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Sometimes, you might worry that there's something "off" about your child. It might be something you can barely put your finger on, or perhaps you've noticed some streak of violence that makes an icy chill crystallize in your stomach. You may see your child twisting his little sister's arm violently, oblivious to her shrieks. You try and shake the feeling away. He was playing rough and didn't understand. But the chill remains. Does he often do it, when you're not looking?
Parents often fear when they see their child acting aggressively. They worry that it's a sign of a deeper, more troubling tendency towards cruelty.
We all know that all children can act aggressively. Many of these children will grow up to be perfectly nice, healthy adults. But what if your child's aggressiveness belies a cruel nature that could be a sign of something more than growing pains?
What if your child is a sociopath?
Let's explore the signs that often manifest in childhood.
Cruelty to Animals
Far more than cruelty to siblings, cruelty to animals is possibly the biggest sign of a potential sociopath. Hurting an animal is a sign that a child lacks empathy and is particularly concerning. There have been stories of children, later diagnosed as being sociopaths, throwing a beloved family-pet onto concrete from an apartment building, or hanging a pet from a tree for fun. Any child who would do such a thing needs immediate psychiatric help.
A child who fights his siblings - even to the point of physically hurting them - is probably a perfectly-normal child. A child who is cruel to animals is potentially-dangerous and needs help.
Disregard of the feelings of others
A normally-developing child will not walk over to a child they have never met, push them over for no reason, and then stand and watch unemotionally while they cry. A sociopathic child would. Sociopathic children lack empathy. They do understand that other people have feelings. However, they simply don't care.
This comes with a note, however. If you notice that your child appears unemotional and unempathetic, it may be worth testing them for autism. Autistic children genuinely can't understand the feelings of other people. It may be that your "sociopathic" child actually has a type of autism, especially if they don't show other signs of sociopathy.
Lack of guilt
If a sociopathic child pushes another child (known to them or not) off the top of a slide, and they fall and are injured, they will feel no guilt. Young children often act irrationally, and may push a child (and accidentally hurt them) to get to the front of a line. However, if a normally-developing child sees blood or tears, they will feel guilty and apologise (by patting the child or apologising verbally If they have the skills). A sociopathic child may be very verbal, but they won't apologise, because they simply don't feel guilty.
They show no emotion, except to manipulate
Returning to our example above: the sociopathic child pushed another child off the slide, causing blood and tears and showed no reaction. Now their mummy is over, and she is angry. "Look at what you've done!" she says, "You will go straight to bed when we get home, and stay there!"
Suddenly, the sociopathic child is in tears. Wailing hysterically, they apologise to the child they hurt and bury their head in their mother's lap, saying they love her. A second ago, the child had no emotion, now they're full to bursting with it. Such sudden displays are not uncommon in sociopathic children, however they lack any depth.