An observational longitudinal study published in Child Development tests whether receiving overly positive, inflated praise from a parent eventually fosters low self-esteem and even narcissism, rather than raising it as might be expected.
The study involved 120 children recruited from schools in the Netherlands and their parents. Children were aged 7 to 11. Children completed questionnaires in school at four six-month intervals, and levels of narcissism and self-esteem were measured using the Childhood Narcissism scale and the Global Self-Worth Subscale of the Self-Perception Profile for Children.
Eddie Brummelman and colleagues found that:
- Children with lower levels of self-esteem at the beginning of the study received more inflated praise from parents, which in turn led to lower self-esteem at the later test points.
- Inflated praise also predicted higher narcissism over time, but only in children with high initial levels of self-esteem.
- The authors suggested inflated praise might lead those with high self-esteem internalise a narcissistic self-view, by believing themselves are incredible; while those with low self-esteem would judge that these praises did not fit the current views of themselves.
The authors remarked that the findings did not encourage parents to stop praising their children. Instead, it suggested parents should be careful about whether they praised in an inflated way.