Our community wanted us to answer: “What are the signs that indicate a child has a narcissistic parent?” I pulled together the best information I could find. Here it is.

7 Signs a Child Has a Narcissistic Parent

  1. Excessive concern with pleasing others.
  2. Struggles with self-esteem and identity.
  3. Difficulty in forming or maintaining relationships.
  4. Anxiety and hyper-vigilance.
  5. Over-responsibility and caretaking behaviors.
  6. Difficulty expressing or identifying emotions.
  7. Hypersensitivity to criticism or rejection.

In this article, I will explain each of these to help you understand the signs that indicate a child has a narcissistic parent.

1.) Excessive Concern with Pleasing Others

Children with a narcissistic parent often show an excessive concern with pleasing others, especially adults, and may become overly perfectionistic.1

This is because they’ve learned that love and attention from their narcissistic parent are conditional on their achievements or on how well they reflect positively on the parent. 

For example, you might notice a child who is constantly checking to see if what they’re doing is “right” or acceptable before they proceed with even simple tasks. 

They might repeatedly ask, “Do you think this is good enough?” or “Will Mom/Dad be happy with this?” before proceeding with something. 

This behavior indicates a deep-seated fear of making mistakes or failing to meet expectations, as they associate these with a loss of affection or approval from their parent.

Related: How Do Narcissists Treat Their Children? (10 Ways)

2.) Struggles with Self-Esteem and Identity

Another sign is a noticeable struggle with self-esteem and identity. 

Children of narcissistic parents may either display inflated self-esteem, mimicking the narcissistic traits of their parent,2 or show signs of very low self-worth. 

This can manifest in a child constantly comparing themselves to others and either bragging about their achievements in an attempt to garner praise or, conversely, putting themselves down. 

For instance, a child might say things like, “I’m the best at math in my class; no one is as smart as me,” reflecting the learned narcissistic behavior. Alternatively, they might say, “I’m not good at anything,” indicating internalized beliefs of inadequacy. 

A child with a low self-esteem because of narcissistic parents.

These extreme swings in self-perception are often a response to the inconsistent validation they receive from their narcissistic parent, leading to confusion about their own value independent of their achievements or failures.

3.) Difficulty in Forming or Maintaining Relationships

Children with a narcissistic parent often struggle with forming or maintaining healthy relationships with peers. 

This difficulty stems from not having a model of healthy emotional interactions at home.3 

For example, you might observe a child who either tries too hard to dominate playtime, insisting on always making the rules or deciding the game, or, on the opposite end, a child who becomes overly passive, agreeing to anything without expressing their own desires or opinions. 

They might also have conflicts with friends or seem isolated because they either replicate the controlling behavior of their narcissistic parent or have learned to suppress their own needs and desires to avoid conflict. 

This can manifest in school or social settings as either being perceived as bossy and aggressive or as withdrawn and shy.

4.) Anxiety and Hyper-Vigilance

A child with a narcissistic parent might display signs of anxiety and hyper-vigilance, always on alert for cues that they need to adjust their behavior to avoid disapproval or conflict.4 

This can be seen in situations where a child seems unusually tense or nervous about seemingly normal activities or decisions, constantly worrying about the “right” way to act. 

For instance, at a birthday party, instead of enjoying the celebration, the child might be overly concerned with monitoring the reactions of adults around them, asking, “Is it okay if I have another piece of cake?” or “Should I play this game or that one?”

A child feeling unsure about herself and her decisions.

Their behavior suggests a constant fear of making a wrong choice that could lead to criticism, mirroring the environment they’ve experienced at home, where the narcissistic parent’s approval is unpredictable and based on the parent’s shifting moods and preferences.

5.) Over-Responsibility and Caretaking Behaviors

Children of narcissistic parents often take on roles that are not age-appropriate, displaying over-responsibility and caretaking behaviors towards others.5 

This occurs because they might have been placed in the role of the caretaker for their parent’s emotional needs from a young age, learning to prioritize the parent’s needs over their own. 

For example, you might notice a child consoling peers or even adults with an empathy level unusual for their age, saying things like, “Don’t be sad; what can I do to make you feel better?” 

While empathy is a positive trait, in this context, it can indicate the child has been conditioned to suppress their needs in favor of attending to others, a pattern reflective of their dynamics at home. 

They may also take on practical responsibilities beyond their years, such as worrying about household chores or their parent’s emotional state, signaling an inversion of the parent-child dynamic.

6.) Difficulty Expressing or Identifying Emotions

A child raised by a narcissistic parent might also have difficulty expressing or even identifying their own emotions.6 

This can happen because their emotional responses were often ignored or invalidated by the narcissistic parent, leading them to suppress their feelings or struggle to understand them. 

For example, when asked how they feel about a significant event, such as moving to a new school or the birth of a sibling, the child might struggle to articulate their feelings, resorting to generic responses like, “I don’t know” or “I guess it’s okay.” 

A child having difficulty expressing his emotions because of a narcissistic parent.

They might also mimic emotional expressions they’ve seen in others without truly connecting to those emotions themselves, indicating a disconnect from their emotional self. 

This difficulty is a result of growing up in an environment where emotional expression was not supported or was manipulated, making it challenging for the child to navigate their emotional landscape or to feel comfortable sharing their feelings with others.

7.) Hypersensitivity to Criticism or Rejection

A heightened sensitivity to criticism or rejection is another sign that may indicate a child has a narcissistic parent. 

Due to the constant pressure to meet the parent’s high standards and the fear of facing their displeasure or wrath, these children can become extremely vulnerable to any form of critique, no matter how constructive or to perceived slights in social situations. 

For instance, a child might react to a teacher’s gentle correction on an assignment with disproportionate upset or anxiety, perhaps even fearing to return to school. 

Similarly, they might fall apart over minor disagreements with friends, interpreting these normal conflicts as profound rejections. 

This sensitivity often stems from an environment where approval is conditional and affection is tightly linked to performance or compliance, making the child overly reliant on external validation and terrified of losing it.7

For more helpful information like this, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.


That’s it for this article!

Thanks for sticking with me to the end!

Do you have any thoughts or questions? I’d love to hear them in the comments. It’s always great getting to connect with our readers.

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About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

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  1. Shahida Arabi. (2019. May, 29). 5 Common Struggles Children of Narcissists Face In Adulthood. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/recovering-narcissist/2019/05/5-common-struggles-children-of-narcissists-face-in-adulthood#1 ↩︎
  2. Jabeen, F., Gerritsen, C., & Treur, J. (2021). Healing the next generation: an adaptive agent model for the effects of parental narcissism. Brain informatics8 (1), 4.  ↩︎
  3. Karyl McBride. (2018. February, 19). How Narcissistic Parenting Can Affect Children. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-legacy-of-distorted-love/201802/how-narcissistic-parenting-can-affect-children ↩︎
  4. Stephanie A. Sarkis. (2023. September, 27). The Dire Consequences of Having a Narcissistic Parent. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/202309/the-dire-consequences-of-having-a-narcissistic-parent ↩︎
  5. Hailey Shafir. (2023. September, 12). 10 Signs of Being Raised by Narcissists & Effects in Adulthood. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/raised-by-narcissists/ ↩︎
  6. Abby Moore. (2021. February, 23). 15 Signs You Were Raised By A Narcissist & How It Can Affect You. Mindbodygreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/signs-you-were-raised-by-narcissists ↩︎
  7. Mary Ann Little. (2024. January, 18). 10 Ways Narcissistic Parents Hurt Their Children. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/childhood-narcissism/202401/10-ways-narcissistic-parents-hurt-their-children ↩︎

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