A common question people brought up in a narcissistic environment have is, “How do narcissists treat their children?”

Many narcissistic parents neglect children’s emotional needs, live vicariously through them, love them conditionally, use them to manage the family’s reputation, gaslight and belittle them, manipulate them with gifts and rewards, use them to control their spouse, and pose as protectors to assert control over them.

In this article, I will guide you through the way narcissistic parents treat their children to help you better understand this dynamic.

1.) They Love Them Conditionally

The first way a narcissist could treat their children is by giving them “love” based on certain conditions being met rather than being unconditional and consistent.

Example:

At school, the child of a narcissist received a certificate for maintaining a B+ average. 

Eager to share their accomplishment, the child says to their narcissistic parent:

“Look! I got an award for my grades!” 

The narcissistic parent responds:

“B+? Why not an A? I would have been so proud of you if you had an A. We probably would have celebrated by getting ice cream, but a B+ isn’t good enough in this house.”

A narcissist showing conditional love.

2.) They Neglect Their Emotional Needs

The second way a narcissist could treat their children is by failing to provide the emotional support and attention that a person, especially a child, needs to thrive.

Example:

After a school soccer match, the child of a narcissist feels sad because their team lost.

Trying to communicate their feelings, the child says to their narcissistic parent:

“We lost the game today. I feel really bad.” 

The narcissistic parent dismissively replies:

“Why are you making such a big deal out of it? Get over it. Some things are just not worth crying about. Besides, your team isn’t even that good.”

3.) They Live Vicariously Through Them

The third way a narcissist could treat their children is by experiencing life through their children’s achievements or experiences instead of their own. 

Example:

The child of a narcissist has been enrolled in advanced piano classes despite expressing a greater interest in painting. 

During practice at home, the child mentions to the narcissistic parent:

“I really wish I could spend more time painting.” 

The narcissistic parent responds sharply with:

“Playing the piano will get you further in life. I always wanted to be a pianist but couldn’t because my teacher held me back. You have the chance I never did.”

4.) They Are Overly Involved in Their Lives

The fourth way a narcissist could treat their children is by being excessively involved in their lives to the point where they become controlling or smothering.

Example:

In preparation for college, the child of a narcissist is excited about studying marine biology. 

When discussing potential colleges with the narcissistic parent, the child says:

“I found a great marine biology program at a college by the coast!” 

The narcissistic parent responds: 

“No, you should go to the college I went to. I’ve already spoken to the Dean, and I’ll make sure you get in. Just focus on studying, and I will handle everything else.”

A narcissist trying to control where his child goes to college.

5.) They Use Them to Manage the Family’s Reputation

The fifth way a narcissist could treat their children is by using them to try to control or shape how others perceive themselves (the narcissist) or the family.

Example:

At a family gathering, relatives are discussing their children’s achievements. 

The child of a narcissist overhears their parent bragging: 

“My child is at the top of their class and the captain of the school’s chess club.”

Later, in a private moment, the child confronts the narcissistic parent:

“I’m not the captain of the chess club. Why did you say that?” 

The narcissistic parent sternly replies:

“You need to uphold our family’s reputation. If I say it, then it’s true. Now, if anyone asks about it, you better play along.” 

6.) They Use Them to Control Their Spouse

The sixth way a narcissist could treat their children is by using them to control, manipulate, and/or maintain power over their spouse.

Example:

The child of a narcissist is eating dinner with their parents.

The narcissistic parent turns to the spouse and says:

“You always come home late from work, you never think about how it affects our child. Don’t you care about their well-being? Or is your job more important than family?” 

Suggested Reading: 7 Ways Narcissists Turn Children Into Flying Monkeys

7.) They Belittle Them

The seventh way a narcissist could treat their children is by making them feel small, unimportant, or devalued.

Example:

Eager to share a recent achievement, the child of a narcissist says:

“I got chosen to lead the school project because of my idea!” 

The narcissistic parent responds:

“Just because they chose you doesn’t mean it was a good idea. Remember last year when you tried to lead, and it was a mess? Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

8.) They Gaslight Them

The eighth way a narcissist could treat their children is by manipulating them into doubting their memories, feelings, or reality.

Example:

The child of a narcissist becomes upset after a broken promise. 

They approach the narcissistic parent:

“You promised we’d bake cookies together this weekend.” 

The parent, without missing a beat, replies:

“I never said that. You always remember things wrong. Maybe you just dreamt it.”

Suggested Reading: How to Stop a Narcissist from Gaslighting You (3 Steps)

9.) They Manipulate with Gifts and Rewards

The ninth way a narcissist could treat their children is by manipulating them with gifts and rewards.

Example:

The child of a narcissist recently expressed frustration about their lack of personal space and privacy at home. 

A few days later, the narcissistic parent surprises the child with a brand-new laptop. 

The child thanks their parent. The narcissistic parent replies:

“Now that I’ve gotten you this, I expect you to be on your best behavior and not complain about trivial things anymore. Remember who takes care of you.” 

A narcissist manipulating his child with gifts.

10.) They Pose as Protectors to Assert Control Over Them

The tenth way a narcissist could treat their children is by making them overly dependent by acting as if they are shielding them from danger.

Example:

The child of a narcissist is excitedly talking about a weekend hiking trip with friends. 

They mention some fun activities and places they plan to explore. 

The narcissistic parent quickly interjects:

“You can’t go. It is too dangerous. You’ll get hurt or lost. You need me to keep you safe. It’s a good thing I’m here to watch out for you, or who knows what could happen.”

What Should You Take Away from This Article?

It can be really hard to spot a narcissistic parent. 

But as a general rule, narcissistic parents do the following to their children:

  1. Love them conditionally.
  2. Neglect their emotional needs.
  3. Live vicariously through them.
  4. Get overly involved in their lives.
  5. Use them to manage the family’s reputation.
  6. Use them to control their spouse.
  7. Belittle them.
  8. Gaslight them.
  9. Manipulate them with gifts and rewards.
  10. Pose as protectors to assert control over them.

I hope this article brought you value. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

Suggested Readings:

1.) What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Mother?

2.) What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Father?

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.

If you’re ready to heal, visit The Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse to get started.
Share this post to help others trust their experiences.

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About This Article

We used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create parts of this article to enhance its accuracy and readability. It underwent a strict human editorial process before being published. See additional information.

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