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Could Too Much Praise Actually Hurt Your Kids?

The Short of It

Did we really need researchers to confirm that heaping undue praise on our kids may make them think they are better than everyone else? I guess we did, as a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says overdoing it on the "good jobs" and "well dones" and "you're awesomes," especially for no reason, can create mini-inflated egos that turn into grown-up inflated egos.

The Lowdown

No one is suggesting we shouldn't praise our children for their accomplishments. But overvaluing every little thing a kid does ("You brushed your teeth today! Wow! Mommy is so impressed!") may have adverse effects on him later in life.

Researchers looked to test two theories of how narcissistic behavior develops. The first theory was that parents overvalued their kids' accomplishments. The second theory was that parents weren't actually praiseworthy enough, so their kids were forced to seek approval elsewhere, in excess.

Young people between the ages of 7 and 11 living in the Netherlands were the test subjects. Along with their parents, they filled out questionnaires every six months for 18 months. As Forbes reports, some of the sample questions the children answered included:

  • "Kids like me deserve something extra."
  • "Kids like me are happy with themselves as a person."

Both the parents and their children also rated statements about ideas of value and love.

Children whose parents "overvalued" them were most likely to be narcissists, but did not necessarily exhibit the highest self-esteem.

So what's the difference? Co-author of the study Brad Bushman explained in Forbes: "People with high self-esteem think they're as good as others, whereas narcissists think they're better than others. Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society."

To be fair, narcissistic behavior is also influenced by genetics.

The Upshot

Research has shown that narcissists are more likely to have anger management issues later in life. So the take-home message for parents here is clear: Allowing your little ones to feel more special than everyone else can actually be damaging.

But in a world with bullying, social media, and other factors that can make young people feel bad, I'll be darned if my three girls can't come to their mother to feel like the most wonderful children on earth, no matter what any study says. Of course, I don't want them to act like they're better than others, but they must know they are beyond special to me.

What's your take?

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