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6 Ways to Nurture Your Child’s Self-Esteem While Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

by | Oct 5, 2023 | 0 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

Did you know that nurturing a child’s self-esteem can begin as early as infancy?

The process of developing self-esteem in children is gradual and begins when a child feels loved, secure, and accepted in their infancy by receiving positive care and attention.

As toddlers, children begin to explore their independence and experience a sense of pride in their abilities to accomplish tasks on their own.

However, as they begin to interact with peers and gauge themselves against others, self-esteem challenges can emerge.

And these challenges can be made worse when their other parent is a narcissist.

Narcissists often prioritize their own needs and desires over those of their own children, which can eventually impact a child’s self-esteem.

From emotional neglect to gaslighting and manipulation, it’s important to recognize these effects and find ways to nurture your child’s self-esteem.

If you’re here, then you’re the reasonable parent who wants to do what’s best for their child – and these tips can help you mitigate the effects your ex can have on your child’s self-esteem.

Let’s get started!

The Effects of Narcissism on a Child’s Self-Esteem

Okay, let’s start by taking a look at how your narcissistic ex can impact your child’s self-esteem:

Emotional Neglect

Again, narcissists will often prioritize their own needs over their child’s, especially their emotional needs. This can lead to emotional neglect.

When a child’s emotional needs (unconditional love, encouragement, guidance, etc.) are not met, consistently dismissed, or ignored, they may start to believe that their feelings and concerns are unimportant.

Inconsistent Affection

Narcissists tend to be inconsistent and all over the place when it comes to many aspects of their lives. How many times have they messed around with your parenting plan or not shown up for visits?

(Trust me, I went through so much of the not showing up B.S. But if I canceled a visit, I was a monster. ????)

Anyway, narcissists can also be inconsistent with the affection they give their children and will actually use it as a reward for compliance or withhold it as punishment.

This unpredictable pattern is gross and can lead to confusion and feelings of unworthiness in a child.


In some cases, narcissistic parents may expect their child to fulfill their emotional needs or play the role of a caretaker.

This can involve a child taking care of the household or playing therapist to their parent’s emotional problems.

Parentification forces children into adult roles prematurely and can disrupt a child’s normal development and create a skewed sense of self.

Manipulation and Gaslighting

Remember the way your narcissistic ex treated you in the relationship? Chances are they may treat your child in many of the same ways.

Narcissistic parents are skilled manipulators and often use gaslighting techniques to distort a child’s perception of reality.

For instance, if a child tells their parent they are making them sad, the narcissistic parent may tell them that they are being too sensitive.

Children who are raised in an environment of manipulation may struggle with self-doubt and develop difficulties trusting their own judgment.

Lack of Empathy

Many narcissistic individuals lack the capability to feel empathy, and others are capable but just don’t care.

So they either struggle to understand others’ emotions, or they do and choose not to validate them.

When a child’s feelings are consistently invalidated, they may feel unheard and unseen.

Unrealistic Expectations

Narcissistic parents tend to have unrealistic expectations for their child’s achievements and may criticize them harshly for “failures.”

This is because narcissists use their children to bolster their own sense of success – basically, they use their kids for bragging rights.

But when a child is constantly pressured to meet unattainable standards, this can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, and poor self-esteem.

Competing for Attention

Narcissists are notorious for demanding excessive attention and admiration from everyone, which leaves very little room for the child to receive the attention and validation they need.

This can create a competition for love and attention, which can do a number on a child’s self-esteem.

How to Nurture Your Child’s Self-Esteem

So now that we’ve talked at great lengths about how a narcissist can affect a child’s self-esteem let’s talk about what you can do about it.

Because the benefit of being the sane parent is that you have the power to mitigate the negative impact a narcissist can have on your child’s life.

In a situation where you feel like you have no control, you actually have tons of control!

So let’s look at what you can do to help your kiddo out:

1. Establish Clear Boundaries

One of the first steps in mitigating the impact of a narcissistic co-parent on your child’s self-esteem is to establish clear boundaries to avoid your ex’s manipulations (or at least make it harder for them).

Maintaining firm boundaries can protect your child from emotional manipulation or neglect.

For instance, you should create a consistent and structured parenting plan that outlines visitation schedules, communication protocols, and responsibilities.

If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, I wrote an article about it here. Don’t worry, it’ll pop up in a new tab!

If you can’t get your ex to agree to a plan, then you may have to take the issue to family court and get a court order.

Either way, sticking to your boundaries and keeping things consistent will provide your child with a sense of security and stability.

2. Foster Open Communication

When you’re co-parenting with a narcissist, it’s super important that you maintain open communication with your child.

This means encouraging your child to express their thoughts and feelings about their interactions with the narcissistic parent.

But I don’t mean you should sit them down and grill them after every visit – this encouragement should happen when they are upset, or you can tell something is off.

And you can start this at any age! When my daughter was younger, I had her draw pictures of her experiences.

Listening to your child and validating their feelings is going to help them feel heard and understood – something they probably won’t get from their narcissistic parent.

By encouraging open communication, you can also help them process their experiences and understand that they are not at fault for the way their other parent acts.

3. Seek Professional Support

I know “talk to a therapist” is blanket advice you see all over the internet for every difficult situation, but I can tell you from experience that it is extremely helpful when it comes to children and emotional struggles.

I know you’re doing everything you can to support your child, but sometimes you need a little extra support as well – and a therapist or counselor can help both you and your child.

Therapy provides a safe space for your child to explore the feelings and thoughts they may not be ready to share with you. It can also help them develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Therapy is also there to help you navigate the complexities of the situation and provide guidance on how to best support your child’s self-esteem.

I know therapy is not always a financial option for parents, but take a look in your community for clinics that offer free or low-cost sessions.

Or talk to your healthcare provider for free services in your area.

Oh, and double-check your health coverage because you may be surprised how much therapy they cover!

4. Encourage Independence and Responsibility

So I know we talked about parentification and placing too many adult responsibilities on a child, but children do need to learn responsibility, and giving them age-appropriate things to do can boost their self-esteem.

These are things like making the bed, finishing their homework, feeding the pet (a hedgehog, in our case ????), or helping with chores.

This fosters a sense of independence and achievement, which leads them to feel competent and proud – both crucial for building self-esteem.

5. Praise Effort and Persistence

So often, we focus on praising our child’s accomplishments and achievements that we forget to praise their efforts along the way.

Teach them that success often comes through hard work and perseverance but also involves challenges and setbacks.

Offer support and encouragement to help them develop resilience and self-confidence.

6. Focus On What They Love To Do

While you want to encourage your child to try new things and develop new skills, there’s nothing wrong with letting them enjoy something they are good at.

My daughter has a knack for drawing, so I try to enroll her in art classes and camps whenever I can – not because I necessarily want her to learn something new, but because I want her to do something she enjoys and is good at.

And I take an active interest in her drawing. She loves to show me her sketchbooks, tell me about the characters she created, and teach me how to draw in her style.

Pay attention to what they love doing and continue to encourage it. This will help them develop self-confidence in themselves and their skills and interests.

How to Build Confidence in a Sensitive Child

That is all well and good, but you may have a sensitive child who is strongly affected by, well, everything – especially how their narcissistic parent treats them.

Sensitivity is a beautiful trait, but it can also make children more vulnerable to emotional challenges.

Sensitive children often have a heightened sense of emotional awareness, which can make them more susceptible to the negative effects of a narcissistic co-parent.

Here are some ways that you can help your sensitive child build confidence:

  • Validate Their Emotions: Sensitive children tend to experience emotions more intensely, so it’s important to let them know that it’s okay to feel the way they do.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Help your child develop emotional intelligence by teaching them to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions by using healthy coping strategies.
  • Provide a Safe Space: Make sure your home is a safe and nurturing environment where they can feel loved and accepted.
  • Set Realistic Expectations: Sensitive children can sometimes be perfectionists and overly critical of themselves (and having a narcissistic parent doesn’t help!), but you can help them set realistic expectations and teach them how making mistakes is a part of learning and growing.

Nurturing the self-esteem of a sensitive child (especially when a narcissistic co-parent is involved) means being empathetic, understanding, and supportive.

Nurturing Your Child’s Self-Esteem: Empowerment in Co-Parenting

Co-parenting with a narcissist can be a daunting task, but you have the power to mitigate the negative effects they can have on your child’s self-esteem.

Your love, support, and dedication to your child’s self-esteem can make a world of difference in their development and overall happiness!

What is your child amazing at? I invite you to brag all you want in the comments below!

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Let’s create a supportive community and navigate the complexities of co-parenting with strength and resilience!


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