With reports that overly positive parenting can lead to narcissism in children, psychologist – and parent – Alice Savona wants her kids to feel valued, not over-valued, and to thus grow up resilient.
Every generation of parents wants their children to have the best start in life.
We all just want them to be happy.
One belief is that by telling a child they are more special than others, we will buffer them best against any future unhappiness (bullying, poverty, anything less than giftedness).
But singling out any one child in this way might be anti-childhood. All children are the pure and awe-inspiring fruits of spring – that’s their reproductive and tribal point! Individualism seems anti-bell curve, particularly the individualisation of modern family units and the projection of individualised wealth bias onto kids. There’s something skewed when parents over-value their children at the expense of valuing other children in their communities. It’s often exclusive and intense.
One of my peers stares so closely into the mirror of her idolised child’s face that I fear she will fall in.
And how can one child out of 1.9 billion be the most special? They may be to their particular parents but this is different to an evidence-based comparison with other children. Plus there is technically the option of thinking your child is sublimely more special but not telling them that. Or anyone else.
A wonderful early childhood expert once said to me, “If I had a dollar for every parent who tells me their child is gifted…”
And we may not even have to explicitly tell our kids they are more special – we might over-value them by joining the ranks of psychological competition the moment baby weight and height are recorded; or dressing toddlers like demented Italian models; or paying for pre-school literacy and numeracy classes because s/he just has to go into Prep ahead of everyone else.
It’s unlikely that over-valuing a child can be solely responsible for producing the clinical symptoms of narcissism, but it may cause a child to give up trying in the classroom and school-yard. What is the point of engaging in learning when you are already so smart? What is the point of joining with others in the fields of friends and feelings when you are so superior?
Over-valuing might also cause a child to simply avoid anything that threatens their status of being extra special. What happens when they are older and have to face genuine adversity, for which the commodities of over-protection and elitism are not enough?
Kids don’t need to be told they are more special: they need the high-order quality of resilience to help them deal with the higher-order truth that they cannot always win/succeed/be the star of the pack, but that they will be ok anyway. Resilience is where nature and nurture can beautifully collide as the child falls back on a constant foundational reference point: I am loved/I belong/I can cope with hiccups and return safe to the place where I am loved/I belong/etc. This is the job of early childhood, where children become resilient through the daily love of their parents, including the positive reinforcement of how well they tried, so that future generations might keep trying in the face of adversity and difficult emotions.
Children need to be feel valued not over-valued.
The word “over” is de-stabilising in and of itself.
Your kid has good days and bad days, just like the rest of us.