Proud parents aren’t doing their kids any favors by constantly telling them they are “special” or “exceptional.” Such praise may be intended to bolster kids’ self esteem, but new research suggests that frequently telling children they are superior to other kids may instill a toxic personality trait: narcissism. The researchers studied 565 children ranging from 7 to 12 years old and how their parents interacted with them, finding that moms and dads who heap unearned praise on their children wind up raising self-centered brats.
“Children become more narcissistic when they are put on a pedestal—when they are given the feeling that they are more special, more entitled, and more unique than others,” says researcher Eddie Brummelman of the University of Amsterdam. Narcissists often demand special treatment, and find any setback intolerable and humiliating. They are more violent than other people, and are at high risk for drug addiction and depression. The best way for parents to boost kids’ self-esteem, the study found, is to simply show them a lot of warmth and affection—to make them feel valued, not superior.