Helping your child cope with a narcissistic parent

How To Help Your Kids Cope With A Narcissistic Parent — Joleena Louis Law

Divorcing a narcissist comes with many complications. But your biggest concern should be protecting your children from a narcissistic parent.

A divorce is likely to escalate emotions and certainly amplify some of your spouse's narcissistic tendencies.

Though this will be a tumultuous time for you, someone has to consider the kids. Protecting their calm and sense of security is going to fall on you.

That means managing your anger and attempting to control your emotions in front of them. They already have one angry parent - don’t make them have two.

The narcissist's goal will be to get an emotional reaction out of you. They want you to act illogically so they can play the victim and paint you out to be the bad parent. Don’t let emotions distract you from what is in your children’s best interest.

Getting down the narcissistic parents level will only dilute the effects of the narcissist's actions in the eyes of the court and the eyes of your children.

As long as you feel your child is safe, limit the amount of time you call or text your children.  

I often have my clients either set a specific time for calls or let the child call you.  This limits your interaction with the narcissistic parent when calls are made to reach the child but gives the child assurance that they will be able to speak to you.

If the child is old enough to have their own cell phone, this is less of an issue.

A narcissist will try to keep the conflict going long after the divorce decree is signed. If you allow them into your life and into your head, they will attempt to keep that emotional control over you.

You can limit this by not communicating about anything other than the children.  Keep the communication in writing and don’t address anything off subject. If it’s not about the kids, ignore it.

Avoiding constant conflict helps your kids have stability and security.

Narcissists are really good at making you feel like your feelings aren’t valid. This can be especially damaging to children.

Without disparaging the narcissist parent, let your children know you see and hear them and their feeling are valid.

Getting that support from you can help them better deal with invalidation from the narcissistic parent.

I get it. You’re frustrated. And often the only other people who get what you are going through are the narcissist's other victims:  your children.

Even though your children may seem mature, they are not physiologically equipped to take on the burden of being your therapist.

Remember the narcissist is their parent and though their behavior may be deplorable the child still loves them. It’s never ok to speak negatively about your child’s other parent. Even if what you are saying is true.

Again, stopping to this level will dilute the narcissist's negative actions.

If you see or learn that your child is being abused by the narcissist parent, you must take action. It’s your job to protect your child and not doing so makes you as guilty as the abuser.


Document Misconduct

Narcissists are great at portraying themselves as ideal parents to the court. Often you will need documented proof of the abuse before any action will be taken by the court or authorities.

How you go about documenting depends on the situation. Advice from a lawyer proficient in narcissistic divorce can help you go about it the right way.

Enforce Court Orders

If you are represented by a lawyer with experience in narcissist divorce, they likely would have ensured court orders contained provisions that help mitigate abuse of the children by the narcissist parent.

Some provisions I typically request include:
  • Counseling for the child or even therapeutic visits where the child and narcissist parent meet with a therapist together to help repair the relationship. Keep in mind that many narcissists refuse to attend therapy even if it’s the only way the court will allow them to see the child.
  • Non-disparagement clauses that prevent parents from disparaging the other to the child. This can even include preventing the narcissistic parent from disparaging the child.
  • Clauses that prohibit certain types of discipline including corporal punishment.
  • In some cases, supervised visits may be required.

Court orders are directive and failing to follow them has consequences. Failing to follow a custody order can result in loss of custody or access the child.

If a narcissistic parent is violating court orders, you have to make sure those orders are enforced. If you do nothing you will be equally responsible for the negative effects on your child.

This doesn’t mean filing a violation for every small thing, but if the violation is hurting your child it’s your obligation to ensure the order is enforced.

Encourage Your Child To Speak To Their Attorney

In most New York custody cases an attorney for the child is appointed. Their job is to represent the child’s desires to the court.

In a custody case, a narcissistic spouse will attempt to portray you as trying to alienate the child when you try to bring their narcissistic tendencies to the attention of the court.

It’s best to let the child’s concerns come from the child directly.

Do not tell your child what to say. Do not push your child to say anything. But you should let them know that they can tell their lawyer anything about you or the other parent. Let them know that no one will be upset if they tell the truth.  

If they are old enough, give them the attorney's contact information and encourage them to contact their attorney directly.

If they come to you with complaints about the other parent, acknowledge that you hear them and suggest they discuss it with their attorney.

Divorcing a narcissist will be difficult for you but can be even more difficult for your child. Using these tips can help you make the process easier for them.

Meet with an attorney with the skills and experience to deal with this the unique problems of divorcing a narcissist in New York. Or for more support, join our narcissist divorce support group.  

How do you protect your children from your narcissist spouse? Share in the comments below.

8 Strategies to Help Your Child Cope with a Narcissistic Parent

Parenting resources

The only thing more challenging than a divorce from a narcissistic spouse is helping your children through having a narcissistic parent. Because narcissism can present itself in such varied ways, children in these situations often struggle with tremendous anxiety.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula

Posted on

The only thing more challenging than a divorce from a narcissistic spouse is managing co-parenting and navigating your children through the tricky territory of having a narcissistic parent. Narcissistic parents lack empathy, are entitled, arrogant, validation seeking, grandiose, sullen, victimized, egocentric, and can be quite rageful. Because narcissism can present itself in such varied ways—inconsistency, criticism, authoritarianism, control, manipulation, gaslighting— children in these situations often struggle with tremendous anxiety.
Children with a narcissistic parent typically display other patterns such as distractibility (which can negatively impact academic performance), shame, self-blame. Dysregulation can manifest as internalizing patterns (self-harm and behaviors consistent with disordered eating) or externalizing patterns (substance use, sexual risk-taking, and rebellious behaviors).
You may also observe the onset of narcissistic behavior in the child, especially as they move into adolescence and emerging adulthood. Some behaviors include a false sense of entitlement, oppositionality, invalidation, gaslighting, and self-victimization. As your child transitions into adulthood, they may choose relational or friendship situations related to the narcissistic abuse they observed and perhaps experienced with their narcissistic parent. 

So what do you do?

This is the vexing question that so many parents in these situations ruminate over. Not all people in these situations seek out divorce. Some may wait or delay as long as they can for fear of sharing custody and the child spending time alone with the narcissistic parent. Some reach a point at which they feel they do not want their child to observe such a toxic marriage, and they call it quits. Whichever path you are on, there are no easy paths forward. Either way, your child will struggle from having a narcissistic parent, and there is no avoiding that. Here are 8 strategies to consider to help your child cope with these situations.  

1. It is crucial that you do not speak poorly of the narcissistic parent to the child.  

You will agonize and wish you could just spell it out to the child, but you can't. A child with a narcissistic parent is confused because this isn't an adult relationship. Sadly, no matter how poorly children are treated by their parent, they often maintain a fierce loyalty to them until they can have their own process as adults and come to these conclusions on their own. There is no pushing fast-forward on this. Doing so can confuse the child who may still view their parent as a parent and have some good moments with them as you once did.   

2. Do not gaslight your own child. 

What does that mean? You do not need to paint the narcissistic parent out to be a saint or a wonderful person. You do NOT want to say "oh, they didn't mean that" or "they love you" after the parent does something particularly egregious. When you do that, you leave the child confused. But if they bring up an uncomfortable scenario with their parent, tell your child they can talk about it. You do not need to fix it, but you can offer empathy over how hard it is and always reassure them that none of this is their fault.
Just don't talk about their parent being a "bad person," get enraged, or threaten to call the other parent. It leaves the child feeling that you aren't a safe place to talk. Unless what they are raising is related to danger, which involves reporting and safety concerns, you want your child to feel they have a safe space to talk.  

3. Use the 30,000-foot technique. 

When your child talks about their narcissistic parent, offer empathy and support, and don't try to fix anything. The 30,000-foot view means that when you want to offer more pointed feedback. try to talk in terms of "all adults." For example, "I hear you. Having to deal with so much anger is exhausting. Adults are not great at managing their emotions. It's not okay when that happens, and it's hard to be on the receiving side of that. "
Using more generic language may give you the chance to pull back so you aren't talking about their parent specifically. By making about all adults, you can help provide them with some context about the situation. Let them know it's not acceptable and validate their feelings. 

4. Keep in mind developmental issues. 

Obviously, a 4-year-old child will have a very different experience than a 14-year-old child. Narcissistic parents struggle differentially at each stage of child development. The drudgery of small children can frustrate them, though they are often easier to do simple things with, like a trip to the park. The defiance and back talk of adolescents can trigger narcissistic parents into rages. These parents view their children—and everyone else—as accessories to provide a narcissistic supply rather than as people who have emotional and other needs they are responsible for. The ways you help your child cope with this situation will shift as your child gets older.   

5. Infuse your household with empathy. 

This is easier if you are living apart from the narcissistic parent. Make time and space for emotional conversations and be present with your child's emotions. Work on emotional identification, which you can do with a younger child by reading a story and asking them how they think the characters feel. As your children get older, choose age-appropriate films to watch together. After the film, don't just turn it off and go in separate directions. Instead, try and talk about the emotions evoked by the story, situations, or characters. Also, try building emotional questions and identification into the day-to-day life—not "how did the test go?" but "how did you feel after today?"  

6. Teach your child self-regulation and self-soothing. 

Don't fix everything for them but support them through struggles. This can be as simple as playing board games and not letting them win and teaching them how to be okay with not winning the game every time. Let them cry it out after they lose the big game. When they try to blame others for their misfortunes, teach them about taking responsibility. When a child watches a narcissistic parent always blame other people, it can be an easy hole to fall into. Don't let your child make the same mistake.

7. Practice consistency. 

Narcissistic parents and their households are notoriously inconsistent. They can be the prototypical Disneyland parent, the checked-out-when-they-are-dating-someone-new parent, the too-stressed-from-work parent, or want-the-children-around-when-it-works-for-them parent. That may put you in an unenviable position of being the buzzkill parent having to deal with homework, school registrations, bedtimes.
Despite the complaints, children welcome and need routine. They may gripe, but it is reassuring to have at least one parent maintain that routine. It will foster a sense of safety and self-regulation in your child.

8. Consider therapy. 

This can be complicated depending on the stipulations of your divorce around joint decision-making regarding healthcare. It also depends on the willingness of the other parent to cooperate with therapy for your child. Sadly, stigmas surround therapy. The narcissistic parent will be concerned about what the child will say. Not having control over the narrative means that your co-parent may impede your ability to get your child into therapy.
However, it can be essential for your child to get tools to manage anxiety, confusion, anger, grief, guilt, shame, and other negative emotions. This applies to you as a parent as well—and here, you have more leeway because you don't need your co-parent's buy-in. Your own therapy is a place to cope, vent, and get feedback. Ideally, choose a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse.
Sadly, having a narcissistic parent casts a lifelong echo. That means it's even more critical for a child to have a parent who can "see" them, support them, and offer stability. With at least one good, non-narcissistic parent, the child can foster resilience in the face of the myriad of challenges brought on by a narcissistic parent. Co-parenting with a narcissist will always be difficult. Still, you can help your child grow and succeed by providing emotional nourishment, validation, unconditional love, and the proper psychological tools.

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.

About the author

Dr. Ramani Durvasula

Chief Executive Officer LUNA Education, Training & Consulting LLC

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a clinical psychologist, professor, author and founder and CEO of LUNA Education, Training & Consulting LLC a firm that provides cutting-edge information on narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and best practices to facilitate and foster healing in the wake of high-conflict and toxic relationships.

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How to behave with a narcissistic child

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What to do if a child constantly demands attention, provokes others and behaves defiantly and defiantly. In Europe, in such cases, it is customary to immediately invite parents and a teacher to a special coach who will help to understand the child and find their own approaches to raising him. There are no such programs in Russia yet. Teachers themselves have to find ways to interact with such children. The author of the telegram channel "Atypical Narcissism" Tanya Pieters tells what can and cannot be done with difficult children.

What is narcissism in children

9-year-old Vadim asked his classmate to play with his typewriter, and then threw it out the window. The toy fell on the concrete pavement and shattered into pieces. When Vadim was asked why he did this, he replied that the classmate was to blame, and gave his version of what happened. The boy was unhappy that his friend brought an expensive car to school, because he himself does not have one.

12-year-old Olesya argues with everyone until she is proven right. Even if she is wrong a hundred times, it is impossible to convince her of this. Only her opinion matters and only her words are true.

11-year-old Pavlik does not offend anyone and is generally a very quiet boy. Very quietly, Pavlik does nasty things, shifting responsibility onto someone else. And then he enjoys the spectacle of someone else's quarrel, and if he's lucky, then fights.

You probably recognize a student in the class or your child in these stories. Children who are narcissists are usually very visible.

Narcissism is the ability of a person to admire only himself and take only himself seriously. Only one's own desires matter, only their state is important. In adults, narcissism is diagnosed and classified. And then it is treated, though not always successfully.

According to Jean Piaget's theory of human development, narcissism is a natural part of the formation of personality, which takes place at the second stage of four and falls on the primary school age. Children during this period are filled with egocentrism and undeveloped cause-and-effect thinking. When the child enters another stage of development, the narcissistic manifestations will disappear. The main thing is that the personality does not get stuck in the stages of development.

How to deal with daffodils for teachers

Firstly, accept for yourself that this behavior is part of personality development and it will not work to change the child's behavior quickly. Children do not yet know how to masterfully cope with their emotions. Often they do not even understand what they are experiencing in the current situation. This frightens them, and in order to drown out this fear, they may behave inappropriately. However, this behavior can be considered the norm. You need a clear understanding that at this moment the child needs help. Real professional help should be provided by a family psychologist, not teachers.

True, sometimes such students have inadequate parents, so when talking, you must be extremely correct and accurate so that this child is not accidentally killed by angry parents.

Secondly, must strictly observe the boundaries, that is, be strict, but not aggressive. Do not get into arguments with such a child. As soon as you start arguing with him, you have lost. It doesn’t matter here whether you are right, whether you plugged him into the belt with your arguments or kicked him out of the class. You lost because you moved from the major league of "wise teacher" to the "negligent student" battlefield. In other words, you showed your weakness.

Of course, there are children who will deliberately tease you, test your boundaries, show off their bad behavior in front of classmates. It is very difficult to stay within the boundaries at such moments. Try to take care of yourself first. Let your stress out at home. During the conflict itself, try to focus on your breath. Count your inhales and exhales, not out loud, of course. Often the silence of an adult has a greater effect on a child than all the cries put together.

Third, don't ignore the problem. Sometimes there is a temptation to "just ignore" in the hope that the child will calm down on his own without receiving the necessary recognition. If possible, try to take the raging student to the school psychologist. They know exactly what to do.
Try to figure out the reason for such an act of the child. Did he want to draw attention to himself at any cost and did his deskmates help him in this, the losers from the next row - all became providers of the necessary emotions. Or did he want to avoid the test in this way, knowing that you would put him out? In the latter case, you can conduct an individual control test with him, keeping an eye on him and not letting him cheat.

Fourth, be consistent. If you decide to scare a bully with an unscheduled test, do it. If you say that the whole class is going on an excursion, except for him, make sure that this can really be implemented. Empty threats are very easy to see through and it will no longer be possible to use them, and the student will feel his strength.

In general, this advice applies not only to punishments. Try to be honest with students. Children sense lies and lose respect for you. Well, with those whom you do not respect, you can behave as you like, it is even an honor.

Be sure to talk to the school psychologist about the student. There can be a lot of reasons for such behavior, starting from the hypersensitivity of the child himself and ending with domestic violence. In any case, he needs the help of adults to go through this difficult period of personal development.

From the author: Tanya Pieters, the author of the Atypical Narcissism telegram channel.

My child is a daffodil! What to do – DW – 01/18/2022

Photo: khosro Rajabkordi/Zoonar/picture alliance

SocietyGlobal topics

Julia Vergin | Pavel Mylnikov

January 18, 2022

The desire to be in the center of attention, an excessive sense of self-importance and the desire to achieve one's own - such signs of narcissism can also appear in children. What should parents do?


Narcissism has an unenviable reputation. Most of us immediately come to mind narcissistic and extremely sensitive to criticism egoists. And besides, they are capable of showing aggression if they do not receive the admiration that, in their own opinion, they deserve.

However, from the point of view of developmental psychology, the narcissistic phase in a child's life is not only natural, but also extremely important for the development of a stable psyche. Such natural or healthy narcissism helps a person to build scenarios for the future, believe in himself and his own worth, and achieve a kind of autarky - the ability to develop their own plans and turn them into reality, write psychiatrists Michael Lipp (Michael Lipp) and Anne Karow (Anne Karow) in an article about childhood and adolescent narcissism.

Therefore, specialists are very careful when talking about narcissistic personality disorder when it comes to children or adolescents. The origins of personality disorders originate in early childhood and manifest themselves as they grow older. But the diagnosis is often made only in adulthood.

How does narcissism manifest itself in children?

However, it is important to recognize an exaggerated tendency to narcissism in one's own child, not only because the behavior of children, showing delusions of grandeur and constantly seeking attention to themselves, is extremely tiring for parents, teachers and peers.

"Narcissism does not make a person happy," says Eddie Brummelman, a developmental psychologist at the University of Amsterdam who studies the development of self-awareness in children. His writings are sure to catch the eye of any student of the subject.

"People-narcissists constantly ask themselves the question: "What do others think of me?" Their self-esteem is subject to strong fluctuations, because they depend on the approval of others and must always present themselves as special, "the expert notes. It is important for parents to recognize that their child experiences severe stress as a result.

In addition, narcissism is directly related to aggressive behavior, according to a meta-analysis by Sophie Kierwick and Brad Bushman of Ohio State University. This is why it is important to get to the bottom of the possible causes of a child's narcissistic behavior at an early stage. Like other personality traits, signs of narcissism can be at least partially hereditary, Eddie Brummelman points out.

But they can also be the result of certain methods of raising a child. In 2015, Brummelman conducted a study of 565 children and their parents in which a developmental psychologist and his team tested two theories about the origins of narcissism.

More talented, smarter - and more narcissistic

According to one theory, parents value their offspring beyond measure and thus contribute to the development of narcissism. Another suggests that narcissistic behavior is a reaction of children to the coldness and detachment of their parents. The results of Brummelman's research support the first theory: children who are praised to the skies by their fathers and mothers are more likely to develop narcissistic traits.

"These parents believe that their child is more talented, smarter and more capable than other children," the expert points out. Thus, the standard that the child must meet also rises. Here Brummelman points out another problem: "Love for one's own child is conditional. If the child fails to live up to the expectations of the parents, he will become afraid that they will be disappointed or even ashamed."

Fragment of the painting "Narcissus" by the Italian artist Caravaggio Photo: Gallerie Nazionali di Arte Antica, Rom Photo: Mauro Coen

to make me stand out from the masses" and "I am not valued for my personality, but only for my achievements. " As a result, a narcissistic personality develops without a stable sense of self-worth.

"Of course, all parents think their own children are special - and that's okay! Parental warmth and affection without any conditions is important for self-confidence," says Brummelman. There is nothing wrong with praise - if it is realistic.

Not to compare with others, but to celebrate progress

Instead of constantly comparing the achievements of their child and other children, parents should focus on the progress of their own child. For example, point out: "Look, last year you didn't succeed, but now you can!"

This opinion is shared by Renate Schepker, board member of the German Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy (DGKJP). She has encountered children and adolescents with excessive narcissistic behavior in daily clinical practice. "Parents can be proud of their children and express it when the child has learned something new," says the expert.

Problems arise when parents fail to set boundaries and their expectations do not match the child's developmental level. "A certain culture of controversy is part of good parenting," Schepker notes. Children need to be able to cope with such situations - when dad and mom have a bad day or when they reproach the offspring: "You are unbearable today!" And vice versa: the child needs to be able to tell his parents the same thing. Thus, children learn that making mistakes is in the order of things, the expert emphasizes.

Unresolved issues from one's own childhood

Therapy can help if a teenager's narcissistic behavior is causing problems at school or socializing with friends - when children feel that social rules and demands are set not for themselves but for others. Parental counseling is part of any therapy for children, Schepker points out.

At the same time, it often becomes clear that the support of the therapist may be necessary for the parents themselves.

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