According to psychologists, self confidence makes us less anxious, more motivated, more resilient, and even improves relationships. Plus, we've all
According to psychologists, self confidence makes us less anxious, more motivated, more resilient, and even improves relationships. Plus, we’ve all seen what it can do for you professionally. No wonder most parents are eager to raise confident kids.
But while cultivating a healthy sense of self worth might be a no brainer, fostering healthy confidence isn’t simple. Since the heyday of participation trophies and self-esteem exercises back during my 90s childhood, both psychologists and parents have come to worry that constantly telling kids how special they are might lead to coddled, emotionally fragile, and self-absorbed adults.
You want, in other words, for your kids to know their own value, but you don’t want to turn them into self-absorbed jerks. How do you walk that line? As part of a recent deep dive into the psychology of self-esteem and narcissism the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan offered some useful research-backed advice.
How to raise a narcissist (so you can avoid it)
The heart of Khazan’s article is a look at a new study that aimed to carefully differentiate between narcissism and healthy self-confidence. Psychology research buffs will want to read it in full. But the most practical bit of the article comes near the end when Khazan turns to exploring the roots of both positive self-esteem and malignant self-absorption.
“Narcissism and self-esteem are the result of two very different approaches to parenting,” Khazan writes, citing the work of a Dutch psychologist. “Parents who treat their children like they’re more special and entitled than others might nurture the children’s narcissistic tendencies. Meanwhile, parents who appreciate kids for who they are and emphasize that they don’t have to stand out in order to earn approval are likely to foster high self-esteem.”
The trick to lasting, kind-hearted self-confidence, according to this research at least, is not thinking you’re better than other people. It’s in thinking that all people, including you, have intrinsic value. (This, it’s worth noting, appears to be as true for adults as it is for kids.)
That means that comparing your kid to others, even positively, is likely to foster narcissism rather than confidence. You might mean well when you praise your child for being “the best” speller, or runner, or piano player, but what you’re communicating is that your esteem is conditional on their performance. Your kids learn that life is a competition and others must be bested in order to earn your love. That leads to the dominating, self-inflating behavior that in extreme cases can turn into narcissism.
True self-esteem is all about love.
So what’s the opposite approach? Simply loving your kids for who they are is the surest route to the good kind of self-esteem.
“The trick to increasing your self-esteem without risking becoming a self-obsessed jerk is developing high-quality social relationships… Self-esteem ‘isn’t really about you,'” Khazan concludes. True self-esteem comes from seeing yourself reflected as good, worthy, and lovable in the eyes of others, especially your parents.
So if you want to raise a kid with real self-confidence, skip the comparisons and over the top praise and just lean into love. For kids, just knowing that you’re delighted in their existence is the best foundation for the kind of big-hearted confidence most parents are aiming for.
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