have the unintended side-effect of creating over-inflated egos.

So, while we think that telling our children they're fantastic all the time is building up their confidence, it doesn't necessarily have that effect.

Parents need to be careful. Raising a child who thinks they are superior to others and believes they deserve special treatment can have serious consequences, both in childhood and later on in life.

Narcissism is a trait that comes with a number of psychological and social problems, both in childhood and in adulthood, some of which can be serious.

"Narcissistic children feel superior to others, believe they are entitled to privileges and crave constant admiration from others," Eddie Brummelman says.

"When they fail to obtain the admiration they want, they may lash out aggressively."

The study showed a small, but significant link between how much parents praised their children and how narcissistic the children were when they were tested six months later.

The research suggests that a much better way to treat children is to be warm and loving. This builds self-esteem, but not an inflated sense of self.

We've all seen parents congratulating a child who came last in a race as if they had won it. While it seems supportive and well-meant, it certainly won't prepare the child for the real world as children internalise their parents' inflated view of them.

Children do need to be prepared for life outside the home and overvaluation will just make them delusional - like the tuneless singers on the X Factor - and open to ridicule.

When narcissists feel humiliated, they can often lash out aggressively, or even violently. Narcissism levels have been increasing among Western youth and contributing to societal problems.

So, while we think we're being supportive and encouraging, we may need to rethink the standing ovation we give our children every time they get up in the morning.

I feel less guilty after discovering this research. At least my daughter, although temporarily grumpy with me, won't go out into the big bad world thinking she can make it as a singer.

With so many of our young people now going about with over-inflated egos and obsessively taking selfies to post online, it probably is time parents tried to tone down the praise.

As Voltaire so eloquently said: "It is not love that should be depicted as blind, but self-love."

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