This is a very tragic story left by one of our readers:
My daughter was misdiagnosed with ADHD. Then bipolar disorder, then Oppositional Defiance Disorder. I stormed out of her psychologist office when she told me that she saw something “dark” in my child. That was when she was 7. When she was 8, her sociopathy increased and she purposely drowned my poodle. She also tried to smother my baby by my second husband. The strain of her and my carrying the baggage from my last relationship has driven he and I apart and we currently trying to file for divorce.
She steals daily, has even stolen as much as $500 from my wallet. I lock things away, and she will simply pry open the lock, break the lock or disable locked windows so she can climb in for access to everything. My son sleeps with his father at night at his own home, while I sit here at night, catching her lurking through the dark, stealing whatever she can get her hands on (i.e., money, jewelry, food, perfume). If I try to discipline her, she simply runs off and screams to the top of her lungs “don’t kill me”, which causes the neighbors to call the police. Just this morning, I discovered money missing and brand new snacks I bought last night for the baby and all of us to share GONE. Every single day she steals. I have to sleep at night and when I do, she lurks in the dark, prying open things, destroying things.
It’s like if she is alone for a moment, she does something way over the edge. Like this morning, I caught her chopping blooms from cacti I planted with a mini shovel, I mean she looked like the LAST SAMARI. I am being victimized everyday and feel like she is the hunter in my home and I am the hunted. I have arranged for an IEP at her school and it is my goal to get her placed in a facility in Utah where they house and treat child psychopaths or excuse me, Oppositional Defiant children because liberal America will not allow her to be called what she truly is until she turns 18.
The issue of likely outcome is more difficult in child psychiatry than it is in any other aspect of medicine. Think for a moment, if a child has cancer and we know that 65% of children with this cancer die, what does that tell us about our particular child? I chose the number 65% because that is the percentage of conduct disordered teens that went on to develop antisocial personality as adults in one study.
When we consider studies of conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and symptoms of psychopathy in children we have to consider that most of these studies are done on a special population of children that are being treated at University based clinics. So the information about prognoses we get is likely pessimistic. Sill not even these studies show that 100% of children with these symptoms have them into mid adulthood.
I would like to tell you about three children, I watched grow up. These children show us that we have to be careful about trying to predict adult personality function on the basis of what we see in a child.
The first child is a neighbor of mine. When she was 7 she was so fearful and shy that she refused to go on play dates. I spoke to her mother about this and her mother indicated that symptoms of anxiety tended to run in their families. Well, I saw that girl again at 14 and I can tell you she is “popular” and not at all shy. I asked her mother about what happened. Her reply was, “Yeh, she grew out of it.”
The second child is a boy who was a sibling of one of my daughter’s friends. At 7 he was a mess, very impulsive and easily angered. So much so he got into trouble in religious school. At 13 this boy is controlled and polite, a fine young man.
The last child is a boy I grew up with. I was always an animal lover. This boy’s behavior disgusted me because at 7 he captured lizards, stuck sticks through their mouths and killed them. He then put his kills in the street for cars to run them over. I hated that kid! Well, he did not grow up to be a psychopath. He is a loving husband, responsible father and business owner.
Video of 7 year-old Latarian
After introducing this background, I would like you to watch the video of Latarian Milton, a 7 year old who stole his mother’s car. (This video was recommended in one of our reader’s comments and I appreciate that.)
Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itgcNy3L_Xc This boy demonstrates for us what psychopathic personality traits look like in children. He shows no remorse and says he enjoys doing bad things. He doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions because for him the fact that he gets enjoyment justifies everything. The comments left on Youtube reveal that many people have one of two incorrect views of psychopathy in children. The first is that it can be cured by beating the child. The second is that it invariably leads to a disordered adult.
If there was only a 10 percent chance that a child’s cancer could be cured, most people would still advocate that the child get aggressive cancer treatment. The odds for disordered kids are at least that and yet many people say they should be written off and secretly believe they should either be euthanized or imprisoned for life.
What should be done to help psychopathic children?
Psychopathic children do have the same issues as psychopathic adults. Namely, their pleasure system is warped and their impulse control system is defective. The difference is that these two systems are more changeable in a child than they are in an adult.
Psychopathic children enjoy “being bad” (to quote Latarian in the video above) more than they enjoy anything else. What they need is to be taught how to enjoy loving human connections. If they can learn to enjoy loving, then they have a chance at developing a modicum of empathy and conscience. This is where our pessimistic view of psychopathic children can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Studies show that the parents of such children often dislike them. The people who advocate writing off these kids do not help these parents. Parenting an at-risk child is the most difficult task many will ever have to face.
We have to support the parents of psychopathic children and encourage them to try to find something in the child they do like and can connect with. Psychopathic children require constant adult supervision and affectionate adult companionship.
Psychopathic children also need to be taught about the nature of impulses and morality. They need verbal lessons as well as real life lessons in the form of consequences. Studies show that when parents of psychopathic children dislike them, they often pull back and do not provide the consistent teaching of impulse control these kids need.
There is also another side to the prognosis coin. That is that many children who appear to be “normal” grow up to be psychopathic. I know this from two sources, scientific studies and people who write me. Dr. Hare has said the antisocial behavior that leads to sociopathy/psychopathy begins during childhood and adolescence. I agree with him, but the problem is that this antisocial behavior can take many forms. For example, lying, stealing and being aggressive toward a sibling are all behaviors that many sociopaths showed during childhood. Many children engage in these behaviors and so again we may consider them “normal.”
How can we prevent sociopathy in adults?
Behavioral science has revealed a great deal about what we can do to give all children the best chance. I was at a conference this week and one of the speakers noted that the State of California bases its estimate on the future need for prison space on the reading scores of children in 3rd grade! In addition to effective parenting, at-risk children need to have quality education. Right now our practice is to take troubled children and group them together for school. Not only do they all then get a substandard education, but they get to teach each other more antisocial behavior!
As a society, we are far from doing our best for psychopathic kids. Some children will develop disordered in spite of the best parenting and professional help. YOU WILL NOT KNOW IF YOUR CHILD IS IN THAT GROUP UNTIL YOU HAVE GIVEN HIM THE BEST PARENTING AND PROFESSIONAL HELP AVAILABLE. Medication may be necessary for some children. If you have done your best as parent and your child still has problems, forgive yourself. Rest assured that his problems would be much worse if you had not done your best.
I want to end with what I believe are the 10 attributes of effective parents:
Summary of Effective Parenting
- Effective parents are warm and empathetic.
- Effective parents reward good behavior.
- Effective parents establish clear rules and enforce them through limit setting.
- Effective parents model good behavior.
- Effective parents teach impulse control, respect and values.
- Effective parents surround their children with positive influences.
- Effective parents protect their children from entering into situations they won’t be able to handle.
- Effective parents teach age appropriate life skills.
- Effective parents have fun with their children.