Micropraise: The Leading Cause of Child Narcissism

by | Apr 14, 2020 | Mental Health, Parenting

Ever wonder what a narcissistic child looks like? As parents we may want to know in order to determine if our own child is one! A narcissistic child is one that acts as if he or she is superior to others, feels entitled to special treatment, and craves attention from others. Sound familiar? If so, these experiences could be the negative effects of micro-praising. Keep reading to discover what micro-praise means, the common symptoms, and some practical tips to correct these negative effects.

Micro-praise, as I define it, is excessive approval and attention to minor details. Parents who excessively praise their child for every little thing, excessively praise their child’s cuteness, and excessively praise how great their child is to others generally fall into this definition of micro-praising.

From my experience, the seed in parenting that leads to micro-praise is the psychological belief that high self-esteem is a valued attribute and praise is the key to developing it.

When subscribing to this belief, it is logical to conclude that micropraising is a good thing to do. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not subscribe to the belief that high self-esteem is a good character attribute. The definition of self-esteem is how one evaluates oneself. For example, if I think highly of myself, I am viewed by others as a person with high self-esteem. If I think poorly of myself, I am viewed by others as a person with low self-esteem. I disagree with encouraging high self-esteem from both a faith and social science perspective. From a faith perspective, as a follower of Jesus Christ, high self-esteem is not a valued attribute in scripture (see Romans 12:3Philippians 2:3James 4:6, and Matthew 23:12). My self-worth is not based on how I or others evaluate myself; rather, my self-worth is based on my Heavenly Father’s love for me and what He has done for me! My Heavenly Father loves me so much that He sent his son, Jesus Christ, to save me by paying a debt on my behalf that is impossible for me to pay on my own.

From a social science perspective, scientists have proven that high self-esteem is not a valued attribute. The following two examples show that micro-praise is the leading cause of child narcissism:

  • In the paper, “Rethinking Self-Esteem,” Roy Baumeister writes that individuals with high self-esteem “run the gamut from playground bullies, to violent gang members, to wife beaters, to warmongering tyrants like Hitler and Saddam Hussein.” In fact, he further writes that in “laboratory studies, the most aggressive people are those who score high on a particular nasty variety of high self-esteem called narcissism.” His research clearly demonstrates that high self-esteem is not the valued attribute social science thought it once was.
  • As reported in Forbes magazine on March 9, 2015, a study from Ohio State University concluded that too much praise can turn kids into narcissists! Eddie Brummelman, the study author, said “Narcissistic children feel superior to others, believe they are entitled to privileges, and crave for constant admiration from others…When they fail to obtain the admiration they want, they may lash out aggressively.” The article further stated that “parental over evaluation (micropraise) was the largest predictor of a child’s narcissism over time.”

What are the common signs from a child that a parent might be micro-praising? We simply need to observe our child’s behaviour. Does our child:

  • Think highly of himself or herself and think little of others? In other words, do our children speak down to others or speak rudely to others?
  • Feel entitled to special treatment and feel exempt from the rules?
  • Crave constant admiration? Do they lash out aggressively or tantrum for attention if he or she fails to get this admiration?

If these symptoms describe your child, the cure may be a simple one.

Just as a small rudder can change the direction of a large ship, a small change in parental leadership can positively change the narcissistic behaviour of a child!

In this particular case, the small change is to stop micro-praising! Below are 5 tips for how to stop micropraising:

  1. Whenever there is temptation to constantly praise a child for every little thing they do, smile at them instead.
  2. When our children do a mediocre or average job, rather than praising, say, “I love you.”
  3. Save praise for the truly outstanding or excellent achievements. If that’s only once in awhile, that’s okay. Then, when we do give praise, our child knows the praise is genuine. Remember Aesop’s fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf? When there is too much praise, our child won’t believe us when there is a real praise worthy occasion.
  4. In place of praise, affirm children’s self-worth by modelling the unconditional love that our Heavenly Father has for us.
  5. In place of praise, affirm a child’s self-worth by delegating responsibility. Daily chores are great in this regard for building self-confidence and feeling like a valued member of the family team.

If we, as parents, discover our children are exhibiting narcissistic behaviours, such as acting with superiority to others and acting entitled to special treatment, we may need to evaluate our parenting approach and look for excessive praising. This micropraising may be the cause of our child’s narcissistic behaviour.