Narcissistic Personality Disorder Traits in Children: What You Should Know

NPD, Narcissism In Children

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.

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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

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.

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.

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.

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.

  • 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.

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5 Sources
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.
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