Narcissistic Personality Disorder Traits in Children: What You Should Know (2022)

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition where a person has an overly high sense of self-worth and wants others to admire them. NPD is one of several personality disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

This condition can affect both children and adults, but there are some differences between the two groups. Learn more about narcissism in children, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Traits in Children: What You Should Know (1)

General Symptoms of NPD

The symptoms of narcissism in children are similar to the symptoms seen in adults with NPD. However, there are some differences between the two groups, and things to consider when narcissistic personality disorder is suspected.

Children go through phases throughout development that may include tendencies to be self-centered or have an inflated image of themselves. This is normal. It becomes more of a concern when these traits are still present after puberty.

General symptoms of NPD include:

  • Arrogance and a sense of superiority
  • Belittlement of others
  • Desire to only associate with people viewed as superior to others
  • Entitlement (feels they have the right to something that they don't)
  • Envy
  • Excessive need to be admired and have attention
  • Exploitation of others
  • Extreme, negative emotions or lack of emotion in response to negative or lack of attention
  • Extreme sense of self-importance, talent, or achievement
  • Fantasies of unlimited access to things such as power, sex, money, and attractiveness
  • Feelings of uniqueness, as if they are special
  • Hidden insecurities and shame
  • Lack of empathy
  • Perfectionism and negative emotions in response to falling short of perfection

Types of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Signs of NPD in Children

Some symptoms and traits of narcissism are a normal part of child development. Therefore, only those under age 18 who can be officially diagnosed with a personality disorder are teens with suspected borderline personality disorder (BPD). Narcissistic traits can be noted, but NPD currently cannot be diagnosed until the age of 18, as personality is thought to be variable until adulthood.

Children as young as 2 years old can show signs of narcissism. This is good because it is early enough that environmental and parenting influences can be changed to decrease the chances of the child developing NPD.

When assessing this condition in children, there are additional signs to consider that are unique to younger groups or do not apply to adults. For example, children may show signs related to their behaviors and attitude at school and how they play independently and with other children. These include:

  • Compromised friendship quality or relationship interactions
  • Discomfort or self-consciousness related to fantasy play
  • Excessive sensitivity to criticism or loss
  • Excessive social media posting, especially images of self
  • Expectation of special treatment from parents or other caregivers
  • Frequently checking mirrors
  • Inability to maintain eye contact
  • Inflated ego
  • Lack of friends
  • Learning difficulties unrelated to limited intelligence
  • Loss of interest in playing with toys
  • Lying as a form of justification, especially without remorse
  • Separation anxiety
  • Suspiciousness
  • Tantrums beyond what is considered normal

Causes

Causes of narcissistic personality disorder in children are not entirely understood. It is believed to be linked to biological factors (such as genetics) and environmental factors. However, there is also some contradiction in research about environmental and parental influences of narcissism.

For example, some people have thought that having parents who show children affection and appreciation can lead to narcissism. However, research has shown that while these parenting behaviors help to increase child self-esteem, the parenting behaviors that can actually lead to narcissism are those that reinforce their child's entitlement. A child is more likely to develop NPD if they believe that they are special compared to other children.

Other factors that may contribute to a child developing NPD include:

  • Abuse (both physical and emotional)
  • Adoption
  • Cultural influences
  • Death of a parent or caregiver
  • Divorce of parents
  • Excessive criticism
  • Extreme expectations from parents
  • Genetics or biological factors, including inherited personality traits
  • High sensitivity
  • Narcissistic parents
  • Neglect from parents or caregivers
  • Overindulgence or pampering from parents or other caregivers
  • Overprotective parenting style
  • Parents behaving as if their child were entitled or more special than other children
  • Peer or social influences
  • Traumatic experiences or trauma

How Parents Create Narcissistic Children

The experiences of children as they grow have an impact on how they develop. In the case of narcissism, parenting styles and the way parents view and interact with their children can influence the chances of their children developing NPD.

(Video) Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Children and Teenagers

For example, parents help to foster self-esteem in children when they show their children appreciation and interact warmly and affectionately. Conversely, childhood narcissism can occur when a parent views their child as being better or more entitled than other children.

NPD Is No One's Fault

Narcissism is not the fault of parents or the result of poor parenting. However, parents can make changes to their parenting behaviors and interactions to help their kids overcome narcissistic tendencies.

Treatment

The first step in the treatment process for narcissism in childhood is to get an evaluation from a mental health professional such as a child psychologist or child psychiatrist. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a treatment option for NPD and early signs of narcissism in children. There are many types of child therapy that can help with developing pathological (personality) traits, such as play therapy and those involving the family such as parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT).

Changes in parenting styles is another option specifically when addressing childhood NPD. Since parental behaviors can have a significant effect on their child's development, changing those parenting behaviors can be used as an intervention to decrease narcissism. Family therapy can help with improving parenting behaviors.

Types of Mental Health Therapy

Summary

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition affecting children and adults. It involves entitlement, an inflated sense of self, and interpersonal and relationship challenges.

There are special considerations in childhood narcissism, such as the normal phases of child development that include self-centeredness, behaviors, and interactions as children learn and grow. Additionally, parenting styles and behaviors can influence childhood narcissism, and they can be adjusted to help improve early signs of narcissistic tendencies.

Professional support from a child psychologist or therapist can help guide treatment and parenting changes.

A Word From Verywell

Childhood narcissism can be challenging and may come with feelings of shame. However, this is not the fault of parents, and changes can be made to prevent and help children cope with NPD.

If you think your child may be showing signs of narcissism, help is available. Reach out to a health professional, such as a psychologist, therapist, or another mental health provider for support.

Personality Disorders: Types and Characteristics

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you deal with a narcissistic child?

    When narcissism is suspected in a child, or when a child shows signs of narcissism, the first step is to seek the support of a qualified mental health professional such as a psychologist or therapist. These professionals can assess and diagnose, and then help parents learn strategies to better support children with narcissistic personality disorder.

    Learn More:The Different Types of Psychotherapists

  • Is narcissism related to psychological issues in children who come from divorced parents?

    While the divorce of parents can be a stressful event for children and may increase the risk of narcissism, that does not mean the divorce of parents will lead to narcissistic personality disorder in children. The environmental risk of narcissism is related to overall stressful life events and lifestyle, including parenting styles and how the parents interact with the child.

(Video) Can A Child be Narcissistic? Early Signs & Advice

5 Sources

(Video) 7 Traits of Narcissism & How to Spot Them | MedCircle x Dr Ramani

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American Psychological Association. Narcissistic personality disorder.

  2. Britannica. Narcissism.

  3. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.

  4. Brummelman E, Thomaes S, Nelemans SA, Orobio de Castro B, Overbeek G, Bushman BJ. Origins of narcissism in children.PNAS. 2015;112(12):3659-3662. doi:10.1073/pnas.1420870112

  5. Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic personality disorder. In:StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2021.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Traits in Children: What You Should Know (2)

By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH
Dr. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development.

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(Video) Understanding the Traits of a Child Raised by a Narcissist

FAQs

What are narcissistic traits in children? ›

Signs that a child may be a narcissist include a lack of empathy; unrealistic sense of self-importance; lack of recognition of attention and admiration; and an overall struggle in social and family relationships.

What is the typical childhood for a narcissist? ›

The development of narcissistic traits is in many cases, a consequence of neglect or excessive appraisal. In some cases, this pathological self-structure arises under childhood conditions of inadequate warmth, approval and excessive idealization, where parents do not see or accept the child as they are.

How narcissist treat their child? ›

A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child's life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves.

What kind of parents raise a narcissist? ›

Parents who are inconsistent, neglectful, or abusive can raise children who evidence narcissistic patterns in adulthood.

What are the 5 main habits of a narcissist? ›

Common Narcissist Characteristics
  • Inflated Ego.
  • Lack of Empathy.
  • Need for Attention.
  • Repressed Insecurities.
  • Few Boundaries.

What are the red flags of a narcissist? ›

Here are some narcissism red flags to look out for: Lacking empathy. They seem unable or unwilling to have empathy for others, and they appear to have no desire for emotional intimacy. Unrealistic sense of entitlement.

What are the 12 signs of narcissism? ›

12 signs of narcissism
  • Superiority and entitlement. The world of the narcissist is all about good-bad, superior-inferior, and right-wrong. ...
  • Exaggerated need for attention and validation. ...
  • Lack of responsibility—blaming and deflecting. ...
  • Lack of boundaries. ...
  • Lack of empathy. ...
  • Emotional reasoning. ...
  • Splitting. ...
  • Fear.
24 Nov 2018

What kind of trauma causes narcissism? ›

Narcissism tends to emerge as a psychological defence in response to excessive levels of parental criticism, abuse or neglect in early life. Narcissistic personalities tend to be formed by emotional injury as a result of overwhelming shame, loss or deprivation during childhood.

Can children show narcissistic tendencies? ›

"Many kids and teens go through phases of being self-absorbed, have inflated sense of confidence or self-worth, and can lack empathy for others due to the focus on getting their own needs met," he says. In fact, narcissistic traits like these are actually pretty common for kids to exhibit, says Macadaan.

What does a narcissistic mother say? ›

You're always so busy with your own life that you don't even think about me.” “I'm so tired of doing everything for you.” “You're gaining weight and won't be able to fit your new clothes soon.” “I'm going to have to punish you if you don't do exactly what I say.”

What happens to a child raised by a narcissist? ›

Effects of Being Raised by Narcissists

Brunell says, “The child typically suffers from low psychological well-being, such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. They tend to try to please others and have poor ability to set boundaries or to say no to people's requests.

What is the emotional age of a narcissist? ›

According to Thomaes & Brummelman, the development of narcissism begins at around the ages of 7 or 8. This is the time when children begin to evaluate themselves according to how they perceive others.

How do narcissists treat their siblings? ›

Many describe their childhood as one of being a “verbal punching bag” for their brother or sister, cruelty which often remains hidden to parents as the narcissistic child endeavours to maintain the appearance of perfection to authority figures.

How does a narcissist treat his daughter? ›

How a Narcissistic Father Can Hurt His Son or Daughter. Narcissistic parents often damage their children. For example, they may disregard boundaries, manipulate their children by withholding affection (until they perform), and neglect to meet their children's needs because their needs come first.

How do narcissist treat their family? ›

In many families, a narcissistic sibling or child slowly takes over by demanding the most attention and loyalty, insulting everyone (even parents), violating the family's rules, and manipulating its decision-making.

How does a narcissistic mother behave? ›

A narcissistic mother may feel entitled or self-important, seek admiration from others, believe she is above others, lack empathy, exploit her children, put others down, experience hypersensitivity to criticism, believe she deserves special treatment, and worst of all, maybe naïve to the damage she is causing.

How parents turn their children into narcissists? ›

The results are quite clear: Parents who "overvalue" children during this developmental stage, telling them they are superior to others and entitled to special treatment, are more likely to produce narcissistic children -- who can grow up to become narcissistic adults, unless something is done about it.

What parenting leads to narcissism? ›

To summarize, overparenting, lack of warmth, leniency, overvaluation and childhood maltreatment have all been associated with higher levels of narcissism. However, these parenting behaviours have often been examined in isolation or in different combinations, with mixed findings.

What environment causes narcissism? ›

Narcissistic personality disorder may be linked to: Environment ― mismatches in parent-child relationships with either excessive adoration or excessive criticism that is poorly attuned to the child's experience. Genetics ― inherited characteristics.

How are narcissists with money? ›

Narcissists often use money as a tool for punishment. They may reward you financially when you do what they want, and then withhold money when they feel vindictive. This can feel unsafe, degrading and confusing.

What is the most important thing to a narcissist? ›

Control, control, control. A narcissist needs to have control over the situation they're in. Whether that's in a relationship, in a social scenario, or something else, a narcissist will manipulate the circumstances to maintain control.

What is a high functioning narcissist? ›

High-functioning: This characterizes people who are able to garner enough admiration to fulfill their narcissistic needs. They are often highly successful and admired.

What does narcissistic abuse look like? ›

Someone engaging in narcissistic abuse often has little respect for boundaries. When you try to set or enforce limits, they might challenge them, completely ignore them, or give you the silent treatment until you do what they want. Eventually, you might give up on your boundaries entirely.

Do narcissists have friends? ›

Narcissists value fame, beauty, and success more than relationships. Sure, they date and have friends and often these relationships start out exciting — but fizzle quickly. “People who are narcissistic should have a trail of bad relationships behind them,” Campbell said.

Do narcissists apologize? ›

If you've heard someone say, “Narcissists never apologize,” they're not exactly right. While many traits of narcissism like entitlement, elitism, and arrogance make it unlikely someone with narcissistic traits will go the apology route, apologies are sometimes used with ulterior motives.

What are the tell tale signs of a narcissist? ›

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder
  • Grandiose sense of self-importance. ...
  • Lives in a fantasy world that supports their delusions of grandeur. ...
  • Needs constant praise and admiration. ...
  • Sense of entitlement. ...
  • Exploits others without guilt or shame. ...
  • Frequently demeans, intimidates, bullies, or belittles others.

Does narcissism worsen with age? ›

Unlike fine wine or cheese, narcissists don't get better with age. They don't mellow, become wise, or develop late-onset self-awareness. Their personalities intensify, and without their ability to control others, they become bitter, defensive, and bossy.

Are you born with narcissism? ›

“People are not just born narcissists and there is nothing you can do about it,” Bushman said. “Our research shows that the way parents treat their children can predict how narcissistic their kids are.” To be clear, narcissism is not a disorder that people do or do not have.

What does narcissistic injury feel like? ›

Instead, a narcissistic injury, aka “narcissistic wound,” is what some people with NPD might feel when they encounter criticism, loss, or perceived abandonment. Even though they may not show it, they may experience humiliation and rejection.

How do you not raise a narcissistic child? ›

Give them the tools to be able to recognise when they are behaving inappropriately. Teach them to learn from their mistakes and to grow from them. Teach your child self-worth in the face of adversity. Teach that it is ok to fail and receive criticism at times and that it's the effort that is important not the result.

How do you deal with a narcissistic tantrum? ›

Here are 10 tips for when you're faced with narcissistic rage:
  1. Physically Distance Yourself. ...
  2. Establish Your Boundaries. ...
  3. Stay Calm. ...
  4. Don't Overreact to the Narcissist's Rage. ...
  5. Empathize With the Narcissist & Validate Their Viewpoint. ...
  6. Don't Raise Your Voice. ...
  7. Take a Break. ...
  8. Remember This Is Not About You.

What does bpd look like in a child? ›

Young people with emerging borderline personality disorder may describe many of the following: feeling okay one moment and then feeling deeply despairing, angry, sad or anxious the next. emotions or moods that change very rapidly. feeling out of control of, or overwhelmed by, their emotions.

What narcissistic mothers do to their daughters? ›

A mother with narcissistic tendencies is typically overly concerned with her daughter's appearance and achievements and how they reflect back on her, says Lis. As a result, the daughter doesn't learn to be her authentic self.

Do narcissistic parents love their children? ›

The tragic reality is that narcissists don't (and can't) love their children in the way that ordinary people do. They will tell you that they do (and most likely they will believe that they do), but their love can only be of the transactional, conditional type, even with their children.

What happens to children of narcissistic mothers? ›

Children of narcissistic parents generally experience humiliation and shame and grow up having poor self-esteem. Oftentimes, these children become adults that are high achievers, self-saboteurs, or both. Children hurt by this type of parent will need professional help to recover from narcissistic abuse.

How does a narcissistic father behave? ›

Signs of a father with narcissistic personality disorder

Reacting to criticism with shame, rage, or humiliation. Constant need for extreme attention. Unrealistic need for admiration & appreciation. Being overly envious to the point of anger.

Can a narcissist be a good parent? ›

Narcissistic parents beget kids with a whole host of psychological problems,” Durvasula says. These problems include higher than average rates of depression and anxiety, lack of self-regulation, eating disorders, low self-esteem, an impaired sense of self, substance abuse and perfectionism.

Is narcissism a choice? ›

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a formal mental health diagnosis. It's not a personal choice of behaviors. It requires a proper diagnosis by a mental health professional.

Do narcissists have nervous breakdowns? ›

A person with NPD who's challenged in their sense of superiority may experience a narcissistic collapse. This is an emotional reaction of pain and vulnerability that may lead them to withdraw or act vindictively. There's still no consensus on the reasons for this reaction.

Can a narcissist be cured? ›

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Treatment

There is no cure, but therapy can help. The goal is to build up the person's poor self-esteem and have more realistic expectations of others. Treatment usually centers on talk therapy. Sometimes people call this psychotherapy.

How does a narcissist react when they can't control you? ›

Narcissists also gaslight or practice master manipulation, weakening and destabilizing their victims; finally, they utilize positive and negative emotions or moments to trick others. When a narcissist can't control you, they'll likely feel threatened, react with anger, and they might even start threatening you.

What is a toxic sister? ›

A toxic sibling relationship is a relationship that is unbalanced in its power dynamic and may involve sibling abuse and dysfunctional sibling rivalry. Sibling estrangement can be caused by parental favouritism, having immature parents, parental or sibling abuse and psychopathy.

What are narcissistic siblings like? ›

Typically, narcissistic siblings keep score and feel compelled to outplay a sibling. They often triangulate in the family, playing two against one. Children reared in narcissistic homes rarely feel connected to one another as adults.

Can a 7 year old be a narcissist? ›

True narcissism is rare and children can't be diagnosed with NPD until they are older, but your child may display traits associated with narcissism as they develop.

At what age does narcissistic personality disorder develop? ›

Narcissistic personality disorder affects more males than females, and it often begins in the teens or early adulthood. Keep in mind that, although some children may show traits of narcissism, this may simply be typical of their age and doesn't mean they'll go on to develop narcissistic personality disorder.

How do you tell if your son is a narcissistic? ›

What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Child?
  • Believing they are better than other kids.
  • Difficulty making friends/maintaining friendships.
  • See getting attention as their right/need to be center of attention.
  • Withdrawal from others who do not give attention or admiration.

What are the 4 types of narcissism? ›

As a personality trait, narcissism can be overt, covert, antagonistic, communal, or malignant.
...
Researchers and experts typically work around five types of narcissism:
  • overt narcissism.
  • covert narcissism.
  • antagonistic narcissism.
  • communal narcissism.
  • malignant narcissism.

What kind of trauma causes narcissism? ›

Narcissism tends to emerge as a psychological defence in response to excessive levels of parental criticism, abuse or neglect in early life. Narcissistic personalities tend to be formed by emotional injury as a result of overwhelming shame, loss or deprivation during childhood.

What does a narcissistic mother say? ›

You're always so busy with your own life that you don't even think about me.” “I'm so tired of doing everything for you.” “You're gaining weight and won't be able to fit your new clothes soon.” “I'm going to have to punish you if you don't do exactly what I say.”

Is narcissism inherited? ›

Genetics may also play a role in contributing to narcissistic personality disorder. In a 2014 study involving 304 pairs of twins, researchers found that some NPD traits were somewhat heritable (aka able to be passed on through genetics): grandiosity was 23% heritable. entitlement was 35% heritable.

What are the red flags of a narcissist? ›

Here are some narcissism red flags to look out for: Lacking empathy. They seem unable or unwilling to have empathy for others, and they appear to have no desire for emotional intimacy. Unrealistic sense of entitlement.

What makes narcissist happy? ›

Some reasons why Narcissists are happy include:

They believe they are superior, so they have an overinflated sense of self. They deflect issues and faults onto others and do not take responsibility for their own actions. They have a grandiose delusional sense of self-importance.

What are the 5 main habits of a narcissist? ›

Common Narcissist Characteristics
  • Inflated Ego.
  • Lack of Empathy.
  • Need for Attention.
  • Repressed Insecurities.
  • Few Boundaries.

Can children grow out of narcissism? ›

Most children, however, grow out of the behavior while it seems to linger for others. One of the characteristics is that a child needs to display the signs of narcissism five years prior to their eighteenth birthday in order to meet the full standard.

How do you reverse narcissism in children? ›

Here are seven ways we as parents can keep narcissism at bay in our kids and avoid overusing praise.
  1. Love your kids, warts and all. ...
  2. Stick to the point with your praise. ...
  3. Praise the present. ...
  4. Be sparing, but not a miser, with your praise. ...
  5. Praise what is worthy of complimenting. ...
  6. Teach the Golden Rule. ...
  7. Walk in their shoes.
11 Mar 2015

Do children of narcissists become narcissists? ›

It is no wonder then, that children of narcissists very often become narcissistic themselves, having 'learned' narcissism from their very own beginnings. In developing 'work arounds' to appease their narcissistic parent, they are actually wiring these patterns into their brains as normal.

Do narcissists apologize? ›

If you've heard someone say, “Narcissists never apologize,” they're not exactly right. While many traits of narcissism like entitlement, elitism, and arrogance make it unlikely someone with narcissistic traits will go the apology route, apologies are sometimes used with ulterior motives.

What is another name for narcissist? ›

OTHER WORDS FOR narcissism

1 self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism.

How does a narcissist react when they can't control you? ›

Narcissists also gaslight or practice master manipulation, weakening and destabilizing their victims; finally, they utilize positive and negative emotions or moments to trick others. When a narcissist can't control you, they'll likely feel threatened, react with anger, and they might even start threatening you.

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