When a child is young, how are you ever to know if they have the hallmarks of someone who will grow old, and perhaps do bad, socially unacceptable things?
For one mother, she thinks she has spotted exactly the kind of child who is showing sociopathic tendencies. The problem, however, is that the child isn’t her own.
Taking to online parenting forum Mumsnet, user OohMavis detailed a scenario that found her labelling her friend’s son a “psychopath“, and the events that followed and saw her fall out with said friend.
OohMavis wrote that it all began when the children were playing in the garden together, and her young daughter ran to her, saying she had “found a really big beetle”.
“She’s three and obsessed with mini beasts. My friend’s children overheard and came to see too. They ran ahead of me and my friend followed behind, by the time we’d arrived her son had STOMPED on this beautiful stag beetle (I think) and killed it.”
OohMavis said her daughter was “so upset”.
Listen: Psychopath expert David Gillespie talks to Mia Freedman about how to spot, and then manage, the psychopaths in our lives. Post continues after audio.
“Honestly, it was just such an unnecessary thing to do. The kid is seven. It’s inexcusable. I reacted, raised my voice a bit and said “Why did you do that?!” he just laughed and said he wanted to stand on it. I said that’s a really nasty thing to do. Then [he] bent down to see if he’d ‘popped its head off’. He had, he was quite pleased with himself. His mother said nothing, I looked at her for a response and got a half-shrug.
“[My daughter] was in tears by this point so I took her back to where we were sitting and friend joined me. I was comforting [her]. She said, ‘I think they get it from me, they just don’t like animals’. I replied, ‘well that’s fine but they shouldn’t kill them’.
OohMavis said her friend responded in a way that made her “angry”, justifying the insect’s death by the fact “it wasn’t a cat or something”.
“And this is where I got a bit angry and said, ‘Yes well it starts off that way doesn’t it, with that attitude you’re raising two psychopaths’,” she went on.
“She was obviously offended. She sat there for twenty more minutes with a look on her face before making an excuse and leaving, awkwardly. [I] got a text later saying she thought I was completely out of order calling her kids psychopaths, kids step on insects and I’m overreacting. I didn’t reply. She texted again telling me I’m a hypocrite since I’m not even vegetarian.”
Talking to Mamamia earlier this year, developmental psychologist Dr Heidi Gazelle of The University of Melbourne said there are no hard and fast ways to spot a bully in young children.
“The key thing to look for is whether the aggression is normative to other kids relative to age. Is this standing out as unusual or is the aggression typical of what would be going on at with other kids?”
To add to this, Dr Emma Butler, a clinical psychologist from Eltham, Victoria, who specialises in the treatment of children and adolescents, also told Mamamia this month when children bring about harm, it is more helpful to consider their intent, rather than the consequence of their physicality.
“If the child regrets what they’ve done, that’s reassuring for the mother as a parent," Dr Butler said, highlighting that honesty and saying 'sorry' are positive behaviours to encourage.
So, in this case, the little boy's lack of remorse is telling. But is it cause to label him a psychopath? Only time will tell.