A friend recently described his child as being very “narcissistic”. I replied, “Yes, children are narcissistic. It’s part of being a child and if they get emotionally wounded during this stage of life they may become a narcissist.” In order to prevent narcissistic wounding in your child it is important to be attuned to your children and help them learn how to handle their emotions. A parent must be attuned to their child and not dismiss the child’s emotions. Here are some pointers on how to do that.
1) Notice lower intensity emotions in yourself and your children, (before a tantrum) then your children won’t have to escalate to get attention when they need it.
2) Recognize these emotional moments as an opportunity for teaching and intimacy.
3) Understand that negative emotions, sadness, anger, fear are a healthy part of normal development.
4) Do not be impatient with your child’s negative affect.
5) Communicate understanding of the emotions and don’t get defensive yourself.
6) Help your child verbally label all the emotions he/she feels. Using the correct words for an emotion helps the child process those emotions, normalize them and feel understood.
7) Empathize with negative emotions and sometimes with the misbehavior. You could say something like, “yes I understand you feel hurt and angry that you can’t do this right now, sometimes I feel the same way and feel like crying.” This is how you communicate that all feelings and wishes are accepted.
8) Communicate your family values; set limits if there is misbehavior and you communicate that although the feelings and wishes are acceptable, not all behavior is acceptable. Be clear and consistent with limits to convey your values.
9) Problem solve the negative affect. Ask the child for solutions and then offer your solutions as well.
10) Know that emotional communication is a two-way street. When you become emotional about the child’s behavior let the child know what you are feeling without insulting the child.
11) Give little information to the child, just enough to get the child started in problem solving.
12) Do not be over-involved with your child’s mistakes, when you can, ignore them.
13) When a child does something right offer specific praise with a little bit more information.
14) Allow children to attribute their learning to their own discovery, this builds self-esteem.
Paraphrased from John Gottman’s 2011 book “The Science of Trust; Emotional Attunement for Couples. Pages183-184
May 15, 2015