Understanding and Overcoming Golden Child Syndrome: Signs, Causes and Effects

golden child syndrome

Overview

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Golden Child Syndrome happens when a child is praised and pushed to be perfect. This often starts because parents want their children to succeed where they didn’t. The signs include always being under pressure to do well, not being allowed to show true feelings, and constantly needing approval.

Parents might see their child’s success as their own, setting high expectations. This can make the child feel alone, stressed, and confused about who they are. The constant push to be the best can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. The impact of Golden Child Syndrome can last a lifetime. These children might grow up feeling like they are never good enough, always seeking praise. This can hurt their relationships as they might expect the same perfection from others.

This blog will examine the symptoms, development, and intricate causes of Golden Child Syndrome. Subsequently, we will explore coping mechanisms for individuals impacted by this syndrome, encompassing helpful advice for fostering more positive family relationships and handling the potential emotional consequences.

What is golden child syndrome?

Golden Child Syndrome, or being a “golden child,” is often used by families, particularly parents, to describe a child seen as exceptional. This child is expected to excel at everything, avoid mistakes, and be “perfect.” The parents constantly favour one child over others.

Golden children are typically raised by narcissistic, controlling parents who enforce perfection through a toxic environment. These parents create a space where the child feels unsafe expressing their own opinions or breaking any rules. They set extremely high expectations, pressuring the child to meet them or risk losing their parents’ love. This conditional love can be felt subtly or stated outright, but the golden child clearly understands it.

Golden Child Syndrome is real and significantly impacts the child’s self-esteem and perception of love as something to be earned. It also affects siblings, leading to hate and unnecessary rivalry.

Consistently experiences feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem?

What are the signs of golden child syndrome?

Golden Child Syndrome can manifest in various signs, affecting the child’s emotional and psychological well-being. Here are some detailed explanations of these signs:

Constant Need for Validation

Golden children often seek continuous approval from their parents and others. They may feel their worth is tied to their achievements and need constant reassurance that they meet expectations.

This can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem, as the child becomes dependent on external validation rather than developing a healthy sense of self-worth.

Fear of Failure

These children are often terrified of making mistakes or failing. They feel immense pressure to be perfect and may avoid trying new things to prevent failure.

This fear can hinder their personal growth and development, limiting their willingness to take risks and explore new opportunities.

Perfectionism

Golden children are usually driven to be perfect in everything they do. This can manifest in an obsessive attention to detail and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

Perfectionism can lead to stress, burnout, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It can also cause the child to be overly critical of themselves and others.

Suppressed Emotions

These children may suppress their feelings and opinions to avoid disappointing their parents. They learn to prioritize their parent’s expectations over their own emotions.

Suppressed emotions can result in emotional numbness, difficulty in forming authentic relationships, and long-term psychological issues.

Overachievement

Golden children are often overachievers, excelling in academics, sports, or other activities. They need to outperform their peers and meet their parent’s high standards.

While overachievement can lead to success, it can also cause chronic stress, exhaustion, and a lack of balance in life. The child might miss out on the joys of childhood and everyday social interactions.

Perceived as threat by siblings

Golden Child Syndrome often creates tension and resentment among siblings. The favored child is perceived as a threat, leading to jealousy and rivalry. This perceived favoritism can strain sibling relationships, fostering feelings of inadequacy and bitterness. Siblings may struggle with their self-worth, feeling overshadowed by the golden child’s achievements. Addressing these dynamics is crucial for fostering healthy family relationships and ensuring all children feel valued.

Conditional Self-Worth

These children may believe their value depends on their success and accomplishments. They might feel loved only when they achieve something significant.

This conditional sense of self-worth might result in feelings of inadequacy and an ongoing drive to prove oneself. It may also lead to a dependence on outside validation for one’s sense of self.

Difficulty in Developing Identity

Golden children often struggle to develop their identity as they are pressured to conform to their parents’ expectations. They might not know who they are outside of their achievements.

This can lead to identity crises and difficulty in making independent decisions. The child might face challenges understanding their likes, dislikes, and life goals.

Strained Relationships

The pressure to be perfect and the resulting behaviours can strain relationships with peers and family members especially siblings. Golden children might be seen as aloof, competitive, or unapproachable.

Strained relationships can lead to social isolation and difficulty forming meaningful connections. The child might also experience sibling rivalry and resentment from other family members.

What causes the golden child syndrome?

Parental behaviour, family dynamics, and psychological factors often cause Golden Child Syndrome. Here are the primary causes:

Special Treatment from parents: 

Parents often provide special treatment to the golden child, showering them with praise and privileges. This preferential treatment can create an imbalance in the family, making the other children feel neglected and undervalued. The golden child may receive more opportunities, leniency, and support, reinforcing their perceived superiority. This dynamic can lead to resentment and conflict within the family. It’s essential for parents to recognize and address these patterns to promote a more equitable and supportive family environment.

“Special treatment may feel good, but it can also be detrimental to the family bonds; embracing equal love and care will foster a harmonious home.”

Says Licensed Professional Counselor, Relationship Coach, and Marriage Mentor, Christiana Njoku,

Parental Narcissism

Narcissistic parents may view their children as extensions of themselves, using them to fulfill their unmet ambitions and desires. They expect their child to excel in various areas and reflect positively on themselves.

This leads to parents imposing unrealistic standards and expectations on the child, demanding perfection and exceptional achievements.

Unfulfilled Parental Dreams

Parents who have not achieved their dreams or goals may project these aspirations onto their children. They push their child to succeed where they did not.

The child feels pressured to live up to these expectations, often sacrificing their interests and desires to please their parents.

Desire for Social Status

Some parents value social status and success highly. They may see their child’s achievements as a way to enhance their family’s reputation and standing in the community.

The child becomes a tool for the parents to gain social approval, leading to immense pressure to perform and excel.

Perfectionist Parenting Style

Parents with perfectionist tendencies may impose their high standards on their children. They expect flawless performance in academics, sports, and other activities.

This creates an environment where the child feels they must be perfect to be loved and accepted, leading to stress and anxiety.

Emotional Insecurity in Parents

Parents who feel emotionally insecure or inadequate may seek validation through their child’s successes. They rely on their child’s achievements to boost their self-esteem.

The child is burdened with the responsibility of making their parents feel good about themselves, leading to emotional manipulation and a lack of genuine support.

Comparisons with Siblings

In some families, one child is singled out for praise and high expectations, often compared to their siblings. This can create a dynamic where the golden child is expected to be the best.

The golden child may experience loneliness, jealousy, and sibling rivalry because they are pressured to uphold their status.

Conditional Love and Approval

Parents may show love and approval only when the child meets high expectations. This conditional affection teaches the child that their worth is tied to their achievements.

The youngster links love with achievement, breeds a never-ending demand for approval from others and a dread of failing.

Having Difficulty in forming and maintaining healthy relationships?

Is golden child syndrome a mental illness?

Golden Child Syndrome is not classified as a mental illness. Instead, it is a term used to describe a set of behaviours and family dynamics where a child is excessively praised and held to high standards, often to the detriment of their emotional and psychological well-being. While it is not a recognized medical or psychological diagnosis, the pressures and expectations associated with Golden Child Syndrome can lead to mental health issues. These include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and identity confusion.

The syndrome stems from parental behaviour, family dynamics, and psychological factors. While the child is not inherently mentally ill, the environment created by these factors can impact their mental health. Children who experience this syndrome may develop coping mechanisms and emotional responses that resemble those seen in particular mental health conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Identity Confusion
Is your child mostly anxious or depressed?

Are golden children likely to be narcissists? Can they avoid it?

Golden children are not inherently destined to become narcissists, but the environment in which they are raised can increase the risk of developing narcissistic traits. Narcissism often stems from childhood experiences where one’s self-worth is tied to achievements, praise, and validation, which are core elements of Golden Child Syndrome. However, whether a golden child becomes a narcissist depends on various factors, including their personality, other environmental influences, and how they cope with their upbringing.

Factors that Increase the Risk of Narcissism

Conditional Love

Golden children may learn that love and approval are contingent upon their success, leading them to develop a sense of entitlement and superiority.

Excessive Praise

Constantly giving out too much praise can lead to a smug feeling of significance and a lack of empathy for other people.

Lack of Emotional Support:

If golden children do not receive genuine emotional support and are only valued for their achievements, they might struggle to develop healthy relationships and empathy.

Ways to Avoid Developing Narcissistic Traits

Encouraging Self-Awareness

Golden children can benefit from learning to recognize and understand their own emotions, desires, and motivations, which helps them develop a grounded sense of self.

Promoting Empathy

Encouraging empathy and understanding of others’ feelings can counterbalance tendencies toward self-centeredness and entitlement.

Balanced Praise

Offering balanced praise that values effort, character, and personal growth rather than achievements can help foster healthier self-esteem.

Therapeutic Support

Golden children who receive therapy can better understand their experiences, create healthy coping strategies, and forge a stronger sense of self.

Setting Realistic Expectations

Teaching golden children that it is okay to make mistakes and that they are valued for who they are, not just for what they accomplish, can reduce the pressure to be perfect.

Parental Role in Prevention

Unconditional Love

Parents should strive to show unconditional love and support, emphasizing that their child’s worth is not tied to achievements.

Open Communication

When children are encouraged to communicate in an honest and open manner, they can express genuine emotions and thoughts without worrying about being judged.

Modelling Healthy Behavior

Parents can model healthy self-esteem and empathy, showing their children the importance of valuing oneself and others equally.

By addressing these factors and providing a supportive, balanced environment, golden children can develop into well-rounded individuals without the detrimental effects of narcissism.

Worried your child may be having Narcissistic Traits?

What happens when a golden child fails?

When a golden child experiences failure, they often feel inadequate and fear losing their parents’ love and affection. This can make them feel unlovable.

As a result, they may develop various mental health and social issues, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • People-pleasing behaviour
  • Social withdrawal
  • Perfectionism
  • Self-sabotage
  • Poor coping strategies, such as drug misuse or disordered eating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Codependency
  • Narcissism
  • Insecure attachment styles
  • Uncertainty about their own identity

What happens to golden children as adults?

As adults, golden children who have experienced Golden Child Syndrome may face various challenges and outcomes depending on how their upbringing has shaped them:

High Expectations

They may continue to pressure themselves to succeed and meet high professional and personal standards.

Identity Issues

They might struggle to understand their true identity and personal desires, having been conditioned to prioritize parental expectations over their needs.

Relationship Challenges

Golden children may struggle to form genuine, balanced relationships. They might also struggle with intimacy, empathy, and vulnerability due to their upbringing, which was focused on achievement rather than emotional connection.

Mental Health Issues

They may be prone to anxiety, depression, perfectionism, and low self-esteem, stemming from the constant need for validation and fear of failure ingrained during childhood.

Career and Achievement Orientation

Many golden children continue to excel in their careers or chosen fields, driven by their upbringing’s emphasis on achievement and success.

Dependency and Approval Seeking

They may continue seeking external validation and approval, struggling with self-worth tied to accomplishments rather than intrinsic qualities.

Narcissistic Tendencies

In some cases, golden children may exhibit narcissistic traits, such as entitlement, lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, especially if they were excessively praised and shielded from criticism during childhood.

Recovery and Growth

With self-awareness and support, some golden children can heal from the effects of their upbringing. Therapy and personal development work can help them cultivate healthier self-esteem, form meaningful relationships, and discover their authentic selves beyond parental expectations.

How do we get rid of the golden child syndrome?

Addressing and overcoming Golden Child Syndrome involves a multifaceted approach that focuses on the individual experiencing it and the family dynamics contributing to it. Here are detailed steps to help mitigate and heal from Golden Child Syndrome:

Recognition and Awareness

The first step is to recognize the presence of Golden Child Syndrome and its impact on individual and family dynamics. This involves acknowledging behaviour patterns, expectations, and emotional dynamics.

Family members and the individual affected need to acknowledge and understand how roles and behaviours have developed within the family structure.

Promoting Individual Identity

Encouraging the golden child to explore and develop their interests, values, and aspirations independently from parental expectations.

Encourage the person to partake in hobbies, volunteer work, or pursue new interests, as these activities can foster self-discovery and personal development.

Healthy Communication

Establishing open and honest communication within the family, where feelings, concerns, and perspectives are respected and validated.

Create a safe space for all family members to express themselves without fear of judgment or criticism. This can be facilitated through family meetings or facilitated discussions with a therapist.

Setting Realistic Expectations

Redefining expectations to be realistic and supportive of the individual’s strengths and limitations rather than based solely on achievements.

Encourage a balanced approach to setting goals and expectations, emphasizing personal growth, effort, and resilience rather than perfectionism and external validation.

Encouraging Autonomy

Supporting the golden child in making independent decisions and taking responsibility for their choices and actions.

Provide opportunities for the individual to practice autonomy, such as decision-making exercises, managing responsibilities, and learning from successes and failures.

Addressing Family Dynamics

Examining and addressing underlying family dynamics that contribute to the perpetuation of Golden Child Syndrome, such as parental expectations, sibling dynamics, and communication patterns.

Family therapy can be beneficial in exploring and addressing these dynamics, promoting healthier relationships and roles within the family unit.

Therapeutic Support

Obtaining expert assistance from a counsellor or therapist with experience in family relations and personal growth.

Therapy can provide a safe and confidential space for the individual to explore their experiences, emotions, and relationships, develop coping strategies, and work towards healing from the effects of Golden Child Syndrome.

Encouraging Empathy and Emotional Awareness

Foster empathy towards others and develop emotional awareness and regulation skills.

Engage in activities that promote empathy, such as volunteering, participating in group discussions, and practicing active listening and perspective-taking.

When should I see a doctor?

Here are indicators suggesting it’s time to seek help from a doctor.

  • Persistent Emotional Distress: If the individual consistently experiences feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem related to their upbringing.
  • Difficulty Functioning: When the syndrome affects their ability to function effectively in daily life, such as in relationships, work, or personal development.
  • Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms: If the individual resorts to harmful coping strategies like substance abuse, self-harm, or disordered eating.
  • Interpersonal Issues: When there are significant challenges in forming and maintaining healthy relationships, including difficulty with trust, intimacy, or empathy.
  • Identity Confusion: If the individual struggles with understanding their identity and values separate from parental expectations.
  • Family Conflict: When Golden Child dynamics contribute to ongoing family conflict or strain in relationships.
  • Impact on Mental Health: If there are signs of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, or other mental health conditions exacerbated by the syndrome.
  • Self-Reflection and Insight: When the individual recognizes the impact of their upbringing and seeks professional guidance for personal growth and healing.

FAQs about golden child syndrome

How can you identify a narcissistic golden child?

A narcissistic golden child can be identified by their sense of entitlement, expecting special treatment and validation without effort; a lack of empathy, displaying little concern for other’s feelings or needs; and a constant need for praise and approval to maintain their inflated self-image. They often exhibit manipulative behaviours to support their favoured status within the family dynamic, portraying a superficial charm while disregarding the impact of their actions on others.

Does golden child syndrome affect sibling relationships?

Golden Child Syndrome can significantly impact sibling relationships by fostering jealousy, resentment, and competition. The favoured treatment of the golden child may lead to feelings of neglect or unfairness in other siblings, causing strained or distant relationships within the family dynamic.

What role do parents play in developing golden child syndrome?

Parents play a crucial role in developing Golden Child Syndrome by excessively praising and favouring one child over others, setting unrealistic expectations, and linking their love and approval to the golden child’s achievements. This can create a dynamic where the favoured child feels pressured to meet parental expectations at the expense of their own identity and relationships with siblings.

Can a golden child realize their situation and change on their own?

Yes, a golden child can realize their situation and initiate change by gaining self-awareness, reflecting on the impact of their upbringing, and seeking personal growth through therapy or self-help. Acknowledging the dynamics and actively working towards healthier relationships and self-perception are crucial steps in breaking free from Golden Child Syndrome.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Lavin, Mary Ellen. The golden child phenomenon. Pacifica Graduate Institute, 1993.
  • Cengiz, P., and J. J. Zimmerman. “Prelude to pediatric multiple organ dysfunction syndrome: the golden hours concept revisited.” Pediatric Critical Care Medicine 4.2 (2003): 263-264.

Get started today

Talk to online doctors now and get medical advice, online prescriptions, and referrals within minutes. On-demand healthcare services at your fingertips.

talk to online doctor 24/7 free

See a doctor now

Continue in Browser