Parental overvaluing is a clinical term referring to faulty perceptions that some parents develop about their children. Parental overvaluing typically leads to excessive praise and other behaviors that can be detrimental to a child’s emotional development.
Parents and caregivers mean well, often having no idea that they may be harming their children rather than raising their self-esteem. Children who develop narcissistic symptoms may display grandiosity, antisocial behavior and social dysfunction, interspersed with fits of anger and temper tantrums that can become progressively more violent. Narcissism is often the underlying problem of bullies. Read on to learn more about the correlation between excess praise and emotional dysfunction in children.
The Praise and Self-Esteem Myth
A myth exists among American parents today that bestowing high levels of praise is the best way to help a child develop a healthy level of self-esteem. In truth, praise can be harmful if used improperly. Researchers in the Netherlands recently published a study* that linked the origin of narcissism to parental overvaluation. While children with high self-esteem express satisfaction with themselves and believe they are as good as other children, those with narcissistic tendencies, on the other hand, expressed sincere beliefs that they were indeed better than other kids and more deserving of benefits and success.
The Risks of Improper or Excessive Praise
Every parent thinks that their child is special. Problems can develop when caregivers regard their children as actually superior to other children in some way, or believe they deserve more out of life than others. The necessary level of trust inherent in the parent-child bond means that kids need to believe what their parents tell them. If a child also comes to believe that she is somehow superior to or more entitled than her peers and behaves accordingly, true narcissism may develop. Naturally, not every child who is overvalued becomes a clinical narcissist; however, the research indicates that it’s much more likely.
The Right Way to Praise Your Daughter
Although you may often be tempted to treat your child as though she is extra special, experts warn against it. Self-esteem grows from feeling secure, loved and valued. Narcissism develops from broad and unconditional overvaluation. Help your daughter develop a healthy self-perception by using praise in the right way, tempering it occasionally with constructive feedback. Express affection, appreciation and acceptance, but help her develop her own competence. Be sincere and specific with praise and make sure you focus on specific accomplishments. Don’t hesitate to provide constructive feedback (not criticism) to help her learn competence.
Havenwood Academy provides clinical and experiential therapy for girls in a residential treatment setting. Addressing a range of mental and emotional challenges typical to teenage girls, Havenwood specializes in helping families find the path to healing. Contact Havenwood today to learn more about effective parenting skills and the risks of parental overvaluing.