Shop the fall collection ➔

I once had a German Sociology professor in college who told us that, where he came from, American college students were often viewed as “happy idiots” because of a persistent stereotype in which US kids are continually lavished with praise for doing….not much.

That was quite a number of years back, so in defense of European college professors today, the perception has probably shifted since then.

But that incident did cross my mind this week when I came across some research that made me question my parenting. Researchers, attempting to understand how a person develops into a narcissist, surveyed parents and their children four times over a period of one-and-a-half years to see if they could identify which factors would eventually result in the kids having an over-inflated view of themselves.

The results showed that parents who “overvalued” their children early on, were more likely to have children who would score high on narcissism tests later on. “Overvalued children were described by their parents in surveys as ‘more special than other children’ and as kids who ‘deserve something extra in life,”’ for example. They were also likely to agree with statements like, “My child is a great example for other children to follow.”

I love my kids a whole lot. When they are not fighting with each other, I often find myself in awe of these fascinating people who are a miraculous product of my husband and myself. When our first child was born, my heart exploded with love and I danced on happy rainbows for quite some time before I could admit any—and I mean any—shortcoming in that lovely child.

When I was pregnant with our second child and telling our (older) midwife that I was a little concerned about how our daughter would handle having a new baby in the house, she quickly responded, “The sooner she learns that the world doesn’t revolve solely around her, the better. And it’s better to learn that at 2 than at 30.” Uh, ok.

As each of our subsequent children were born, I like to think I’ve become more clear-eyed and grounded in my parenting. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still view each of my kids through heavily-tinted rose-colored glasses. Love will do that to you, I guess.

But am I taking that love too far and making them think that they should always be #1?

My husband and I do try to encourage our kids a lot. We want them to know not just that they are loved, but to also feel encouraged, and confident. But – gulp – I do see attitudes of entitlement surface in them at times. And that’s frustrating, because I want to raise kids who love others and are willing to serve, not kids who expect to be served continually.

With all the talk about “nurturing self-esteem” in recent years, our intentions are good. Nobody wants to raise a kid who feels they are worthless. We want our kids to know 100% that they are deeply loved. But maybe we’ve taken it a little too far with telling our kids how great they are. Other research now tells us that it is parental warmth, not lavish praise, that helps build healthy self-esteem in kids. Being present, showing affection, appreciation and an interest in their activities and their day, counts. On the other hand, ironically, over-praising can actually have the opposite effect and lead to lower self-esteem.

Apparently, kids believe what their parents tell them, and kids who are told in one way or another that they are more special than others and “deserve” so many things actually do come to believe those things. And that is not necessarily a good thing for our kids, or for a society that has to put up with them.

Zrinka Peters

Zrinka lives on 35 acres in MN with her husband, six kids and an ever-changing number of furry and feathered creatures. She loves book clubs, flowerbeds, and successful gluten-free baking. One of her greatest hopes is to lead her children to love deeply. She sometimes catches a few minutes to write in between snacks, laundry, and kid catastrophes. She hopes to make her little corner of the world a better place one word at a time.

It’s Okay to Say No to the Promposal

In: Kids, Teen
Boy holding pink sign saying "Prom with me?"

Promposals are cute.  But, even for the sweetest questions, it’s okay if the answer is not yes. I have more boys than girls at my house so the whole meet the boy asking your girl out with a gun posts don’t sit well with me. Boys and girls have an equally hard time negotiating friendships and relationships in high school, and I care equally for both. A young man spent some time, told his friends, made a cute sign, and planned to ask my daughter to a dance. A friend of my daughters mentioned he might ask (and even made...

Keep Reading

I Wipe the Slides

In: Kids, Motherhood
boy on slide

I want you to have the most fun possible at your tiny playground stars program, so I wipe the slides. I don’t want you to have a meltdown if your clothes get wet while I’m gone, so I wipe the slides. I want to have three precious hours of only managing your little sister, so I wipe the slides. RELATED: I’d Rather Serve My Kids Than Have Them be “Self-Sufficient” I don’t want you to feel embarrassed by a big reaction to wet clothes when I’m not there to help you, so I wipe the slides. I want you to...

Keep Reading

One Day You’ll Outgrow Being My Little Boy—But Not Today

In: Kids, Motherhood, Tween
Mother and two sons back-to-school picture, color photo

One day you will come home after your first day of a new school year and not wish to share a single thing. Not today. Today, you got into the car and talked non-stop about every second of your day. I was delighted!  One day you will not have countless first-day forms for me to sign and return the next day. Not today. I signed my name at least four times. I was happy to grant permission for you to play sports, learn algebra, and do whatever else I gave my permission for.  One day you will not allow me...

Keep Reading

The Sports Mom Shows Up For Her Kids, No Matter What

In: Kids, Motherhood
Youth baseball game

We’re nearing the end of club baseball/softball season, and the burnout is real. The time away from home, burning through gas to get somewhere for two hours with half your house packed only to pack back up and turn around and drive to the next two-hour destination is insane. I don’t even like the sport right now. There . . . I said it. I’m so sick of softball fields and wind-blown dirt in my face. I’ve seen so many balls thrown in the last two months that my eyes hurt. But I still show up. I love to see...

Keep Reading

Having Babies and Toddlers Is Exhausting—but So, So Sweet

In: Baby, Kids, Motherhood, Toddler
Family of four with baby and toddler on bed

I took the girls to one of our favorite coffee shops last week and all around me were parents of babies and toddlers. Their little ones ran about in the grassy area out back, toddling up and down the lawn, when it suddenly hit me with perfect clarity—the sun has nearly set on this season for me. It was a realization marked by internal tension, a mourning of the loss of one season contrasted by the joyful anticipation at the arrival of the next. It came out of nowhere and hit me like a tidal wave. Having five kids in...

Keep Reading

3 Common Phrases to Avoid Saying to Your Kids (and What To Say Instead)

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother sitting with young boy on couch

Learning to love yourself is hard work. I did not grow up loving myself. Instead, I always felt inadequate, and I felt the need to change myself to prove my worth.  I want more for my kids. I want my kids to know their inherent value and worth. I want to empower my kids to love and accept themselves.  My self-love journey, aided by the expertise of a counselor, has helped me realize there are some narratives from my childhood I needed to unlearn. I had to accept my emotions as helpful and not something to be pushed down. I...

Keep Reading

They Love Each Other (and Sometimes They Don’t)

In: Kids, Motherhood
Toddler girl lying with big brother, color photo

When I was pregnant with his baby sister, Forest kissed my belly and talked about all the wonderful things he would do with this little girl he already loved so much. His plans changed, however, after she was born, and the thing he wanted to do the most with her was place her gently in the trash can. Some mornings he would kiss her softly, other mornings he would walk into the room where I’d be nursing her and say, “Her doesn’t look precious to ME.” Two and a half years later, Forest’s feelings toward Grace remain about the same....

Keep Reading

As a Mother, I Matter Too

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother and daughter in living room

“What’s more important than me, Mammy?” my daughter asked. I looked at her, and she was looking at me. Her question wasn’t harsh or accusatory, it was curious. She was curious. We were in the kitchen, I was at the table working, and she asked me to help her find something. I told her I was finishing up some important work and then I would play with her. This is when she asked me what was more important than her. I bit my tongue to stop the words that wanted to rush out of my mouth. I wanted to proclaim...

Keep Reading

Dear Daughter, Follow Your Beautiful Heart

In: Faith, Kids
Mother and daughter smiling

When I held you in my arms for the first time, it was like time stopped. As you looked up at me with innocence and new life, I was struck by the reality that my main role in your life would be to guide and direct you on the right path. I hoped I would do the best job possible. As I watched you grow, I basked in your joy of putting on your pretty dresses, adorned with layers of costume jewelry, parading around the house for your father and me to see. I dreamed often of what path you...

Keep Reading

My Daughter is “Extra” and the World Needs More People Like Her

In: Kids, Motherhood
girl jumping

She is . . . extra. She just is. All the time she is extra sad, and then extra “OMG, Mom-that-was-so-epic-let-me-tell-you-everything.” Extra energetic, then extra I’m too tired to help with any family chores. Extra hungry, then extra refuses to eat the food she just asked for because she’s full. RELATED: In Defense of the Wild Child Extra loves to show how much knowledge she has, then extra doesn’t want to do her homework because she’s too busy “being.” Extra defiant, then extra brings home adorable “I love you, Mom” art from school. There is no middle ground with this...

Keep Reading