Psychopathic Children, Psychopathic Behavior in Children

Obviously, psychopathic children are a concern, but how can parents spot psychopathic behavior in their children? Read this.

While the idea of a psychopathic child may seem like it's out of a movie, a small number of psychopathic children do exist. In fact, psychopaths tend to develop their psychopathic traits before the age of 16. But what is a psychopathic tendency in a child and how can you spot psychopathic behavior in children?

Psychopathic Children

Children (those under the age of 18) are not, technically, psychopaths, even if they meet every criterion as psychopathy is only officially diagnosed in adults. However, when psychopathic adults are studied, it's clear that their psychopathic personality and tendencies developed as children and young adults. Some psychopaths even kill before their 18th birthday.

Psychopathic Behavior in Children

Several checklists have been developed to help identify children with psychopathic tendencies. These include Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised; Youth version, the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI) and the Antisocial Process Screening Device – Self Report (APSD-SR). These three screening devices help to pinpoint the behaviors of psychopathic children.

The following are examples of psychopathic behaviors in children as identified by the APSD-SR:

  • Has shallow emotions
  • Brags about accomplishments
  • Uses or cons others
  • Teases other people
  • Is charming in insincere ways
  • Becomes angry when corrected
  • Thinks he or she is more important than others
  • Blames others for mistakes
  • Gets bored easily
  • Acts without thinking
  • Engages in risky and dangerous behavior
  • Does not plan ahead
  • Does not show emotions
  • Breaks promises
  • Doesn't feel bad or guilty
  • Is not concerned about the feelings of others
  • Doesn't keep the same friends
  • Isn't concerned about schoolwork
  • Lies easily and skillfully
  • Engages in illegal activities

It's important to remember that no, single psychopathic behavior indicates that a child is a psychopath but, rather, it's a constellation of traits that indicate psychopathy.

Also keep in mind that some of the psychopathy is genetic and if a child has psychopathic parents or parents with psychopathic tendencies, the child will have a greater chance of becoming a psychopath him or herself.

If You Suspect Your Child Has Psychopathic Tendencies

If you spot psychopathic tendencies in your child and are concerned, you should get help immediately from someone such as a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in psychopathy (treatment of psychopaths).

While studies have shown that no treatment has helped change the behavior of adult psychopaths, the same has not been true of children with psychopathic tendencies. A therapy known as decompression treatment has shown positive results in helping children with psychopathic behavior. Some specialized institutions offer this treatment but the treatment tends to last a year or more and does not work for everyone.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 17). Psychopathic Children, Psychopathic Behavior in Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: January 28, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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