The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Here are some guidelines you can use to talk to your children about narcissistic behavior.
Usually, this is information for people who have children with a narcissistic partner, but it could also be that you are a grandparent with custody, a step-parent, an aunt or uncle... It's a sad fact that many children are affected by narcissistic parents. They are used by them, abused by them, disappointed by them and much more. Narcissists often seem to view children as their equal; they will say things to the children that most people would only say to another adult. They will use the child to hurt the other person, often saying vile, despicable things to the child without caring at all how it affects them or makes them feel. The child does not matter to the narcissist in any way except in the way that anyone matters to them, which is as a tool they can use. Children are objects to a pathological narcissist. The narcissist will "love" the child so long as the child gives the narcissist what they want. This is often unconditional acceptance and love, which children give their parents because they don't know any better. It's a sad shameful thing that they should ever have to learn differently. Narcissists may be kind to the child, but this is not love. It is easy for narcissists to be kind to people who do not threaten them or challenge their authority. If the child does - and they will, because all children do - this will change.
It is imperative that people really understand this, so that they realize there is no way to mitigate the abuse or protect the child from it, especially if the narcissist lives in the same house. The narcissist does not care about your child any more than they care about you or anyone else. They do not care how their behavior affects the child or if they hurt the child. It does not matter to them. The only person who cares is you. If you want to protect your child, get them away from the narcissist. There's no other way to say it. Prove the abuse and fight for supervised visitation so that what they are saying to your child can be monitored.
Once your children are old enough to understand, you may want to talk to them about their parent's behavior. It's important to remember that the narcissist is going to twist anything you say into something bad. They will say you are trying to turn the children against them, that you are bad-mouthing them to the child and anything else they can think of. But you can't worry about what the narcissist thinks, because if you do, you will never be able to do anything. They will twist anything you do into abuse and hateful behavior, regardless of what it is. They only care about themselves and keeping their shame hidden behind manufactured anger and self-righteous indignation.
Children should be told the truth. They'll figure things out on their own sooner or later and they're able to understand a lot more than people think. They're also more accepting than people think. The truth is that the narcissistic parent has a problem with their behavior and the things that they say. If the parent has been diagnosed with something, you may choose to tell them that their parent is sick. This should not be used as an excuse for their behavior, however. Only as an explanation of it. Both children (and adults) need to learn that sometimes people say and do hurtful things, but that means that person has a problem, not you. It's OK to feel hurt or angry or however they feel, and it's also OK to love their parent, even when they can't understand the parent's behavior or don't like the things they say. It's OK to feel hate or resentment or any other way. Children should never be shamed for their feelings, corrected about them or talked out of them. They feel how they feel. They should be encouraged to express their feelings honestly in an environment where it is safe to do so. It is absolutely necessary that the children understand it is not their fault and that it is not their responsibility to do anything about their parent's problem. Above all, they need to understand that abuse is wrong. The only way they will really understand that is when you make sure it doesn't happen anymore.
Conversations should be age-appropriate and of course, should not include any details that children don't need to hear in order to understand. An important thing to remember is not to justify or defend the narcissist's behavior. Or your own. Resist the urge to defend yourself or to minimize things. Someone who has been hurt does not want to hear that. What they usually want is to be listened to and validated. If your child asks you why you did not leave the relationship sooner - and they might - be honest. This is the one question nobody in an abusive relationship wants to answer but it's one that everyone in one has to answer sooner or later if they want the family to heal. Try not to place blame, either on yourself or the narcissistic parent. If your child is angry at you, accept that. They have the right to their feelings.
No one is going to pretend that this is easy or that every situation is the same. Having children with a narcissistic partner is one of the most horrible situations you can be in. Nothing stops these people. Nothing deters them and they don't care who they hurt. Teach your children that abuse is wrong and that it is not their fault. Teach them that when someone is hurtful, it is because that person has a problem, not because they do. Teach them it's OK to feel, teach them not to make excuses and above all, teach them to love by modeling loving behavior for them.