However, genetics also have a role to play when it comes to callous and unemotional traits in children. Many children with psychopathic tendencies are often raised in safe neighborhoods and loving parents. Numerous studies conducted across the United Kingdom have revealed that the early-onset of antisocial behavior in children is largely hereditary. It is mainly hardwired in their brain and can be often challenging to treat. It has been found that their “brains react differently to fear, sadness, and negative stimuli,” explains Amy Morin. Psychopathic children also have a hard time recognizing the emotions of others.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Adrian Raine, psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, says “We’d like to think a mother and father’s love can turn everything around. But there are times where parents are doing the very best they can, but the kid – even from the get-go – is just a bad kid.”
How to deal with psychopathic children
Most parents often find themselves lost when dealing with psychopathic children as it is mostly a hushed up topic. “So little is known about how these kids operate. This is uncharted territory,” explains Dan Waschbusch, a researcher at Florida International University. He adds “People are worried about labeling, but if we can identify these kids, at least we have a chance to help them. And if we miss that chance, we might not get another one.”
So how can a parent or caregiver help a child with callous and unemotional traits? Here are a few ways to help psychopathic children:
Apart from giving sufficient attention and time to their children, parents also need to focus on getting individual therapy to help their antisocial child. “Individual therapy that focuses on developing impulse control, emotional regulation skills and empathy is crucial, though not enough, to solidify real positive change,” explains licensed clinical psychologist and author Seth Meyers, Psy.D.
Specialized treatment that focuses on their unique cognitive, emotional & motivational patterns can greatly help children with psychopathy traits. As they are mostly unresponsive to punishment and traditional methods of discipline, residential treatment programs focusing on reward-based interventions can prove to be effective. Research has found that interventions which compel kids to earn privileges depending on good behavior, can positively impact their thoughts, intentions, behavior and actions. Teaching emotion recognition, empathy, prosocial behavior, strategies to cope with frustration and anger can also help these children.
Psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW explains “If you’re seeing signs that cause you to question whether your child might be a psychopath, it’s important to seek professional help. A pediatrician or mental health professional can assist in assessing, diagnosing, and treating your child.”
Apart from therapy, medication may also be beneficial for adolescents with such traits. Although there are no specific medications for the treatment of the symptoms of antisocial and psychopathic behavior, it may be a part of the overall treatment process. Antipsychotic medication, mood stabilizers and other medications can help to reduce aggression in children and help with emotional dysregulation. “There is a wide range of possible medications that can help to calm and slow down the individual whose impulses take them from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds,” adds psychologist Seth Meyers, Psy.D.
Parents with psychopathic children must visit a pediatrician, general practitioner or a psychiatrist immediately after identifying the warning signs to start psychiatric assessment and possible treatment.
Treatment can help
You need to remember that simply because your child lacks empathy or lies at times, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are psychopaths. This is why identifying the signs is crucial before labeling your child as an antisocial or a narcissist. But if you believe that your child’s lack of remorse and callousness is a normal behavior pattern and it’s getting worse, then visit a mental health professional immediately.
“Whether you believe it’s nature or nurture that causes a person to become a psychopath, early recognition of these behavior problems is vital to altering that child’s ultimate path through life,” concludes Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., ABPP.
Here is an interesting video that you may find helpful: