Psychopathy in Children – Signs and Treatment

Psychopathy in Children - Signs and Treatment

Generally, most kids do not have psychopathy. Psychopathic traits can be detected from the early stages of childhood. While kids are not born with callous and unemotional traits, two distinct paths can lead to psychopathy in children. One of them is dominated by nature, and the other one is by nurture. No parents would ever want their kids to have psychopathy. Read on to know more about psychopathy in children, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

What Is Psychopathy in Children?

Psychopathy is an adult condition; hence children cannot be labeled as a psychopath. Children are not born with psychopathy. The term psychopath describes many behavioral characteristics that specify an individual is dishonest, uncaring, and insensitive. These traits are commonly known as antisocial personality disorder. 

Children with psychopathy are impassive and cruel most of the time. Reflection of interpersonal deficits in kids is a serious condition. Parents need to understand the cause and recognize the early signs of a psychopathic child. Children can be diagnosed with the oppositional defiant disorder and eventually with conduct disorder in their teens. These involve not following the basic social rules or even violating the rights of others.

Psychopathy is commonly associated with males than females; however, it is not a male disorder alone. Also, not all psychopaths are dangerous, or criminal and not all dangerous criminals are psychopaths. For instance, some kids may be downright mean or show uncaring attitudes towards others; however, this might not sign a psychopath.

What Causes Psychopathy in a Child?

It is important to understand what is going wrong with your children. Psychopathy is a behavioral and developmental disorder. There has been a lot of debate around what causes psychopathy in children. However, there is no clear-cut cause that can be singled out. Psychopathy results from a more complex amalgamation of genetic factors, non-genetic (environmental) factors, family dynamics, and other life experiences. Below are some of the commonly known theories and hypotheses that are believed to cause psychopathy in children:

  • Psychopathy develops in children who have been neglected, physically abused, or separated from their parents.
  • Lack of bonding between children and parents due to multiple factors can lead to causing psychopathy. For example, parents who are victims of substance abuse or have mental health problems are less likely to bond with their children.
  • The brains of some children react differently in different conditions like negative stimuli, sadness, or fear. Thus, they have difficulty relating to the emotions of other people.
  • Amygdala is a region and structure of the brain which is responsible for social responsiveness. While research in this field continues, this region may be less active or smaller in children with psychopathy. Hence, they could be less socially responsive and fearless compared to other children.
  • Peer victimization is also one of the reasons for children to become unemotional and insensitive. 

The above causes are not conclusive; however, they partly explain the causes. When it comes to psychopathy in children, it is important to pay attention to education aspects, social influences, and parents’ actions, all of which, put together, can influence the child’s behavior. 

Sign and Symptom of Psychopathy in Children

Children who have psychopathic characters show some typical signs. While the children can be extremely intelligent, they tend to be impulsive and behave recklessly. Go through the list of signs and symptoms below if you do not know how to tell if your child is a psychopath.

1. Lacking Empathy

Children who have psychopathic characters will not empathize with others. They will abnormally have decreased sensitivity when they see others in pain and distress. They will not feel guilty about their behavior.

2. Hostility & Aggression

The child will show extreme aggression when anger or punishment is meted out on them.

3. Indifferent To Punishment

Being indifferent to punishment is a common tendency in children with psychopathic symptoms. It does not change the child’s behavior.

4. Throwing Tantrums

Due to their aggressive nature, children with psychopathic symptoms often throw extreme tantrums at others. 

5. Continuously Lying

Lying becomes a habit in children, and they are often dishonest with others irrespective of who they are. 

6. Cruelty Towards Animals

One of the earliest indicators of psychopathic symptoms in children is showing cruelty to animals. Due to a lack of empathy and indifference, the children exhibit such antisocial behavior.

7. Superficially Charming

Children with psychopathic symptoms can very easily and excellently manipulate things to their advantage. Such skills in them also give them a superficially charming personality. 

8. Show Criminal Conduct 

Children with psychopathic symptoms can increasingly have a criminal mentality. There could be a rise in recurring problems with the law.

Diagnosis of Psychopathy in Children 

Numerous checklists have been developed to identify and diagnose children with psychopathic conditions. The most commonly used diagnostic tools for screening psychopathy in children are Hare’s PCR (Psychopathy Checklist-Revised), YPI (Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory), and (APSD-SR) Anti-Social Process Screening Device – Self Report.

YPI Test is the most commonly used questionnaire to assess psychopathic symptoms in children and adolescents. YPI is a self-report tool that is given to adolescents where they answer questions about themselves. There are ten subscales in the questionnaire combined to gauge three personality traits like Behavioral, Interpersonal, and affective traits. YPI test has proved to be reliable in diagnosing.

The test assesses the below symptoms in the ten subscales:

  • Insensitive
  • Manipulation
  • Lying
  • Impulsiveness
  • Irresponsibility
  • Dishonest Charm
  • Thrill-seeking
  • Grandiosity
  • Remorselessness

It is crucial to note that no single psychopathic trait or behavior can label a child as a psychopath. However, it is a collection of traits to indicate psychopathy in children.

Treatment to Take

Treatment to Take

Psychotherapy is treatable. Psychopathy in children can begin from a very early stage of their life. First victims of children are usually their siblings, parents, or other companions. While they can learn to control their anger, they might not be able to do so in the long run.

Psychotherapy in children needs to be treated in a variety of ways. It is always advisable to take the professional help of a doctor, pediatrician, or someone who specializes in Mental Health services. They will effectively be able to gauge, diagnose and treat the symptoms of the child. The different means would include behavioral skills training, psychotherapy, problem-solving skills, the importance of empathy, and emotion recognition. 

“Can child psychopaths be cured?” is a question that often hits the parents of psychopathic children. There are different choices of treatments that can suit any individual’s therapy. Below is more information on some of the choices of treatment:

  • Family Intensive Therapy: These are therapeutic methods that help affected children develop skills to succeed in relationships, behavior, and managing emotions. This is a collaborative therapy between the child and their parents to help them accommodate the unusual needs of the child. Multi-systemic family therapy reduces a psychopathic child’s risk of engaging in criminal behavior. Family integrated therapy can help reduce socially aggressive behaviors and help them focus on the importance of family relationships.
  • Individual-based Therapy: This is the most psychotherapy that is considered on focusing on the individual in particular. This therapy does not limit to just children but also people of any age group. This therapy involves the identification of patterns of behavior, thought processes, relationships, daily life situations, regulation of emotion, and other post-traumatic experiences. After that, guide the child on how to respond effectively to these challenging situations. This method is also used for treating different personality disorders and for people with psychopathy who are at high risk. 
  • Residential Therapy: This method usually comes in handy to treat psychopathic children and adolescents when family or home-based methods do not benefit. Parents always need to consult the healthcare provider to understand if their child needs residential therapy. The doctor can suggest the best residential treatment facilities for their child.   This method works well when multiple complex issues need to be treated. There is a lack of support from the community and safety concerns. Residential treatments are usually expensive; hence parents can consider funding options like health insurance, Medicaid, state-funded programs, etc. 
  • Medicines: Medicines do not cure psychopathy but will help to subside and reduce the symptoms of psychopathy. Medicines are to be considered after all other possible ways of interventions do not work. Health care providers and therapists are the best to decide about the usage and limit of medicines. Medicines will not work equally on everyone, and they may also have side effects. Generally, medications like antipsychotics, psychostimulants, or mood stabilizers are often prescribed to reduce the symptoms of psychopathy. Keep in mind, do not try using medicines on your own. Always consult your health care provider.

Tips to Deal With Psychopathy in Kids

Parents or caregivers need to be extremely calm and composed when dealing with psychopathy in kids. It is generally a challenging task to maintain a good balance of love, tact, and therapy. Even when there is a professional intervention, parents have a critical role in managing the different psychopathic conditions in their children.

  • A child showing a lack of empathy and remorse gives them a chance to be compassionate, kind, and empathetic towards others.
  • Make the environment at home positive and child-friendly, allowing the child to work on relationships with family members.
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your child. Ensure to work and boost the strengths.
  • It is best not to embarrass your child in front of others; avoid belittling them, putting them down, or even reprimanding them in public.
  • Teach positive coping strategies to your kids who show symptoms of manipulation
  • Teach your child how to identify and express their rage appropriately and healthily. 
  • It’s important to make your child feel special and wanted. No matter what happens, they are still loved and accepted in the family.
  • Work on every instance of gaining the trust of your child. This will go a long way in fostering positivity and make them feel everyone is on the same side.
  • It is a good idea not to mete out severe punishments on your child.
  • You may notice your psychopathic child is experiencing delusions and is showing signs of being in a fantasy world with superpowers. Do not delay; contact a child psychologist immediately. Professionals will help these children to think and look at things more realistically.

When to See a Doctor?

Keeping an eye on your kids, keenly observing the behavioral patterns are important. You could notice your child hiding things or lying on multiple occasions. These always necessarily do not indicate your child has psychopathy. However, when such symptoms repeatedly occur, showing cruelty towards animals and people, exhibiting lack of empathy, being in a remorse state often, or behaving very callously, it is advisable to see a psychologist or a pediatrician doctor. The treating doctor will perform a comprehensive evaluation to gauge and guide you in the best manner to have the symptoms treated effectively.

Parents can notice the signs of psychopathy in their child from a very early stage, as early as a toddler. While one child may show just one symptom of psychopathy, other children may show more than one symptom. Early detection and treatment of the psychopathic condition in your child will make a big difference in their lives and the people living around them. Children develop psychopathic traits even before they turn 16. With the right care and the right treatment at the right time, psychopathic traits can be reduced or even cured. So, even if you have a psychopath in your house, do not be alarmed and get assistance from the right people, and everything will be well.

Also Read:

Dyscalculia in Kids
Absence Seizures in Kids
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

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