In response to last week’s entry, Sociopathy and the fearless child one of our readers (Bobby) wrote of his brother, “He was often punished – usually by being sent to bed without his meal – but he would repeat the same behavior as if nothing had happened.” This statement illustrates why the usual parenting does not work with children at risk to develop into sociopaths. They do not respond to punishment!
Parents of sociopaths are often blamed
Tragically, the parents of sociopaths are often blamed for the presence of this condition in their offspring. The belief of many is, He wouldn’t be a sociopath if his parents had taught him right from wrong.
The belief that “discipline” will cure the problems of the at-risk child is illustrated by the fact that there are over a thousand books on disciplining children offered through Amazon.com.
The tool most parents use to discipline, to teach right and wrong, is punishment. But, as stated above, at risk children do not respond to punishment.
Punishment of at risk children often makes their behavior worse
I was in a department store with my three kids last month and my son threw an enormous tantrum. We had to finish shopping because my daughter really needed something for school. A passerby seeing the situation said to me, “Why don’t you just spank him?”
Believe me, if spanking children cured them of behavior problems, there would be no need for over a thousand books on discipline. We would simply tell parents to spank children when they misbehave.
Recent studies of at risk children reveal that parents who emphasize discipline often fail with at risk children. At risk children are punished more often, even though this punishment has little to no positive effect. But if punishing wrong doing doesn’t help, what does?
There are likely two paths to developing a conscience
Scientists are now actively investigating and writing about two pathways to conscience formation. The first is the usual pathway, conscience through guilt. Guilt develops from fear of punishment. The fearless child does not develop conscience through guilt because punishment has no effect.
But, I am sure you have noticed that not all fearless people are without conscience. There are many relatively fearless people who have morals and do good. A beautiful example of such a person is the late Steve Erwin, the Crocodile Hunter. His good heart shown brightly each time he was on screen.
Conscience through empathy, the second pathway
Conscience can also form as an extension of our ability to love. Fearless people who have a conscience also have large amounts of empathy. To see this for yourself, watch the clips of Steve Erwin, he was clearly an extremely loving man. Animal Planet also has clips of his parents discussing his upbringing. He was not an easy child! What comes through the clips is the exceptionally close relationship Steve Erwin had with both his parents.
To develop empathy, a fearless, at risk child has to have an especially close bond with his parent(s)
Excessive punishment alienates the fearless, at risk child and often worsens his behavior.
To develop a consceince, at risk children require huge amounts of nurturing attention. Next week we will discuss this second pathway for conscience formation in more detail.