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Sociopathic Behavior in Children: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

With the number of juvenile crimes on the rise, parents are now increasingly concerned about sociopathic behavior in their children. Most of them have a vague idea about the concept, typically ascribing them to defiance and aggressiveness in children. So is sociopathic behavior in children just related to these and such tendencies, or is it something more than that? Let us first take a look at what sociopathic behavior is, and then try to understand sociopathy in children.
What is sociopathic behavior?
Sociopathic behavior is a result of personality disorders. It is characterized by complete disregard for and violation of societal norms and codes of conducts. Most sociopaths display personality traits marked by conflict with authority, and include an excessive appraisal of self-worth.
Sociopaths are extremely self-confidant, intelligent, charismatic and persuasive of others as well as themselves. Although this condition is usually diagnosed in adults, children can also demonstrate certain sociopathic tendencies.
Causes of Sociopathic Behavior in Children
The causes of antisocial behavior in children may range from abnormal development of the nervous system, to certain genetic factors. Here are some of the common causes, explained in brief.
Hereditary Basis
Sometimes children may inherit the sociopathic tendencies from their parents. This is a common occurrence in case of adoptive children. If the adopted child had sociopathic parents, he/she might develop sociopathic tendencies in spite of a good upbringing provided for by the adopting couple. It can be a cause of much concern and sadness.
Physiological Basis
Researchers believe that abnormalities in the development of the nervous system may result in learning disorders, hyperactivity and persistent bedwetting. Certain brain imaging studies too have found that abnormal brain functioning may result in sociopathic behavior.
Serotonin (a neurotransmitter) has been linked with impulsive and aggressive behavior. The prefrontal cortex and the temporal lobes in the brain (that help regulate mood and behavior) may also be responsible. Dysfunctional serotonin or abnormal serotonin levels – especially in these parts of the brain – can result in sociopathic behavior.
Environmental Basis
A disturbed home environment or alcoholic and/or abusive parents may also be a cause of sociopathic behavior in children. Inappropriate disciplinary techniques (such as corporal punishment), especially combined with inadequate emotional bonding with the parents, can also result in children developing sociopathic tendencies. An accident or trauma – especially of the emotional kind – such as a divorce, or the loss of a parent by death, can trigger off sociopathic tendencies in children.
Signs of Sociopathic Behavior in Children
Although sociopathic tendencies in children might be similar to those observed in adults, there are certain signs that are increasingly observed in children; for example, traits like stealing, or cruelty towards other children and animals, etc. While some of the symptoms might just be a part of the growing up process, certain behavioral traits do indicate an antisocial personality disorder or sociopathy. In fact, psychiatrists believe that many adults who are diagnosed with this psychiatric disorder may have exhibited sociopathic signs during childhood too.
Sociopathic Symptoms in Children
• Stealing

• Vandalism

• Manipulation

• Hyperactivity

• Speech problems

• Compulsive lying

• Learning disorder

• Cruelty to animals

• Dislike and anger towards authority

• Problems with retaining peer relationships

• Consistent bedwetting after the age of five

• Reckless disregard for safety of self or others

• Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them.

• Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.

• Lack of remorse and indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

Treatment for Sociopathic Behavior
A commonly asked question is “Can sociopathy in children be cured?” Although it can be quite difficult and may need a lot of time and patience, research shows that there are a number of effective treatments for this disorder. It’s often observed that parents of these kids tend to avoid dealing with sociopathy in their children, often dismissing the problem as mere rebellion. Parental support and constant adult supervision is very important and effective in avoiding such tendencies in children.
It is very important to build a bond of trust and companionship with the child. Along with this, one of the most effective interventions are, impulse control counseling sessions. Other measures of psychotherapy that teach sociopathic children the necessary skills to live by norms of the society can also prove to be greatly effective. In certain cases medication may also be required, to supplement the counseling sessions.
It is important that this kind of behavior in children be remedied with the help of personal, emotional and professional help. Do not be scared to admit that your child has a problem that needs to be solved. If left untreated (for fear of what you might uncover), the child may feel neglected, and the sociopathic tendencies may aggravate. Do not let that happen.

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I am a father of three and my wife is a registered nurse specialized in children.

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