Warning signs of psychopathic children
According to a 2016 study by Rebecca Waller and colleagues at the University of Michigan, signs of psychopathy in children can be observed as early as 2 years of age. The researchers found that psychopathic children with Deceitful-Callous (DC) behavior tend to show the following 5 signs:
- The child does not feel guilty after misbehavior
- The child is selfish, mean and is least likely to share.
- The child is highly prone to lying and deceiving others
- The child exhibits sneaky behavior and often gets around the parent(s)/guardian(s)
- The child’s behavior is not affected by punishment
“Children’s behavior problems were indicated by items such as getting into fights, destroying toys and other objects, and having temper tantrums,” explains Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., ABPP, a Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She adds “The findings revealed that by age three, toddlers who were rated high on the DC scale developed into children with significant behavior problems.”
The fact is, an antisocial, psychopathic child often shows similar characteristics as a psychopathic adult. Amy Morin, LCSW writes “The telltale signs of psychopathy involve a disregard for others’ feelings and a complete lack of remorse.”
The Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI), one of the widely used assessments, generally considers the following symptoms to measure personality traits and symptoms of psychopathy is a child:
- Dishonest charm
- Thrill-seeking behavior
Moreover, adolescents with psychopathic and antisocial tendencies may team up with similar-minded peers to engage in illegal activities in groups.
According to Professor Stephen Scott of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, a parent must watch out for these additional signs if they believe their child might be antisocial and psychopathic:
1. Lack of empathy
Professor Scott says that by scanning brains of psychopathic children, it has been observed that “the amygdala, which is where you acknowledge emotions and process them, (and) it’s completely quiet and flat. So they will understand what is going on, but they don’t care.”
2. Lack of guilt
“They will be very selfish for their own needs,” explains Professor Scott. However, this particular trait can often make them great business leaders as they can take the most difficult decisions without feeling remorse.
3. Certain obsessions
Psychopathic children are often fascinated and captivated by certain things, such as technology and gadgets.
4. Bad temper
The professor explains that callous and unemotional children may do something nice for their parents or siblings for a few moments. “But it won’t last,” warns the professor. When their demands are unmet or their family members cross them, psychopathic children “will lose it very quickly and get very angry,” adds Professor Scott.
What makes a child psychopathic
Once you identify the signs that your child may be psychopathic, the first question that comes to a parent’s mind is “why?” Unfortunately, the answer may not be so black and white according to researchers. According to the studies, psychopathy is usually a result or either nature or nurture. It is usually a result of a complicated combination of family dynamics, genetics and even life experiences.
Dysfunctional family and social environment can often lead to the development of callous and unemotional traits. Psychotherapist Amy Morin explains “Children who have been physically abused, neglected, and separated from their parents are more likely to become psychopaths.” Most children are not born as antisocial, psychopathic narcissists. Author Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes “Many experts suggest that if they’re given a reprieve from their environment, they can be pulled back from psychopathy’s edge.”