How to spot a narcissist from a young age

Lucy Durack performs as Glinda, the Good Witch, and Amanda Harrison performs as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, during Wicked in Melbourne. Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

Parents who overvalue their children and treat them like God’s gift to the Earth may be creating narcissists, according to a study in the journal PNAS.

Narcissism, the pursuit of self love or gratification from vanity, can induce aggressive behaviours and an increased risk of mental health problems but its origins are unknown.

Children who are overvalued are those who are told they are “more special than other children” and who “deserve something extra in life”.

Eddie Brummelman of the University of Amsterdam and colleagues evaluated 565 children in the Netherlands between the ages of 7 and 11, a time during which narcissistic traits are thought to emerge.

They tested two opposing theories: one that children develop traits when their parents overvalue them; and that traits emerge in children whose parents fail to express warmth.

The results revealed that parental overvaluation predicted changes in narcissistic tendencies in children in subsequent rounds of questionnaires.

Parental warmth predicted high self-esteem in children.

“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,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

“Rather than raising self-esteem, overvaluing practices may inadvertently raise levels of narcissism.”

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