Explaining Narcissism to Kids

“How come he says I can use his camera, and then he tells me what pictures to take, and how to take ’em?”

“He can’t help it.  He thinks what you do is part of who he is, and whatever he does has to look good to the rest of the world.  That means that what you do has to look good, too. “


“Well why does he care so much about what the rest of the world thinks?”

“Because he doesn’t feel good about himself.  If he can convince the world that he is awesome, then he’ll like himself better.”


“How come he acts like he’s the best thing ever, but you say he doesn’t feel good about himself?”

“It’s confusing.  See, he doesn’t really like himself, even tho’ sometimes it seems like that’s all he ever does like.  He desperately wants to like himself, so he acts like he’s the best thing ever to try to convince himself and everybody else.”


“How come he doesn’t like himself?”

“Because his childhood was rough, honey.  He didn’t get all the love he needed when he was growing up and that left a big hole in his heart.  He has been trying to fill that hole his entire life.”


“Can we make him better?”

“I love you for asking that.  I know you want to help him.  You have such a good heart.  This is something that isn’t easy to fix, because dad doesn’t believe that he has a problem.  You see, he won’t admit that he doesn’t feel good about himself.  If he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong, then he doesn’t think he needs to be fixed.”


“So what can we do?”

“Well, we can try our best to understand why he is the way he is. 

We can remind each other that he doesn’t treat us the way he does because there is anything wrong with us. 

We will treat him with respect, but when he does something to hurt us, we’ll back away from him to protect ourselves.”


“Mom, am I a narcissist?”

“Sweetheart, you are not a narcissist.”

“How do you know I’m not?”

“Because you care enough about your dad to ask these questions and wonder how you can help.”


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  1. Clear and loving explanation. Better than anyone I’ve heard.

    Adorable, wonderful, loving, compassionate and precious kids.

    Give them a hug for me. They make me look forward to a happier future.

  2. Donna,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    It’s nice to see a bright spot in all this narcissism stuff.

  3. This is a good way to explain it to adults, too. ;)

  4. Aww a big heart indeed!! I think your kids are quite amazing my dear!! I think you also did a great job in answering their questions. You put it in a way that even though the answers are hard to sit with, it makes sense for them. That’s the most important part. Kids are so incredible in the way they want to fix things & create only bright spots. When you are sad they want to do all in their power to make you happy, make you smile. I am sure they wish they could help their dad, and it must be a difficult realization to know it is beyond their control to fix “his stuff.” He is the only person who can do this work.

    I by no means am a narcissist :), but I have understood the not liking yourself part. I am not saying this is his situation. What I mean by that is when you do miss out on big pieces, valuable to your development particularly as a child you tend to do one of two things. I think there are those who eventually acknowledge the problem, accept fully flaws & all and get support. The second is ignoring there is a problem brewing, a void there, shifting into a warped normalcy that is manageable and comfortable for yourself. You don’t acknowledge there’s a there there, and instead make everything a perfect mold, no flaws allowed. It’s a way you demand & have control. The facade you wear and walls you put up are not penetrable to others, because you wont allow it. You let others see what they want, and you determine whats acceptable in your space. But oh the damage it does internally, as well to all around you is devastating.

    You teach your kids to know the difference, that their dad’s issues are not their own. They are not responsible. By understanding why he may act the way he does, allow them to know it is not because of what they do or who they are. That’s huge. For me there was a need, a constant seeking of approval. I wanted to be seen and heard. I didn’t get that. I wish I had support to know it wasn’t because of me. I know that now. Your kids know that always.

    Love & light

  5. Alyson,

    Thanks. I once tried something along those lines with Mark….

    He said that I was the narcissist.

  6. Kira,

    I’m fascinated by how some seem to find healthier ways to fill the holes left by childhood, and others can’t seem to do so.

    I believe we all have our own junk to deal with from growing up. Hiding from it never does any good – even if that is easier than dealing with it.

    Jen and Will are going to have their own junk to deal with. It is my hope that honest, open communication will show them that they are no more or less flawed than anyone else, but that they are equipped to do the work.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Your contributions make this a rich place. ;)

  7. That was the best explanation I’ve ever read on how to talk to kids about narcissism. I wish I could be like that with my kids about their grandma, but I’m still too reactionary with her. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to have a conversation similar to this with my kiddos ;-) You rock, Jesse!

  8. Jenn,


    Your convo will happen when it’s the right time for all of you. In the meantime, breathe and keep counting to 10 when it feels like she’s pushing you to the edge. ;)

  9. They definitely are equipped to do the work. I think a huge part is because of you providing the opportunities for open communication and the support needed. I gain more from others here always. Glad to be helpful as well :).

  10. Thank you so much for this..I found you through a fb page. I have been wondering and wondering how to talk to my children about things. This is a very beautiful wording. Bless you and yours.

  11. Susan,

    I’m glad you found this site. I hope it helps.

    It’s so difficult watching our kids navigate this stuff.

    I wish you and yours all the best.

  12. Thank you for this I was trying to explain to our 9-year-old about her father and the silent treatment she is having to endure b/c she dared to criticize his new girlfriend.

  13. Hi Ginger,

    Thanks for writing.

    As far as I’m concerned, no child should ever (make that EVER) have to deal with the silent treatment from a parent. I don’t care if the kid was honest or naughty or rambunctious or pushing buttons. Kids deserve better. They deserve communication and explanation and love, not the silent treatment.

    Sending you and your 9 year old some hugs.


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