Monday, September 21, 2015

Can A 9-Year Old Be a Sociopath or Psychopath?

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,
We are the parents of a nine-year-old boy, Mark (not real name) who has a sweet little sister, Jane (not real name). Jane is 7. Mark seems to have no-zero-nada concern, care or any emotions and he especially doesn’t have empathy for Jane.

We have rewarded Mark for his good behavior and punishment like Time-Out when he disobeys. He used to say in a calm, relaxed, and eerie manner, that he didn’t care if he got a reward or did nothing about being upset in Time-Out. Mark would refuse to apologize to Jane when we asked him, “Wouldn’t you like to say you are sorry to Jane” and he would stare at me and say nothing. 

So we had his dad ask the same thing. However, Mark would answer in a cheery tone, “nope”. So we started telling him he would not return to his regular activities until he apologized. But he would not apologize and sometimes say directly to us, “I hate Jane.”

Now we know he will do anything to get his way and pretend to be nice to Jane. Jane told us that he said he was “sooooooo sorry” in front of us but told her privately that she deserved nothing and he will not talk or play with her unless he has to do it.

Mark is very coldhearted to all of us until he wants something and then he apologizes and will even cry about his sadness about hurting Jane. But he will turn on a dime and be exceedingly rude, brutal and just recently held up Jane’s doll and choked it. Jane was so upset she flew into hysteria and we couldn’t calm her down.

We try very hard to be affectionate but firm. What’s going on?

Parents of a “Coldhearted”Son

Dear Mark’s Parents,

You have managed to be patient, caring and good at parenting! We hear that you fear your son is callous, unemotional, and not capable of remorse at this time. As he is growing and his brain is still developing the situation can be complicated.

His ability to mimic emotions and “fool” you (and probably everyone else in his life) that he needs to give him what he wants, is profound and dangerous … especially for Jane. Do NOT let him be with alone with her. She needs security and protection. That has to come first.

You may have already taken him to a therapist or psychiatrist, but all of you must go now. They may be able to tell you if they think family therapy can help. However, if he pretends so well, even trained experts may not be able to assist. He must not be alone with other children.

What Mark is willing to do or capable of needs to be assessed. He might be able to learn, at least, to identify genuine emotions and that may save him from potential severe behaviors, like violence leading to jail.

Jane needs opportunities to learn to be a strong leader and have therapy to move away from being a victim and learn how to define herself with worthiness.

Please let us know how you are all doing. We care about you and your precious family.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri       

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