Spend a day with an average kid, and you’ll start to spot the ways kids act like psychopaths.
Historically speaking, society has decided that bad mothers and terrible childhoods cause children to turn into evil people who commit crimes. More recently, researchers are discovering that some people are just born without the same moral and social mechanisms as their peers. Psychopaths can feign good manners and charm, but they don’t have the physiological capacity to understand how others feel and so they can hurt others without understanding why they shouldn’t..
Meanwhile, while we all know kids ooze with sweetness, we also recognize they can surprise us with mean spirit and selfish actions. Your tot’s cute smiles, loving cuddles, and goofy words work to ensure the propagation of the species just by being irresistible.
Other times, they can be selfish, manipulative, and just plain terrible to have around. First mean and then apologetic, your kid will look in your eyes and proclaim his love for you, then turn around and pull your hair. Sometimes you start to wonder if their sweetness was genuine or just a way to get what they wanted.
Psychopaths display the same combination of these behaviours – they can be sweet, seductive, and seemingly loving, all while hiding their true selves.
In fact, some of the key indicators experts use to identify psychosis in adults are easily recognizable in your own sweet tot.
Have you ever noticed how often kids lie? Kids will tell you they live on the moon while they’re sitting in your living room. Sure, you could claim this is an active imagination at work, but while you’re making excuses, your offspring is learning how to lie effectively.
Often times bending the truth starts with denying responsibility. If you’ve outlined the rules of the house enough times, everyone in it knows when they’ve done something wrong. When they’re caught out it’s natural they’ll try to shift the blame, and it’s the beginning of a deep-seated psychopathic-like habit of lying.
Sometimes kids make up facts to tell their friends to try to sound smart, or they just talk to be part of the conversation. The lie doesn’t necessarily need to workout in favour of the liar. Regardless of the reaction kids receive, the habit of telling little white lies continues.
The lies kids tell often don’t seem to have any motive or justification at all, but are just lies for the sake of not telling the truth.
My daughter makes up back-story to go along with all kinds of daily events. If she can’t remember where she got a certain toy, she’ll invent an origin that (if I’m to give her credit) sounds plausible. Even if nobody asked her for the explanation, she’ll invent the falsehood for seemingly no reason at all. Meanwhile, the storyteller doesn’t seem to understand why an untruth may hurt somebody else. Catching kids in a lie doesn’t help to stop them from doing it again - they just laugh it off when you correct a make-believe story they’ve told, and carry on telling their tales.
Similarly, psychopaths are notorious for lying, and show no guilt or shame when they’re caught in a lie. Just like kids, they don’t seem to know or care if you can prove they were not telling the truth, they just keep on talking because it sounds good to them.
Next time you catch a kid in a lie, remember this is just one trait they share with psychopaths.
The lack of behavioural control is one of the hallmarks of being a kid. So much ink has been spilled in parenting material dealing with how to handle kids’ fits in the middle of the grocery store, or what to do when one kid hauls off and knocks another one the head on the playground. That’s because keeping a level head is just not in the wee one’s repertoire of skills.
As much as parents may ask kids to ‘behave’ in a particular setting, youngsters can’t do it. Sometimes kids can do what they’re asked and be quiet and polite for a short time, but it’s like they forget what they’ve promised. They seem oblivious to the consequences of acting out. As a result, they will do really well for a short time, as long as everything is going right for them or they’re not too distracted. When they get tired or frustrated, youngsters will bite, yell, or throw tantrums no matter where they are or how much it embarrasses their parents. It’s not that they’re trying to wreck the day – kids just really don’t have the skills to cope with frustration and anger in a socially appropriate way.
When kids find a satisfactory resolution, like a distraction or a compromise from their parents, get over their outburst quickly. Kids who are offered an ‘out’ can recover fast, as though nothing happened.
Children are also notoriously impulsive. They do things without thought for the outcome, spur of the moment, without a plan for how it’ll turn out.
Similarly, psychopaths don’t have the same restraint over their emotions that most adults have – and don’t understand social expectations others have for them. So in response to criticism or insult, psychopaths, like kids, will lash out with abusive language or actions. They act from gut feeling, not caring for the consequences. Then when they recover, they act like nothing happened and carry on normally.
Luckily, most kids will learn in time how to keep their emotions in check, so they can avoid making other people uncomfortable and hurting their feelings.
Perhaps this next one is not fair to kids, because I’ve met plenty of adults (who are not, to my knowledge psychopaths) who have trouble accepting responsibility for their actions. Nonetheless, it seems that kids and psychopaths are particularly terrible at accepting responsibility for their actions.
Everybody has done regrettable things they’d rather forget ever happened. It could be an innocent mistake that cost a friend, big time. Or it could be an embarrassing action that you wish you could take back. Sometimes it would be easier to shirk the responsibility, to blame your actions on somebody else, or claim you had nothing to do with the situation in the first place.
Most of us, though, are pretty good at owning up – at apologizing, at learning the lesson, and at being big enough to accept that the misstep was ours. By admitting our wrongdoing, we can work to make things better for the people we hurt.
Kids, though, are not quite so evolved.
No matter what kids do, they will have you believe it’s not their fault. Even caught red-handed, your daughter will claim somebody else told her to steal. She’ll claim she asked to borrow the pilfered item. She will find someone else to blame for her actions, and take no responsibility for making the situation right.
Whether it’s an untidy room or a lost family heirloom, kids will handily hoist the blame onto somebody else rather than take responsibility for their lack of judgment or organization. Sometimes the circumstances themselves are blamed – your kid couldn’t get the mail because it was raining, the dog ate his homework. Kids are masters at shrugging off the onus of their actions.
Psychopaths are known for blaming others for all the wrongs if their lives. They will blame somebody else for the loss of a job, or make up excuses if they’re caught in violence, laziness, or forgetfulness in daily life. Partly because psychopaths see themselves as better or more important than others, it’s difficult to accept guilt for an action committed.
Maybe it’s funny, or cute, but no matter how you want to see it, kids have a terribly awful lack of realistic goals.
Go ahead – ask the average kid what he wants to be when he grows up, and take note of the responses you get. Rock star? Astronaut? Are they for real?
Okay, okay, so parents have been teaching kids they can achieve any goal if they try hard enough. And it’s good to teach kids to try hard to achieve their goals. But really, will somebody teach these kids what the workforce actually looks like and get them straightened out? These days, the average grad is pretty thankful to get a paycheck and some medical benefits, forget thousands of screaming fans and international notoriety.
Just as with careers, kids fail to set any other realistic goals. They will ask for two hamburgers with full intention of cleaning the plate, but get full after just half of one. Or they’ll promise to tidy up, thinking that cleaning a room should be easy, but then they ask for help after just a couple of minutes. Over and over, kids show how unrealistic their expectations of themselves really are.
Kids even get hurt because the expectations they have of their physical abilities are skewed. They have a goal of running really fast, but their feet betray them and they wipe out on the pavement.
Kids have a wonky worldview that leads them to believe they can do anything. The world for kids is as big as their immediate family, and the lack of a bigger picture leads them to think differently about how the whole thing works.
Similarly, psychopaths just don’t get how society works. Because they only really understand their small part of the big picture, it’s impossible to set benchmarks that might be obtainable. Psychopaths are really good at seeing their failures as a result of a situation or somebody else’s lacking, making it hard to realistically gauge their own capabilities.
Although kids can be a little bit on the dim side, they are pretty good at manipulating others – almost scary-good.
Pretty early on, siblings know how to manipulate each other. Each one knows how to behave as though she’s acting in another child’s best interest, by offering a toy or playing nicely alongside her, in an effort to get what she wants. If you’ve watched kids playing, it’s easy to spot the power play in action as they jockey for the most desirable toys. In order to get the toy she wants to play with, one kid will pretend to want something else, just long enough to make it appealing to her playmate, then she will take the toy she really desires as soon as it’s available. This is an intricate manipulation by one kid of another. When kids can figure out such an extended line of reasoning, it gives clues to how capable they really are.
Kids also know how to pit mom and dad against one another. The phrase “Dad said I could” is familiar to most parents. Children know that if one parent has given permission, it’s hard for the other to go against it, and use that to their advantages.
So how do kids get so good at manipulating so early on? By the time they’re past toddlerhood they understand others’ motivations enough move them in any desired direction. They use their charm and the goodwill of others to get what they want.
Kids know how to pretend to be nice and sweet, all while planning how to use their influence to reach their own goals.
Although most experts agree that psychopaths are of average intelligence, it’s also known they’re quite cunning at manipulating others. They can blend in with the rest of the population –they know how people operate and can pretend to be like them in order to seem charming and likeable. Because they don’t have empathy or guilt to stifle their actions, they’re able to use what they know about others to cause hurt and get ahead.
If you’ve ever been looking after and had to discipline a child, you’ll be thinking I’m way off base here. After all, kids hate getting into trouble, and they feel bad about being punished. But there’s the rub: kids hate being punished, they hate being in trouble, but they don’t seem to feel at all bad about having done something wrong. They will whine and cry about a time-out or losing out on a toy, but not out of guilt. When you make kids apologize, you can witness the lackluster apology for yourself, and judge its honesty.
Just as kids will deny responsibility for their wrongdoing by blaming the situation or another kid, they will also shirk off any guilt associated with their actions. If one kid hits another, he will justify his actions by claiming the kid did something to him first.
Kids find it really hard to understand what others are experiencing: you can feel the lack of empathy kids have if you ever have to look after them while you’re sick or injured. You can be lying on the bathroom floor with your head in a toilet, and a kid will walk in and ask you to fix his bicycle. While you may be appalled at your kid’s insensitive request, you may start to see that he doesn’t understand what you’re going through. Luckily for most kids, though, they learn empathy as they gain experiences of their own, and can associate their feelings of hurt with what others must be feeling.
Psychopaths suffer from a lack of guilt and empathy for others, and that’s why they can go through life hurting others with a clear conscience. Because they don’t understand hurt, it’s hard for them to understand how they’ve hurt others. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for a psychopath to learn empathy over time.
Kids’ worlds are small – because kids only know their experiences to date, they have trouble understanding how large and diverse the world is. As such, they also tend to view themselves as central to the world. Parents, as they try to keep the best interests of their kids at heart, are centred on their kids. So it’s natural for kids to believe that everybody else would be just as concerned about their happiness and wellbeing. Kids wind up with an extremely high opinion of their own self worth. They believe they are the bees’ knees – the all-knowing and best-behaved kid ever – because that’s what their parents believe.
So when kids get to school and start mixing with others, they think they’re the smartest, cutest, fastest, and most capable of their peers.
Kids who are left unchecked tend to develop a sense of entitlement, that the world owes them good things. They feel ripped off if they are chastised or punished for actions they feel were justified. If they are allowed to harbour a belief that they’re better than others, they will start to feel that they are above the rules, too, and have a hard time following them.
While it’s good to foster a sense of self-confidence in kids, we also have to teach them that to achieve their goals, they need to work hard and educate themselves. Believing that they’re just so wonderful that things will fall into their laps will cause nothing but strife for them.
Just ask the psychopaths – they tend to believe they are the best, and are merely tolerating everybody else. They think their time is more important than anyone else’s, and hate when they’re called into question. They tend to believe others’ laws and rules are just conventions that don’t need to be followed. That’s when they get into trouble – because they think they deserve all the best, they fail to work to earn the things they want, and feel victimized when they don’t reach their goals.