I witnessed an interesting interaction between two young
girls recently. One was struggling with a toy but working hard to figure out
how to solve the problem. The other barked out orders every few seconds. When
she couldn’t stand the struggle for another minute, she ripped the toy from the
hands of the other girl and said, “I’m the expert. I’ll do this.” She then
proceeded to endure the same struggle for about two minutes before throwing it
aside and stating, “This obviously doesn’t work right or I would have
figured it out.”
She was high on narcissism but low on frustration tolerance—a recipe for a meltdown, at best.
I get a lot of questions about the perceived changes in
childhood behavior. Are children more disrespectful than they once were? Are they
more narcissistic? Why do they get quiet when the going gets tough?
The truth is that there are several factors at play. While
the media is always quick to blame the parents, it’s important to look at each
child as an individual. Sure, permissive parenting tends to backfire and result
in a role reversal within the family and hovering in an effort to remove all
potential obstacles leads to learned helplessness, but children do need love,
affection and feedback to thrive.
Not only are we living in a time of hyper-competition among
children, we aren't teaching kids the importance of limits and boundaries.
While studies like this cause parents to rethink how much
praise they actually use, the flip side is that kids who experience a lack of
parental warmth deal with other problems. A UCLA study demonstrated
that when babies experience a lack of parental warmth and affection, their
regulatory systems are negatively impacted, resulting in a decreased ability to
cope with stress and increased risk of disease as they grow.
Offer too much praise and you might raise a narcissist, but
fail to provide enough love and affection and your kid can’t cope with stress. Where
is the middle ground?
1. Talk about kindness
“Be kind” is a phrase used often, but what does it actually
mean to be kind? Young children do tend to get caught up in their own needs.
They are also likely to perceive their actions as kind and well-intended, even
if another child has a different opinion.
Talk about kindness with your kids. Use examples from the
world around them so that they can see kindness in action. Point out their own
acts of kindness—not to praise them into narcissism but to help them
understand how their positive actions impact others.
2. Read together
shows that reading fiction improves empathy, because it encourages the reader to
walk in another’s shoes. Read together so that you can talk to your child about
empathy, kindness and other social-emotional issues that come up within the text.
One thing I find often is that parents stop reading to their
kids the moment their kids can read independently. That’s a shame. Time spent
reading together is time spent cultivating empathy and compassion. It’s also a
wonderful time to connect and debrief at the end of the day.
3. Set limits and
When I talk to parents about the importance of slowing down
and breaking the habit of overscheduling, I always hear some version of, “But
my kid wants to play travel soccer
and town soccer—it’s not my
It isn’t our job to critique every error; it’s our job to
love them, anyway.
4. Teach frustration
Kids need to learn how to manage frustration. They won’t win
every game, and they won’t get the best grade on every test. They have to learn
how to cope with failure and to deal with feelings of frustration.
I often teach kids to think of negative emotions as a
volcano—the more they avoid them, the bigger they get. How can they release
those feelings? Pound Play-Doh while they talk. Color red to show how angry
they feel. Tear paper to release stress.
The options are endless, but they need lessons in coping to get started.