Six ways to avoid raising a child sociopath
I used to be an expert in child behavior… until I became a parent.
Yes, there was a time in my life when I had all the answers to raising a well-adjusted, card carrying Republican, heterosexual, apple of my eye, God fearing, productive member of civilized society. I was working as a children’s mobile crisis clinician during my daughter’s early years and thought I’d seen and learned enough of what not to do as a parent to avoid raising a troubled youth. When my second child, a son, came along I had walked away from dealing with crises on a daily basis to a more sedate life of managing support services for adults with intellectual disabilities. My plan was to finish my master’s degree and go back to working with children. With my master’s degree behind me, I’ve yet to return to work with children. My focus has shifted over the years from wanting to work on an individual level with children and families to now on a macro level. Prevention through information on a greater scale, working on social consciousness, is where my passion is currently.
What changed over the past six years? For one, I learned that I’m a horrible parent (Based on my pretentious observer self from six years ago.). Kids don’t come with an owner’s manual, and if they did it would likely be in a language no one could understand. There’s no simple algorithm to follow when raising your child. No “If A happens, go to step C. If B happens, jump to D.” I recently attended a lecture by a psychologist who was acclaimed to be a parenting expert. To my chagrin, she actually stated that she had birthed no children of her own. She immediately lost credibility with me, as I could see myself on that stage less than 10 years earlier regaling my stories of parenting no no’s from the trenches.
I find myself making a lot of the mistakes I thought I never would as a parent. I lose my temper at times, which surprises me. I used to be told that I had incredible patience and consistently level headed during times of crisis. I’m not sure what happened to that guy. He doesn’t visit our house as often as he used to. I give my children the “Because I said so,” answer. I can remember telling parents that their children deserve an explanation of the “whys” and it’s important to take the time to educate them. Of course, when I was giving that advice, I hadn’t met my future self. The one trying to get out the door on time in the morning with one hand holding coffee (aka life blood), one hand with my keys and two lunch boxes, each pinky grasping a backpack for dear life while corralling two whining children to the car. I swear some mornings I have made it to the car with my three and five year olds, looked in the rear view mirror and saw sweat beading down my balding head, dress shirt disheveled, feeling as though I just completed the first leg of a marathon. Oh, if only I had a crystal ball 10 years ago when I was preaching the good word about parenting.
I’ve spent most of my professional life working with marginalized populations, which has always been my passion. I’ve worked with people from all walks of life who are in some stage of crisis either due to physical, mental, economic or other challenges. If I’ve become any kind of expert, I’m an expert in people, their nature, and their inherent needs required for wholeness. Some needs are vital and required for life, such as food, water and shelter. These are basic needs. Other needs are essential for what separates us from the “lower species.” How does one obtain traits such as compassion, humility, empathy, selflessness, wisdom, self-efficacy, and spirituality? These traits are essential for us to move beyond just survival. Together, they allow us to not only grow to our full potential as individuals, but to contribute to the betterment of society. No amount of therapy or rehabilitation can have the effect on the well-being of society that prevention does. That message has become my new focus. And it starts with my two children. The most valuable lesson I have learned over the past few years is that I don’t have to be a perfect parent. I accept that I can be weak and will make regretful mistakes. What is most important is how I live my life and role model certain essential traits that are required, not just for personal gain, but for those around us to have a better life. The sociopath does not care about others, but is in the game for only himself. The sociopath is often a callous, apathetic, thrill seeker at a young age. Later in life he develops the skills of charm and deceit to achieve personal gain. Although he may be able to fake it, he lacks remorse. Know someone like this? There are many who demonstrate some sociopathic tendencies, but are relatively harmless. Others wreak havoc at home and in the workplace with their selfish ways leaving trust, dignity, and respect in their wake.
Rate yourself as a parent
Think about the parenting skills you thought you had before your first child and rate yourself.
"Love yourself so that you may love others."
How is a sociopath created?
This becomes a nature vs. nurture debate which I will not entertain fully in this article. Both camps are arguably correct in that you can have a predisposition at birth which may be nurtured through environmental influences during the early developmental stages. It is those environmental factors which I write about in this article. These are factors we have control over as parents and caregivers. With that, I give you six ways to avoid raising a sociopath.
1. Demonstrate humility
Even parents make mistakes. It’s important to not only accept this, but admit it to your children. Your children will learn that it is ok to be wrong sometimes, even when you are in a position of power and authority. Being fallible doesn’t mean you are weak. It means that you value the lesson that can only be learned through making mistakes. This becomes essential to being truthful in the face of humiliation or censure because of poor judgment. With honesty comes trust, and trust is the foundation of all healthy relationships.
2. Do unto others as you would have done unto you
A valuable lesson passed down through the ages in a timeless book. If people actually lived by this, life would be pretty good for everyone. It’s a simple lesson that we so quickly forget when we’re impatiently waiting in line for our morning coffee, or to pay for groceries at the checkout. Too often we are taking frustrations out on undeserving people who are simply tasked with transacting our purchases. How quickly we blame someone else for our misfortunes and penalize them with rude behavior.
At a very young age, children learn how to treat and relate to others by watching their parents. Even short, seemingly mundane interactions can be opportunities to model healthy relationship skills. Notice how often you or the person in line in front of you starts off an order with "Gimme a." Take a moment to say please and thank you to the barista handing you your morning coffee or that bagger at the grocery store. Better yet, help a stranger in need in whatever way you are comfortable doing so. Chances are you would appreciate these often brief but meaningful interactions. A smile and kind word from a stranger can have a positive impact on the rest of your day. Comforting someone who’s been in a car accident may change their life. We each deserve no less and it’s important that we impart this principle on to our children.
I believe that, through the significant increase over the last decade in the use of social media and texting, we have lost our expertise in human interaction. The result is a population of disconnected and dehumanized people. The more we dehumanize those around us, the easier it is to hurt others without remorse or to ignore suffering. It is important that we make a conscious effort to maintain a personal connection with those around us.
3. There is always something more to learn about everything
This is similar to humility in that it is important to be able to tell your child that you lack the knowledge to answer many questions. There is no such thing as absolute knowledge and to learn this at a young age serves to avoid arrogance. Arrogance can be toxic in many ways throughout life. It closes the mind off to the possibility of learning and growth. During the teenage years in particular, arrogance sets the individual apart from others. Isolation can lead to bitterness, resentment, and sometimes retaliatory aggression.
As adults, highly arrogant people are often successful in their chosen field, but often fail in personal relationships. It’s ok to be confident. In fact, confidence is an important trait that contributes to success in most domains within the human experience. Arrogance must not get in the way of opening yourself up to the thoughts and contributions of others. Maintaining a flexible mind is integral to mitigate animosity and fear that comes from bigotry.
"There is something out there greater than all of us."
Are you a texter or a talker?
Have you ever texted someone to avoid talking in person about a difficult topic (i.e., ending a relationship, death of a friend, quitting a job)?
4. Love yourself so that you can love others
This phrase has become cliché in its use but remains true nonetheless. With the divorce rate in the United States well over 50%, the children who are impacted are at a greater risk for damage to their self-esteem. Children require stability, discipline, and love to facilitate a healthy intellectual and emotional development. All humans require physical and emotional safety for healthy development. No matter the type or status of the union, parental figures can provide these elements. Whether through a hurtful and chaotic breakup or some other relational discord, the effects are the same.
Children who lack a sense of emotional safety, particularly during the early development years, often have trouble feeling secure in relationships later in life. The magical thinking that is present in early childhood (The belief that they are directly responsible for the actions of others and circumstances around them.) carries into adulthood. They struggle with loving, being loved, and a sense of belongingness. Parents, or parental figures, play a major role in relieving or increasing stress and anxiety in children during a divorce. Resilience in children requires support, assurance and honest information during this time of change.
Parent’s who put their own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of their children are putting them at risk for future emotional problems and possible psychiatric disorders. This demonstrates the fragile emotional and intellectual states of children and the vital role caregivers play in healthy development. Children who remain resilient and stay out of trouble despite their difficult circumstances tend to be the ones who develop positive relationships and partake in self-esteem building activities.
5. Walk in someone else's shoes before judging
A difficult expectation to be sure. We are rarely able to experience a life event or events just as others have. Two people who watched the same movie may describe the plot in completely different ways. Our own previous life experiences affect how we input and make sense of current experiences. This edict is not to be taken quite as literally as it often is. Although we can’t often walk in someone else’s shoes, we can take from our own life experiences and attempt to gain some sense and understanding of another’s perspective. This is why it is important to live a life full of rich and varied experiences so that you may know of things first hand and not exclusively from watching TV. And it’s ok to not form an opinion before gaining more insight. Mastery of this skill is to develop empathy. The ability to empathize is important to understand others from where they are in life, instead of where you would like them to be. Empathy also helps us to be thoughtfully responsive to others rather than reactive, rude, or abusive.
Are you a "gimme a" person?
When I am at a fast food or other service counter, I say "hello," "please," and "thank you" when ordering.
6. There is something out there greater than all of us
This is not meant to be a religious statement, but is more about spirituality. Humans are innately spiritual. Any first year history major will tell you that it’s impossible to study human history without learning about spiritual influences. What I’ve come to believe is that I know that I don’t know, but I do know there is more to know that we may never know. If you can believe in that purposely convoluted statement then you can at least admit that there is something greater than all of us. To give in to that belief is to leave yourself open to the possibilities of a better future and common goals for humankind.