How to Protect a child From a Narcissistic Father? As a parent, you want to do everything in your power to protect your children. When they scrape a knee, you feel their pain.
When they come home from school with a bad report card, you feel their humiliation. If your child’s father is a narcissist, and they’re going through the cycle of abuse, you feel it as if it’s happening to you (more than likely, it has happened to you).
Protecting your child from their father is no easy task; you don’t want them to be traumatized by his abuse, but you also can’t sever the parent-child bond without doing lasting damage. If your child is going to see their father and have a relationship with him, the best thing to do is build up your child’s resilience so they can deal with some of his more unsavory behaviors.
11 Ways to Protecting your Child from their Narcissistic Father
There are a number of steps you can take to protect your child from their narcissistic father – some will involve just you and your relationship with the father while others are focused on changing the child’s behavior or helping them to understand their fathers disorder better.
Some of this advice will be more helpful for parents that are still living with a narcissistic father, while others are relevant to those who are divorced but still need to co-parent with a narcissist.
The most important step is the one you’ve already completed though, identifying the father’s narcissistic behavior and considering the best options for protecting your child from them. The steps below are a great start, but don’t think of them as a checklist to complete. They’re a toolbox full of helpful choices that can be tailored to your situation and your child’s maturity level.
#1 Let Go of the Blame
Once you realize you’ve been parenting alongside a narcissist, you’re likely to blame yourself for the damage done to your child. Not only are these thoughts and feelings unproductive, but they’re also patently untrue.
Narcissists are incredibly cunning and won’t reveal their true nature until it’s too late. This could be after getting married, buying a house, or having children with you. What’s important is that he’s sucked you in and made it very difficult to escape. Not seeing this side of him from the beginning is not a character flaw.
Spending all your time thinking about what could have been, what it would be like for your child to not have a narcissistic father, is time better spent focusing on legal solutions, resiliency for you and your child, and what can be done to limit interactions with the father.
#2 Stop Fights Before They Start
For many this will sound like submission to the narcissist, but if you consider how ineffective fighting with a narcissist is, it becomes a viable solution. If conflict arises between you and the narcissistic father, do not belittle them, ignore them, or otherwise defy them.
Narcissists crave attention and always want to appear right about whatever they’re fighting about. Try to find a way to steer the conversation towards agreeing with them (even if only on a trivial point in the fight). Let them know their viewpoint is valued. No need to surrender to them though, just make them feel like they’re winning the argument, even when you’re getting the concessions you were looking for.
#3 Stay Calm
This is a big ask because every interaction with the narcissistic father is designed to elicit an emotional response that’ll reflect poorly on you. He wants you to cry, scream, and resort to name-calling, which will be used against you when he is trying to exert more parental control or when he’s fighting for child custody during a divorce.
You can control outbursts better by understanding how narcissists operate. Don’t take his words personally; he’s saying what he thinks will cause a reaction. By not reacting, you can put him off balance.
Then, try to map out the conversation based on your past experiences with the father? How does he usually respond to criticism and what might he say to hijack the conversation? Having thought through the conversation, you’re less likely to get surprised and fall into his trap.
It might sound cliche, but take a deep breath before responding to him. Those breaths will slow the argument down and help you to stay rational and prevent you from being provoked.
#4 Let the Kids be Angry
Living with a narcissist is a draining experience, and no one knows that better than you. Your kids can feel the same way after being subjected to a bout of narcissistic rage and bottling up their feelings can lead to sudden emotional outbursts.
Don’t take your child’s anger too personally though, they’re just expressing their pain. Sometimes they might direct that anger in your direction, wondering why you haven’t removed them from this difficult situation. Explaining the complexity of your position can be challenging, but do your best and don’t get upset if the child lashes out.
#5 Minimize Contact with the Narcissistic Father
Every interaction with a narcissist is an opportunity for them to insult, gaslight, and turn the situation against you. There are very few times where an interaction with them will be productive. Thus if you’re co-parenting with a narcissist, your best bet is to limit the amount of time you have to spend with them.
For phone calls, let your kids know that they can call you whenever they want; having them initiate the interaction removes the narcissist from the equation. In face-to-face meetings, like handing the kids off for the weekend, limit conversations to things involving the kids. Letting their narcissistic father know more about your personal life is bound to have negative consequences.
#6 Don’t Let Your Child Blame Themselves
Just as you are apt to blame yourself for your partner’s bad behavior, so is your child. Most children desperately want to please their parents, a trait that narcissists know all too well and exploit to the fullest extent.
Narcissistic fathers want their children to look up to them, idolize them even. Children that show the proper amount of respect and admiration are made out to be the golden child, the one who can do no wrong in their father’s eyes. This status has nothing to do with the child’s personal attributes though, and everything to do with how they make the narcissist feel.
When the child fails in school/sports/career, the father withdraws his support as their supposed failures reflect poorly on him. A child that stops showing the proper deference for their narcissistic father will also have their status downgraded until they come crawling back to him.
As the other parent, your job is to show unconditional love to the child, letting them know that their worth isn’t dependent on how their father is feeling that day. For younger kids, explaining this could be as simple as saying “Daddy is having a bad day, and it’s not because of anything you’ve done”. For older kids, you can engage in deeper conversations, letting them know that his behavior is not normal and is caused by his own emotional issues.
#7 Let Them Know They’re Not Alone
One of the most potent ways for narcissists to control their victims is through isolation. They assert control of a situation and manipulate everyone into believing their version of reality through gaslighting. They’ll shower praise on their kids, building them up only to tear them down later, something that gives them all the power in the relationship.
Your kids should be aware that their narcissistic father treats many people poorly, which helps them to understand that they’ve done nothing wrong to deserve it. You can share your negative experiences, but keep the focus on what you did to come out of that situation intact. Tell your children about your healthy coping mechanisms and how they might be useful for them.
#8 Be Open With Them
This can be tricky and the amount of information you share about the father needs to take into account your child’s age and maturity level. If you have a younger child and mention that their father is a narcissist, there’s a good chance they’ll go around repeating the newly-learned word, sometimes in the presence of their father. When the father learns that you’ve outed them as a narcissist to the child, things are bound to go poorly.
Instead, think of how the child perceives their father’s behavior. They’re worried about disappointing him or making him angry. They need to be told that their father’s behavior is not their fault and that he is overly sensitive and defensive with everyone. With that context, the child can learn how to avoid their father’s narcissistic rage while maturing into an emotionally stable and empathetic adult.
#9 Don’t Vilify the Father
After that last bit of advice, this might seem contradictory, but there’s a difference between telling the truth about someone’s behavior and making them into a monster. Remember, the goal is to protect your child, not vent your feelings.
Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to go through a divorce seeking full custody, the narcissistic father still has parental rights. Engendering negative feelings towards him isn’t going to help your child. If anything, it’ll cause them to act out in ways that feed his narcissistic tendencies, leading to more manipulative behavior or harsh punishments for your child.
In time, your child can form their own opinion of their father, and they’ll feel much more secure in their opinion if they come to it on their own. Older children are more likely to have questions that push you to reveal things about their father that you wouldn’t otherwise. Always let the child initiate these conversations.
#10 Model Helpful Behaviors
Narcissists teeter between periods of love bombing and emotional distance, which leaves their children feeling incredibly confused. Most often, they’ll look to the one person who might actually understand how to deal with their father – you.
Your kids will notice how you behave when their father is angry, how you keep the conversation positive to prevent yourself from setting off his emotional triggers. It’s a tightrope to walk though, as your children might think this is how they should approach every interaction. Again, knowing the child’s maturity level and what they can handle is critical here.
Given the unequal relationship between fathers and their children, it’ll be difficult for them to model all of your behaviors. Setting boundaries doesn’t work so well when the adult can demand a child do something without explanation.
#11 Get Some Outside Help
No one should ever need to navigate a narcissistic relationship by themselves – not you and not your child. Everyone needs a support network, and it can take a few different forms. If you feel safe with your friends and family, discuss what’s happening and get their point of view on where to go next.
Unfortunately, narcissists weave their way through your social network, poisoning your contacts with smear campaigns and doubt. Often, you can’t be sure who to trust, because you don’t know who he has manipulated and turned against you. In that case, it’s better to seek counsel with a professional. Therapy will help you to better understand the father’s mental state and what you can do to protect yourself and your child.
Your child could also benefit from some time with a therapist. If you don’t help them to understand their father’s problematic behaviors now, it’ll be harder to repair later.
The Challenge of Protecting Your Child from their Narcissistic Father
No matter which steps you take, it’ll feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. The narcissistic father devours your energy until you no longer have the will to fight them. If you can, extricate yourself and your child from this situation.
If you can’t, your best bet is to develop resilience in the two of you, shielding against the pain the father inflicts rather than actively fighting against it. Remember that none of this is your fault and that you can’t change a narcissist who doesn’t want to change. All you can do is work on yourself and help to build a better future for your child.