When you held that tiny bundle in your arms for the first time, did you make a wish for your new baby’s future? Did you hope they’d be kind and fair? Did you gaze at your partner and imagine the happy home you’d make as a little family? I know I did.
And what about now? Perhaps when you gaze at your little ones, you have some different things running through your mind: will they be okay with the split? And are they going to turn into the narcissist you’re separating from?
What do we mean when we talk about narcissism? Some common traits are:
- Charming at first
- Have a sense of superiority
- Dream of incredible success, beauty and fortune
- Divide people into winners or losers
- Constantly seek praise
- Insults and demeans others to make themselves look superior
- Regularly speak of how “unfair” life is
- Blame everybody except themselves for their problems
Co-parenting with a narcissist is almost as hard as living with one. But raising a mini one? That’s every (non-narcissistic) parent’s nightmare. So how do you prevent your children from following in those negative footprints? And how do you protect them from all the game-playing by your narcissistic ex?
According to Bill Eddy, a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of High Conflict Institute, there are four key skills to teach your children that will immunise them against narcissism.
1. Flexible Thinking
Children need to be taught they’re no better than anybody else, and learn that everybody has strengths and weaknesses. As parents, we should instil in them the expectation of being treated with respect, and how to treat others that way, too.
2. Managed Emotions
Narcissists tend to get really angry when things go the wrong way, and their emotions get way out of control. Emotions shouldn’t be seen as something scary for children–both in others and in themselves–so we need to encourage children to express, name and regulate their emotions in a healthy way.
3. Moderating Behaviour
A narcissist likes to cut people off from their love or attention on a whim. Hello, silent treatment! Children should be encouraged to avoid this all-or-nothing thinking in their relationships. Instead, you could suggest they talk through the issue with the person they are having problems with, or that they back off and give them some space respectfully.
4. Checking Yourself
Narcissists are preoccupied with blaming others for their life, their emotions and their problems. If you can teach your children to check whether they’re using the skills above and encourage them to take responsibility for their own emotions, it’s unlikely you’ll find you have a little narcissist on your hands.
Encouraging these skills in your children plays a big part in guiding their development. But there’s more that you can do as a parent to protect them throughout the split. The key? According to a recent study on parenting through a separation, it’s not about discipline or sticking to a bed time. Instead, it’s crucial to model the behaviour you’re hoping to encourage:
1. Show unconditional love for your child
This is fundamental to their ability to cope with the split, and essential for the development of healthy relationships.
2. Manage your own stress
You can’t be perfect, and your children will see you upset, but it’s the way you deal with those emotions that will make the difference. It’s helpful to express, name and then show your child how you navigate those emotions.
3. Let them see you in other healthy relationships
Watching you interact in friendships, family groups and even with a new partner models what good relationships look like.
Finally, how do you deal with the narcissist who is now your co-parent? Bill says to think of it like a business relationship–and the business is raising your children. And if you can’t have a respectful conversation in person or on the phone, text and email is the way to go… just don’t forget that sometimes things that blow up over email will calm down face to face.
I’d love to hear your tactics for helping your children get through tricky times. Let me know in the comments below.