When parents offer too much praise, their children become narcissistic as a result, believing themselves to be naturally superior to their peers and deserving of special treatment from authority figures.

In a study of 565 children between the ages of 7 to 12 published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that receiving praise from adults correlated with narcissistic traits such as selfishness, self-centeredness, and vanity. Emotional warmth, however, such as when a parent expresses love for their child, did not produce these negative traits. 

"[N]arcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation: parents believing their child to be more special and more entitled than others. In contrast, high self-esteem in children is cultivated by parental warmth: parents expressing affection and appreciation toward their child."

Giving children positive reinforcement is widely considered an effective way to inspire self-esteem and therefore make them confident in their schoolwork and budding social lives. But as former editor-in-chief of Nature Neuroscience, Dr. Sandra Aamodt, explains, there are two kinds of reinforcement: one that encourages a fixed mindset and one that encourages a growth mindset. Children and adolescents should receive growth-based praise:

Aamodt suggests that parents encourage a growth mindset when praising their children's achievements. In other words, praise the fact that the child put forth the effort required to achieve good results, emphasizing that skills like diligence and perseverance are what helped the child succeed.

In her interview, Aamodt discusses studies that show how a child's attitude can actually affect his or her academic achievement on standardized exams. When a child is given reinforcement that stresses diligence, for example, their scores improve, regardless of how the math lessons are taught or how much attention the child receives from the teacher. 

"In a lot of cases in adult life," she says, "just hanging in there and continuing to work on something is what gets us through."

Read more at New Scientist.

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