As a parent we want what’s best for kids and also want to protect them. The Narcissistic parent has no shortage of bad behaviors that they unleash towards the closest people in their lives. If you and the other parent share custody, it seems like there’s no good way to protect the kids from the barrage of negativity, blaming and anger. Remember they are the masters of manipulation and if you bad mouth them that may backfire, by making you look like the bad guy.
Teach your kids some valuable life skills
Rather than focusing on the Narcissistic parent behaviors, or ‘bad mouthing’ the other parent, there are daily opportunities to learn from good and not so good examples. The idea is to teach the children general coping skills that will help them in any situation.
• critical thinking
• identify their emotions
• problem solving
• learning from mistakes
The skills that are valuable to your kids and a Narcissistic parent are skills that they will be able to use now with their friends and later when they are out in the larger world dealing with many different people. This can be done at any age getting more complex as they get older. This is not about ‘bad mouthing’ the Narcissistic parent but about teaching life skills to be used in any situation.
In daily life there are lots of examples of managing emotions, problem solving and patience that you can help your kids notice. When you are at the store and there is a customer or clerk that is frustrated or angry that’s an opportunity to observe a bad/good way to handle a situation. Open the discussion with your child, notice, did the customer who was frustrated get what he wanted? Would you have a better way to handle the situation if it were you? If you notice someone that is angry, notice what that anger does to a person. Does it stay with them? Does it carry over into the rest of their day? Children are naturally forgiving. They get angry and then they get over it. You can ask if they can imagine what it fells like to stay angry long after the instigating event.
You can ask your child to notice how effective someone is in solving problems. Did the store clerk solve the problem on their own or did they ask for help? Asking for help could be an effective strategy if there’s difficult emotions to manage.
TV is constant source of examples of people not listening to each other, or being oblivious to someone else’s emotions. It’s not quite real-life but you can make an example of the characters on a TV show.
You also are source of examples. You can talk about your day and how you handled a problem. Maybe you didn’t handle it as well as you might have. That can be a GREAT example. You can talk about how you handled a situation maybe not so well, and later you thought back on it and decided next time to try a different more effective way. (A bonus is your kids will never hear a Narcissist say that!)
Siblings and conflicts. Let the kids have a chance to come to their own solution and solve their own problem. You can insist on it. If they are fighting over a chair (big deal right?) but still it’s something to fight over. Ask them to come to a solution. They’ve got to come back with a COMPROMISE.
Help Your Child Cope with Your Co-Parent
With regular discussions with your kids about emotions, feelings and coping skills you can extend this to discussions about the Narcissistic parent.
When the Narcissistic parent say, engages in black and white, all or nothing thinking, remind your kids of all the stuff in the middle. Help them stop and think about what is being assumed by the Narcissist. Some tactics that can be useful even with small children is what if logic.
Let’s say the Narcissistic parent says something like….”chips are unhealthy”. Try this: what if you ate nothing but chips? Bad, right. What if all you ate was broccoli? Not good. What if you ate a bag of chips once a year? Can’t really say that’s unhealthy. There are dozens of different kinds of chips. Look at the nutrition info with your kids, notice the differences. What ingredients are the healthy ones and which are the ones that are bad for you? The point is there are limits to everything. The best food taken to the extreme is not healthy. Some ‘unhealthy’ foods can be okay in your diet in moderation.
Knowing the N in the example above, the Narcissist will eat ‘unhealthy’ chips when it suits him/her. There’s an opportunity to teach the meaning of the word hypocrite. Kids love to find the hypocrisy in adults.
The real point is the N isn’t trying to teach their kids what’s healthy (or think for themselves), they are just making blanket statements. You’ve got a great opportunity to open the kids eyes to questioning the prevailing opinion whether in the home or out in the world.