How do sociopathic parents affect their children?

Lie, hit, feel great

Kindergarten children sometimes have it tough. They can lie, beat others, and play their parents off against each other. All of this is normal - at least to a certain extent. But can three-year-olds be real psychopaths?

"Definitely not."

No, definitely not, says the psychologist Laura López Romero from the University of Santiago de Compostela.

"But there are psychopathy-like behaviors that can appear very early in childhood. These children often develop dysfunctional social behavior, and this can potentially lead to a psychopathic personality later on."

Psychopathy is a serious personality disorder. In adults, it is characterized, among other things, by coldness of feeling, by the desire for risk and the ability to wrap others around the finger. A psychopathy can be very different: Many clinical psychopaths lead very successful lives, others become serious criminals - they can hardly be treated. Psychopathic tendencies can also occur in school children. Such children are at high risk of developing problems in the long term - there are already a number of studies on this. However, no one has examined kindergarten children. Because until now there has been no method with which one could determine such behavioral problems in young children. Until now. Laura López Romero's colleague, the psychologist Henrik Andershed, has developed a kind of questionnaire with 29 points.

López Romero: "Often lies to get what he or she wants"

Often lies to get what it wants.

Or: feels superior to other children. Or:

López Romero: "Often seems to be completely indifferent when other children are upset."

Often seems completely indifferent when other children are shaken.

Or: I want something to always happen. The preschool teacher must assess whether these statements apply to the child fully, somewhat apply, only slightly, or not at all. López Romero:

"We chose preschool teachers because we think they are very good at judging whether it is a real behavior problem - or behavior that can be quite normal at that age. After all, you have a lot of children to do in many different situations and can compare well. In addition, they are quite neutral when it comes to evaluating children negatively. "

Kindergarten children are particularly interesting for psychologists, precisely because they are so young. The researchers want to find out when the behavioral problems start. Perhaps at some point they will be able to determine risk factors and intervene earlier.López Romero:

"In the long term, we want to develop therapies with which we may be able to prevent later behavioral disorders. There are already programs in which parents learn to encourage good behavior in their children and to prevent bad behavior - but they don't really work for schoolchildren with psychopathic traits Well."

Laura López Romero and her colleagues are already using the questionnaire, in Sweden, as part of a large study with 2000 children. The preschool teachers should evaluate the children once a year for three years. The questionnaire works, says Laura López Romero. With its help one can recognize psychopathic traits in three-year-olds. But she warns against stigmatizing such children. Because: Children can change rapidly.

"That is the strength of the study: Psychopathy can no longer be changed in adults. But in children, psychopathic behaviors can very well change over time, and in young children these psychopathic traits are much less stable than, for example, in children Young people. And we can perhaps identify risk factors and also protective factors. "

Psychopathic traits can be a warning sign. But they don't mean that the child will inevitably run into problems later on. And certainly not that the child will become a psychopathic criminal.