The Mayo Clinic defines narcissism as a personality disorder where people have an inflated sense of self-worth, crave praise and attention and have a profound lack of empathy toward others – traits that often result in troubled relationships.
If you are divorced or separated from someone diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder or who fits the definition, ending that toxic relationship was likely a huge relief. But divorce or separation is not an option for your children.
How to help kids deal with a narcissistic parent
People with narcissistic co-parents understandably worry about their children when they are not around to supervise. In many cases, direct communication between the parents has ended, only increasing the anxiety. But psychologists offer suggestions to help your children deal with a parent’s selfish behavior. These include:
- Designate a “safe” adult: Find someone you trust who has no bias against either parent that your child can turn to during stressful times. This may include a therapist, school guidance counselor, coach, clergy or even a support group for children of divorce.
- Set boundaries: Encourage your child to adopt phrases they can use when upset. The idea is not to inflame the situation but let the narcissistic parent know they are crossing the line. It may be something like, “I love you, but I’m feeling upset. Can we stop talking about this right now?”
- Recognize their feelings: Since narcissists usually don’t feel compassion or admit to being wrong, constantly affirm your children’s self-esteem and validate their experiences and emotions. While you can’t control your co-parent’s actions, you can help mitigate the effects on your child’s psyche.
Your child’s needs should always come first
In most cases, narcissism is not a valid reason to modify a child custody order unless physical or psychological abuse can be proven. The goal of family court is to keep both parents involved in children’s lives after a divorce or separation.
If your ex’s behavior rises to abuse, document their actions and talk to an experienced child custody attorney immediately. However, in most cases, helping your child cope with a difficult situation requires showing an abundance of love, patience and understanding.