No one wants to think that their kid could become the next Jeffery Dahmer. It’s one of the biggest fears that a parent could have. Raising a psychopath is one of the nightmares of every parent, but for some there is nothing they can do. Often times, children display possible psychopathic behavior even when in a loving, nurturing environment. Parents can certainly make-or-break a person’s psychopathic tendencies, but many times these predispositions are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. In most cases, the parents did nothing to provoke a child into expressing this behavior, but they don’t know what to do once they see it.
Even more, parents are usually inclined to think of their child as just a regular kid. Kids act out all of the time, and it’s hard to know what is horrible behavior and what is just misbehaving. There are a few tell-tale signs that a child may grow up to become a psychopath, but parents often ignore them – and understandably so. Like I said, no one wants to think that their kid is a future mass murderer. While some of these 15 signs seem relatively harmless, if a child is displaying many or all of them, it may be time to seek professional help. Professionals are trained to deal with children like this, and it’s important to get them help while their brain is still receptive to the change that is needed.
15. Breaking Major Rules
Kids break the rules all of the time. That’s nothing new to parents around the world. Rule breaking is a normal part of becoming a functional person, and questioning the rules is a healthy trait to display in any individual, young or old. When children break major rules, however, like running away from home or ignoring stern warnings from adults about certain things they are not to handle, their parents may have cause to worry about them. Again, rules are not always followed by young children; but there are certain things that children don’t need to be told not to do. Most, if not all children know that running away from home is a majorly bad thing to do. Those that ignore this rule (with no understandable reason) are much more likely to break the major rules that govern our society, such as that little rule that tells us not to murder each other.
While this may seem a bit obvious, it seems like more of a stereotype that psychopaths are the ones being bullied in school. A lot of the time in the movies, the child that grows up to be a psychopath is picked on in school for being different. In reality, the opposite is usually true. Psychopaths often enjoy the feeling of causing others harm, and bullying others is the first step towards this. Of course, bullying is relatively normal in American schools, but it usually isn’t part of normal behavior until later in development. Little kids don’t typically bully as much as older children, so if a three or four year old is pushing his friends and calling them names, there may be a reason to worry. There’s a fine line between normal kid-stuff and behavior that should worry a parent, and the bullying issue is one of the grey areas. If you notice a child being exceptionally mean to other children, they may be a candidate for further monitoring.
13. Lack of Guilt
Children mess up all of the time. It’s not a big deal when your child breaks the rules, as kids are known to test their parents and push the boundaries. Problems arise, however, when children express a lack of guilt after they’ve been told they did something wrong. This does not refer to the “ya but…” arguments kids so often put up. The troubling lack of guilt is more related to when a child hurts another’s feelings or physically hurts them. Kids aren’t as corrupted by society as us adults. They are usually much more innocent, and feel guilt when they cause harm to another person. Children with psychopathic tendencies don’t feel the guilt that other children do. If a child is told that they caused harm to another child, they should feel sorry for it. If they don’t, you may want to start saving for possible psychiatrist sessions.
12. Disregard For Feelings
One key distinction between a child that shows signs of being a psychopath and a child that is showing signs of Autism is the ability to empathize. Children with Autism, for instance, can’t accurately picture how it feels to be another person. They have a tough time connecting, because they can’t imagine how it would feel to be hurt as someone else. They may understand their own emotions, but other people’s minds are a mystery. It’s not that they don’t care; they just don’t understand. Possible psychopathic children are the opposite. These children can understand what it would be like to be the person on the other side of that mean remark or violent act, they just don’t care how they feel. The only person who matters to them is the self, so other people’s emotions are irrelevant to them. It doesn’t matter how their actions affect others because they just don’t care.
11. No Effort To Make Friends
Children who are in danger of becoming full-fledged psychopaths don’t care about the feelings of other people. They only care about how anything makes them feel, and for that reason have no real need for any companions. There are certainly those who do make friends, but these relationships usually don’t last or have some type of material benefit for the psychopathic child. There are children all over the world who have trouble making friends, and there’s no reason to think that they’re a possible psychopath. Psychopathic children don’t usually have trouble making friends, however, they just choose not to. In fact, other children may actually be more inclined to try to be friends with them, but may get scared away when their true colors are revealed.
As stated above, psychopathic children don’t have the same emotions that regular children display. They may understand that their actions are hurting another person, but they just don’t care. They don’t feel guilt of remorse like normal children do, except when they want something for themselves. Psychopathic children display emotion when it suits them. They may not really be feeling any emotion other than desire, but they are able to make others believe that they feel in order to achieve their goal. Of course, this does not relate to children who whine in order to get a new toy or piece of candy; this is normal child behavior. This relates more to calculated emotional manipulation. Children should not be capable of this level of deception, and if a child shows signs of emotional manipulation then this might be signals of a bigger problem.
9. Violent Behavior To Non-Siblings
Doctors who examine possible psychopathic traits in children often disregard sibling-on-sibling violence or careless disregard. Siblings fight and that’s just a part of growing up. Siblings also often express disregard for the other’s feelings, but that’s not necessarily a troubling sign in itself. It starts raising red flags when the child expresses the same kind of behavior on the playground. If a brother pushes his sister down in the dirt, there shouldn’t be any discussion of whether or not they’re a psychopath. If the child does this to multiple other children, especially ones they’ve just met, there may be more of a cause for concern. As stated above, if they understand how they are making these children feel and have no motives other than that they wanted to push the kid, there may be a genuine reason to worry.
8. Blaming Others For Their Actions
It’s hard for anyone to take full responsibility for their circumstances. Many adults struggle with this, and children are not adverse to passing the buck when it comes to punishment. There is a difference, though, between innocent blaming and behavior that may result in a possible psychopathic diagnosis. Children that display psychopathic behavior often blame other children and adults for mistakes that they themselves made. This is a difficult piece of behavior to distinguish from regular childhood antics, as kids will always be blaming their sister for that broken glass. Many children, however, accept responsibility for what they’ve done, while children with a possible psychopathic diagnosis in their future may never truly accept responsibility.
7. Highly Responsive To Rewards
Most children are motivated by the reward of completing something, but for children that are displaying psychopathic behavior, this seems to be the only way to motivate them. These children are often only interested in an activity or task if they are going to be rewarded with something. This is one of the more ambiguous signs that a child is displaying psychopathic behavior, but in conjunction with some of the other listed traits it can be a sign that there is a larger problem afoot. Also, this kind of motivation is also not impeded by anyone else’s feelings. If the child knows that what they are going to do will hurt another person, but they will receive a reward anyway, they will complete the task. Children with normally functioning emotions would put the other person’s feelings before the reward, while these children only care about what’s in it for them.
Theft is one of the major tell-tale signs that a child is expressing psychopathic behavior. If a child is stealing from other children or their parents, it’s a serious offense. This trait goes along with children being solely motivated by the reward. They don’t care if it will make someone else upset; if they want something they are going to take it. While this behavior is relatively frequent (if not too frequent) in many adults, children have not developed to the point where they can override basic human emotion. A child who steals from someone else and understands how that made the other person feel is in danger of displaying similar traits as adults. No one wants their kid to be the one who’s stealing from others, and just because a child has stolen something doesn’t mean they’re a psychopath. Stealing things with no regard for others is troublesome, though, and it may lead to an adult that behaves even worse.
5. Don’t Take Responsibility For Failure
Children who are expressing psychopathic behavior don’t take responsibility for much of anything, and typically blame others when they fail. This mostly relates to projects, games and sports or anything else that requires teamwork. A possible child psychopath will blame the other people on their team when they lose, rather than accepting their role in the failure. Unlike passing the blame, the child may genuinely believe that they are not at fault for losing. While this can be a natural way of thinking for many adults, there are certain circumstances when you need to accept your part of the blame. Children are usually relatively accepting of their failure, but these children have none of it.
4. Lack Of Fear
Children that display psychopathic tendencies often show much less fear in the face of dangerous activities. These children are much more likely to take risks than regular children, as they don’t have the same sense of danger or fear. A large fall may not scare them as much as their classmate, and they may be more likely to climb the tallest tree as a result. This translates to other behavior when the child grows into adulthood, as risks become more tangible and have higher stakes. A child that loves to climb or skateboard might not be in danger of being diagnosed a psychopath, but if your child is taking needless risks then there may be a reason to start worrying. Children get into all types of mischief, and it’s difficult to determine whether they were truly fearful or just being brave. If the risk-taking behavior becomes commonplace, though, it’s a different story.
Children generally yearn for the approval of their parents and other adults. They love being told that they’ve done a good job, and they love seeing the results of their hard work. Children who display psychopathic behavior, however, don’t care about any of this. Whether it’s sports, school, or extracurricular activities, psychopathic children show a complete lack of interest. Even though the goals are attainable and the children are capable of reaching them, they just have no interest in doing well. If a child is failing in school, there is probably an issue somewhere. If the child is clearly capable of doing better but just doesn’t care, there must be some underlying reason for it. It’s not necessarily that they’re a psychopath, but this kind of behavior is one of the tell-tale signs that they may be diagnosed in the future.
2. Immune To Punishment
It is already established that children with psychopathic behavior often feel no remorse for their actions. They don’t feel bad as long as they got something out of it, and will even steal and hurt things if they believe it will result in an eventual prize. These children often don’t express any emotion when they are being punished either. They genuinely don’t care that they were sent to their room. They accept their punishment to some extent, but they also rebel and often don’t listen to what their parents tell them to do. As a parent, there’s only so much you can do to get your kid to listen to you. If they don’t accept their punishment, or even act like it isn’t a punishment, then there aren’t a lot of options left on the table. It is hard to dissuade negative behavior when the child won’t react when being punished.
1. Violence Towards Animals
Violence towards animals is one of the hallmark traits of a child with psychopathic behavior. Killing the neighborhood cats and drowning puppies is a staple in the origin story of nearly every serial killer film, and with good reason. Children who are in danger of being diagnosed as a psychopath often begin by seeing how it feels to kill animals. Often, these children will not even understand that what they are doing is horrifying to a parent, and kids have been known to tell their parents that they enjoyed it. One of the scariest things you can hear as a parent is that your child has killed something and enjoyed it. If they have intentionally taken the life of an animal with no remorse, it may be time to start seeking treatment. A lot of the other behavioral traits on this list are more difficult to determine. There’s no grey area in killing the family pet.
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