A new study from the Netherlands has just come out to tell us that the more we praise our children, the more narcissistic we are likely to make them.
I mean, this is hardly breaking news. Studies and advice like this have been cropping up for decades, dictating how much we should compliment our kids, and making us feel like crap if we do it too much or not enough. I wish I could say it doesn’t faze me, but I’m only human. I read the studies; I try to heed the advice. As a result, I live my life in a constant state of paranoia.
“I love you,” I tell my daughter over breakfast. “You’re so beautiful.”
Immediately the brakes screech in my head.
“I don’t mean beautiful,” I backpedal, imagining the long-term damage of my compliment. “I mean, yeah, you are beautiful. But, I meant to say you’re smart. I mean kind. I mean you have a good work ethic. Uh, I have to go.”
My daughter looks at me like I’m crazy. Which, obviously, I am.
It is a precarious position these psychologists and experts are putting us in. I want to be my daughter’s champion, making her feel strong and unique, but does that mean I’m also planting the seeds of arrogance? I get what this study is saying: Don’t treat your child as though he is more special than other children. It makes sense, but it’s a slippery slope. When my daughter brings home a splotchy watercolor that looks more like spilled coffee than a masterpiece, I find myself praising her because she’s average. What if I said, “Meh,” and she never painted again? I couldn’t live with myself. So I tell her it’s beautiful, and my face lights up like a Vegas casino.
So when these “how to praise your kid” studies rear their ugly heads, all I feel is frustrated. Praise your children too much and they’ll grow up to be egocentric, apathetic as*holes; not enough, and you’ve got a deranged, neurotic, loser on your hands. My mother showered me with love. She constantly told me I was the best, brilliant, a beauty. It’s safe to say I’m no narcissist, but I often wonder why I am the way I am. Blushingly shy and often flustered, eager for approval. Did all the praise backfire? Is it a fluke, or is it all a bunch of speculative bullsh*t?
Conduct as many studies as you want, but, ultimately, it’s not that simple. We can’t invariably dictate our children’s personalities. As the Dutch study admits, only 565 children were analyzed in order to make this “groundbreaking” assumption, and it’s nothing a decent parent couldn’t have guessed for herself. For now, I’ll try to keep my praise-o-meter hovering around 50 percent, and I’ll wait for the next study to come and tell me what else I’m doing wrong.