How to Talk to Your Child About Their Narcissistic Parent

by | Aug 21, 2020 | 13 comments

Do you struggle to deal with a narcissistic ex?

I know your pain. Before my daughter was born, I had been harassed and threatened by my ex to the point where I developed anxiety issues.

Luckily, I learned the trick to co-parenting with him (which isn’t really co-parenting at all) and stopped responding to his ridiculous accusations.

Eventually, things calmed down to a point where dealing with him is now manageable.

However, even though I’ve figured out how to deal with him, my daughter is beginning to navigate the confusion of why her father acts the way he does and says the things he does.

Supporting your child when their other parent is a narcissist can be a slippery slope. You want to encourage their relationship but you don’t want to give your child false hope that their other parent genuinely loves them.

You also don’t want to put the other parent down or express your anger about them. Your child is going to associate their identity with both parents, even if one of them sucks.

So how do you go about talking to your child about their narcissistic parent?

Here are some tips you can use to find a balance between helping your child understand their other parent and allowing your child to love them anyway:

First Things First: Is Your Ex a Narcissist?

So many times I’ve seen people throw this term at others who are simply just rude, inconsiderate individuals.

Narcissism is so much more than that. It’s actually a complex psychological disorder.

They aren’t jerks for the sake of being jerks. Narcissists have a fervid compulsion to gain control and attention from everyone around them.

This need is so great that they will manipulate, lie and abuse just to get it. They don’t care who they hurt along the way.

Everything a narcissist does is to serve their own self-interest at the expense of other people. They possess virtually no empathy and can be incapable of feeling or expressing love.

But don’t let that fool you, because they can play the part to get what they want by being loving, charming, and attention-giving.

When it comes to children, they treat them like trophies, flood them with gifts and attention and then expect them to bow to their every whim. The narcissist will try to live vicariously through their children and place high demands and expectations on them.

To get an idea of what signs to look for, especially when it comes to how narcissists treat their children, check out my post here.


Explaining Narcissism to a Child

I suppose you can use these tips whether your ex is a narcissist or an ass-hat.

The difference is, however, that an ass-hat could very well change their ways. A narcissist likely never will.

So you have to be prepared for the long haul when it comes to helping your little one deal with their narcissistic parent because, unfortunately, it’s probably never going to get better.

But as your child ages and comes to their own understanding of what is going on, they will begin to make their own choices for dealing with that parent.

Before I get into the tips I want to give you an example. My daughter video chats with her father once a week (he lives out of province) and knows when to change the topic if he’s badgering her about something or asking her questions she doesn’t like.

Prior to this, she would leave the conversation and come to me in fear and confusion, unsure of what to say or do.

So, like anything when it comes to dealing with a narcissist, it does get easier over time. It’ll never be perfect, but it can be easier.

1. Be Honest

There’s a fine line between being honest and being brutally honest. When it comes to talking to your kids about their narcissistic parent, it’s important not to be brutally honest.

You don’t want to share every gory detail of the train wreck that was your relationship.

When it comes to honesty, you simply need to be frank and matter-of-fact about the reality of their relationship with their other parent.

This means not sugar-coating the situation and pretending that everything is normal.

When your child is upset about something their narcissistic parent said or did, don’t try to sweep it under the rug with, “Oh, your mother/father still loves you.”

Listen to their concerns, validate their emotions, and explain that their other parent is different and doesn’t understand how what he or she does hurts other people.

If your child begins to question the behaviors of their other parent, answer them honestly and age-appropriately.

I wouldn’t tell my young daughter that her father is a narcissist, but I do explain that he has a hard time being nice to people because of who he is.

For now, I’m going to leave it at that.

2. Teach Them About Love

How do narcissist parents behave when it comes to love?

A narcissist uses love as a commodity that must be earned and will teach their children this as well. They do not know how to love and care for others in ways that are not self-serving.

I remember one day when my daughter was having a visit with her father (before he moved), she didn’t want to go. His words of comfort and encouragement?

“Why don’t you want to spend time with me. Don’t I buy you things?”

Fast forward to just a little while ago (after he moved) and my daughter tells me: “I love Daddy because he buys me things.”

He was basically buying her love.

I told her that she shouldn’t love something just because of what they buy her – that she can appreciate the gifts but love has to be based on other factors.

So it’s important to teach your children what love really is – respect, care, and compassion.

If they ask why their narcissistic parent can’t provide those things, explain that they love in a different way.

Just make sure your child understands that at no point do they have to accept mistreatment from their other parent.

3. Talk About Boundaries

Children tend to develop a “parent as authority” mindset and believe that they are required to do whatever their parents say.

Especially young children, who don’t understand the concept of boundaries.

Narcissists will exploit this and place ridiculous demands and expectations on their children, usually to reap the benefits of their children’s achievements or sometimes simply to quantify their love.

Your child is allowed to say “no” to certain situations, especially ones that have nothing to do with their responsibilities or safety.

This can be difficult for younger children, who don’t want to “get in trouble”. However, as they age, they will need your guidance in knowing when they can put their foot down.

Boundaries also include what your child is willing to take personally. Narcissists will verbally assault their children and others in their life, so it’s important to talk to them about not accepting what their other parent says as truth.

For instance, my daughter brought her grandmother (my ex’s mother) up in conversation one day. My ex hates his mom, so he told my daughter that her Nanny was an idiot.

This upset her, obviously, but we talked about how what her father says about other people isn’t true – that she is allowed to love her Nanny, despite what her father says.

For a while, she was afraid he would call other people idiots until one day she said, “If Daddy calls people ‘idiots’, that’s his problem.”

It sure is.

Putting Your Child First

You can’t change the fact that you have a child with a narcissistic parent – and you can’t change how that parent chooses to treat their child.

However, you can take control of how you explain narcissism to your child and how you provide them with love and support.

The most important thing about talking to your child about their narcissistic parent is putting your own feelings toward that parent aside and putting your child first.

They are going to need lots of support, love, and guidance as they navigate their relationship with their other parent.

Are you dealing with a narcissistic ex? How do you approach this with your child? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Lea

    Great advices!

  2. Grandma pat

    Thank you. I’ve been searching for help on this subject. Really helpful. Do you have any input on helping boys of narcissistic mothers?

    • Chelsy

      I can’t speak much on the topic of raising boys (since I only have a daughter) but I can imagine that boys dealing with narcissistic abuse may be more likely to internalize the pain than girls. I would really focus on creating a safe space for him to open up about the way he feels by listening and validating his emotions.

      • Jennifer

        I have a 5 year old son. His father just accepted an 8 year plea deal for an aggravated assault on me. He’s heard and seen too much and often questions “why does daddy act so mean?” I have him in therapy to work out his feelings. He shuts down pretty easily because he is so afraid of being a disappointment. His dad manipulated him to keep secrets by buying gifts. He intimidated him with his size and rage. Called him a mama’s boy and a cry baby if he cried even a little. He has been having nightmares of a “monster” breaking in the house and taking him away. So, yes, I agree that boys seem to internalize a lot more and need help to learn expressing their feelings.

        • Chelsy

          Your poor little guy 🙁 I’m glad you’ve taken the steps to get him into therapy. I know it is extremely difficult now, but you are raising a strong, emotionally-healthy boy by addressing the issues that most would sweep under the rug. He is going to develop resilience and learn how to treat other people right – both men and women. I know it sucks that you can’t control how his father treats him but you have obviously taken control of how you are parenting him and, even if the narc doesn’t realize it, that’s a huge power move on your part. Thanks for your comment <3

        • misty r freudenberg

          I dunno Im so lost.. My 5 kids are dealing with the names..and all kinds of stuff.

  3. Karen

    Thank you for this article. My seven year old daughter is currently navigating to rough waters in dealing with her Narcissist Father. I love that you mentioned it is important for the other parent to keep their feelings out of the equation, and focus on the child’s feelings first. My daughter often says, “I don’t love Daddy, he is so mean.” Any advice on how I should respond to those statements?

    • Chelsy

      Omg, my daughter is the same age and says the exact same thing sometimes! While I don’t want to sugarcoat the situation for her, I help her focus on the “nice” things her father has said or done. I also tell her that her daddy loves her, just in a different way – and that he will always love himself first. If these sorts of statements don’t change her opinion of her father, there’s really nothing you can do. He is behaving in a way that is negatively framing his relationship with his daughter and it will bite him the ass one day – you just have to mitigate her struggles in the meantime. Try to have as much of a positive attitude toward her father as you can and continue to support and validate her emotions.

  4. Debra

    How to explain to my children ( 8 and 5 ) why their grandma isn’t coming anymore for visits ? My husband and I had to exclude her from our lives due to her extreme narcissistic behavior . Thank you for your input

    • Chelsy

      Congratulations on establishing firm and difficult boundaries for the sake of your children! 🙂 That’s a really tough thing to do. As far as explaining it to them, you need to be honest without going into the gory details. They’re going to feel “unloved” by their grandmother to a certain degree because we all expect our grandmothers to love us. However, they need to understand the importance of avoiding toxic people and it’s okay to tell them that grandma’s behaviors are hurtful because she loves herself more than anyone else. Explain it in a way so that they don’t feel at fault or blame themselves for their grandmother’s absence.

  5. Jessie

    After 6 years of living hell, I finally had the strength to leave my narcissistic, sociopathic husband.
    After 4 years fighting and üs winning every court – we’re still nowhere.
    I was 6 month pregnant with our second son when he attacked me out of the blue for the first time physically – Sam 3years old had to watch it.
    After he attacked me while holding our 3rd son Lee 6months in my arms and in front of Sam 6 and Tom 3, I knew that I must act. Act to protect our boys, to show them that this is not how love and family should be. To give them the chances to be good people, even if it meant to break up this family.
    Still 4 years down I’m certain that I made the right choice to leave. I’ve hurt my boys with the decisions I made, but it was the only way to keep them safe. To give them the chance to be a self loving and a free adult.
    And all I have to do now, is keeping the monster of hurting them from far away

    • Chelsy

      Dealing with a narcissist is a step-by-step process and you have definitely conquered one of the hardest steps by leaving your ex for the sake and safety of your children. 🙂 However, the next steps involve more time, growth, and patience. As you continue to learn how to deal with your ex and mitigate conflict, you’ll find that the situation can get better. It’ll never be perfect but it can be better. 🙂 Thanks for leaving a comment! <3

      • Martina

        Hi I wish I saw this article 40 years ago my 3 children and I have been suffering for so long I had no idea what I was dealing with my children are now adults
        He has ruined our lives



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