You teach your child to value him or her self.
It’s not easy for anyone to stand up to a narcissist, to address them head on, to hold them accountable, to draw the line. Never mind a child, with the narcissist being your parent on top of that. If narcissistic rage is terrifying for an adult, imagine what it’s like for a child.
When you teach a child to value himself, you teach him to have a stronger sense of self. When you have a sense of who you are, you know where your boundaries are, where you end and another person begins. Standing up to any violation or trespass of that happens over time if the child has been given enough respect and role modeling on which to build a foundation for something healthier.
“Enough” varies from person to person. Personal choice, also, factors into it greatly, but in my experience the human spirit is hungry for anything that acknowledges its dignity. Even intermittent examples of empowering acts can go a long way. Your task as a parent is to model and set as many examples of that before your child as possible.
It’s so hard to watch your child being bullied, so hard not to stop yourself from forcing empowerment on your kid, but you can’t. All you’ll be doing is adding to the pressure and stress the child is already under.
You can empathize with your child. You can validate what that child is going through. You don’t dismiss it by saying, “Oh, you know your father/mother loves you.” That may or may not be true. It’s irrelevant to whether or not how they are treating you is abusive. Someone can love you very much, but your face is going to sting just as much if, for whatever reason, they slap you across the face.
It can be argued whether someone who loves you can do that, but the slap, itself, must always be addressed.
You can affirm the emotions that are invoked when you’re lied to or manipulated. You can give a name to what they are feeling and validate whatever emotional experience of the situation your child is having. In all likelihood, the narcissist parent will be attempting to invalidate that.
You can widen your child’s support network, perhaps bring in another shoulder, another ear for your child’s validation. You can provide professional support from those who may be trained in dealing with personality disordered parents. You can give your child coping tools, but be careful in this endeavor you don’t burden him or her further.
There’s a fine line that’s easily crossed when you think you’re giving your child empowering suggestions, but make the child feel responsible for their narcissist parent’s bad behavior. Be careful as you attempt to empower your child, you make it very clear the narcissist parent is responsible for their behavior — not the child.
The best thing you can do is give the life saving gift of validation. Don’t let the narcissist parent get away with redefining and recreating your child’s reality. Make it a point to give back the child her experience. Encourage your child to talk, to verbalize what she’s going through — give her the vocabulary to use while letting her story be her own.
It’s not a smooth drive. The road is bumpy and pitted with potholes that threaten to open up and swallow you whole. But you can navigate it with your child’s best interest always in mind.
Ironically, your efforts to do so can actually “make things worse”, at least for a time, because seeing there’s another way of relating, knowing that there’s some place, there are some people — that there’s one parent who treats them, “even though they’re children”, with respect and make them feel seen will make the abusive behavior of the narcissist parent all that much more bitter to take.
The contrast you provide can make things more painful before it makes things better.
But that’s good. The last thing you want is for your child to feel comfortable with abuse, to think that this is normal, to be accepting of it. So if you’re child is suffering the difference between being with you and being with the narcissist, whether in different places or just different ways of relating in the same residence, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Children are survivors. Not all surviving techniques are healthy, but they do get you through initially. One way to survive is to numb yourself out or to comply, give in or learn the same kind of manipulation and gaslighting techniques to fight back. That’s where you are so important to your child. You have to give you and the example of another way of relating to your child. You have to provide as many alternative ways of relating and being as you can, knowing that your child can go back and forth between them and in how they treat you.
Stand firm. Be that lighthouse in the storm.
Your child may not be able to “stand up” to his or her narcissist parent just yet, but you can. You can by continuing to give your child a different way of being. Given enough validation, enough real support, greatly increases the possibility — changes it from possibility to probability — to not only stand up to the narcissist parent, but to walk away from him or her and others like them — in due time.
Don’t expect an eight year old to be able to do it. But start giving that eight year old what he or she needs to grow into the person who can follow through on whatever standing up to abuse looks like to them.
I have seen it done.