Anybody who writes off parenting as not a real job, well, I’d like them see them say that to their parents’ faces. Let’s think for a second of the jobs they do see as “real jobs” like doctors or accountants or software engineers. You know who got those professionals to a place where they were smart, confident, competent, compassionate, and, oh, you know, alive enough to do their work? Their parents. Every single parent is, in their own way, a parent of our society at large. That’s how I see it. Being a parent is one of the biggest responsibilities in the world. When someone is really bad, what’s the first thing we ask? “What were the parents like?” or “Where did the parents go wrong?” If we’re so willing to assign blame to the parents when someone messes up, then why aren’t we as quick to give credit to them when their kids grow up to be great? However somebody turns out, the parents played a role. Even if the parents were absent, that fact played a role – a big one, to be sure. The second you have a child, you are responsible for what that human goes on to do with his or her life. That does include if your kid grows up to be, well, a jerk. I’ve known a lot of narcissists in my time and, when I’ve seen how their parents interact with them, I’ve often had an ah-ha moment. I see where this started. On that note, here is how to not raise a narcissist.
Let him start from the bottom at least once
Even if you have friends or family who are happy to make him a bartender or server at their restaurant right away, let him be a bar back or busboy first. If you have friends willing to let him skip some steps at their company, insist he at least intern or be an assistant/coffee runner for a bit. Don’t set him up to believe he is somehow better than those who must start from the bottom.
Don’t spin mistakes into victories
If your kid makes a mistake, it’s okay to say it was a mistake. He didn’t nail it this time. If, for example, he botches his assignment in his public speaking class, don’t tell him that in some places, what he did is actually considered a sign of genius, or something like that. Don’t spin it into him actually being right, when he was wrong. It’s okay for him to just be wrong sometimes.
A mistake can be a lesson
Remember that mistakes can be lessons. You don’t do your child any favors by making him believe he never messes up. How can he improve that way? How can he get through life and relationships that way? When he messes up, talk to him about how he’ll do things differently next time.
Insist on community service
Putting your child in touch with groups who have much less than him, and making him work intimately with and for those with true struggles, does a very important thing: it makes him understand, from an early age, in a real way, that they are human. They are individuals. They have stories. It’s too easy for someone to grow up with blanket ideas about certain groups, because they never actually spent time with the individuals within them. Community service combats that.
If Susie doesn’t like Jimmy, it’s not Susie’s fault
If somebody your kid has a crush on doesn’t like him back, don’t berate her. If your kid asks someone to the dance who says no, don’t talk sh*t about that person to your child. You don’t need to say, “Well she’s stupid anyways” or “She’s not pretty anyways” or “She’s intimidated by you. That’s why.” In life, sometimes, people just won’t be into your kid. You don’t need to demonize them to make him feel better, or he’ll start to do the same.
If someone else gets first place, don’t berate them
When somebody beats out your kid in a sports game or competition, make him congratulate them. Make him even ask them for guidance or tips. It’s okay for him to see that someone else is better at something, sometimes. You don’t need to get in your kid’s ear and say “The ref made a foul call, and that should’ve been your win” or “The judge got paid to pick him.” That teaches your child to never take responsibility for his losses.
When kids reject your child, don’t berate them
If other kids don’t want to befriend your child, don’t start saying terrible things about them, to make your kid feel better. It’s one thing if kids bully your kid – then you need to speak to their parents – but if some kids just aren’t interested in being best friends with your child, you don’t need to blame their personality flaws.
Easy on words like “best” and “most”
Watch out for those words like “best” and “most” and “top” and “number one.” Your child is most likely not the “best” or “most” or “top” of anything. It’s fine to tell him he’s good at something. It’s fine to acknowledge growth and achievements. But don’t constantly tell him there’s nobody as good as him.
Don’t talk him up, in front of him, all the time
You’re proud of your child’s achievements, of course, but those shouldn’t be the only topic of conversation, all of the time, when others are around – and especially when your kid is around. He shouldn’t hear you monopolize every gathering by talking about how great he is. There are other things to talk about. Mention his recent achievement, and move on to talk about other things.
Teach gratitude, over criticism
Encourage your child to see the good in things. If you take him to a restaurant, and he says something negative about the place or experience, require that he list several good things about it, to combat that negative thing. Basically, don’t raise a total snob who struggles to enjoy the simple things.
Make the kid do some damn chores
Even if you have a housekeeper to keep the home in order, and even if you have a gardener and other staff who tend to your home, your kid should still do chores. He should make his own bed and keep his own room tidy. He should help you clean up after meals. He can mow the lawn and wash your car sometimes, too. Don’t let him grow up having never handled these things himself. It can make him look down on those who do things like clean houses or cars for a living, and he should never look down on anyone.
Diversify the friend group
Go out of your way to make sure that your child has a diverse friend group. Encourage friendships with kids from other backgrounds, like those from other countries, other socioeconomic backgrounds, other religions, and more. Always be working to make sure that your child is exposed to as many walks of life as possible, so he always sees himself and others as part of the one big group of humankind, rather than isolating groups in his mind.
Not everything needs a trophy
Your kid does not need a trophy for doing the stuff that he should just be doing, like cleaning his room or doing his homework, or being nice to his siblings. You don’t want to create the idea that those are extraordinary accomplishments. Those should be seen as basic and essential.
Catch narcissistic moments
Even when doing all this, you may catch your child in moments of narcissism. It’s kind of part of being a kid – you’re used to only thinking about yourself. When you see that, use it as a teaching moment. Pause, and talk to your kid about his thinking. Explain to him why it’s not good or useful. Reframe his perspective then and there.
Make him acknowledge his mistakes
When your kid messes up, make him say, out loud, in clear and concise terms, what he did wrong. It’s not enough to say, “Did you mess up?” and for him to say, “Yeah.” He may just be saying what you want to hear. It’s good to get him comfortable, early, with recognizing and assessing his mistakes, and being okay with admittedly publicly when he’s messed up.