The empathy , the ability to feel for others and mentally put in place, develops as the child grows. Because empathy is learned, you as a parent can help foster empathic behavior and understanding. At certain ages, lack of empathy is a perfectly normal developmental trait. If your child continues to lack empathy as he grows, you will need to speak with the pediatrician to be able to assess whether his behavior is normal for his age or if some type of additional mental evaluation should be done.
It is not realistic to expect a child under 5 to really empathize with others; a child of this age does not yet have the capacity to put himself in someone else’s shoes . True empathy for others doesn’t begin to blossom until age 8 or 9. If your child does not show signs of empathy for others at this age or does not seem to understand why he is finding his lack of empathy, he may have a psychological problem that prevents him from understanding the world of emotions.
If this occurs, you will need to speak with your pediatrician for a referral to a mental health professional. In this way, you can teach him skills and strategies to better understand not only the emotions of others, but also his own.
The child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have a difficult time understanding empathy. Children who are stressed out with too many emotional feelings from parents and caregivers can also have trouble developing empathy for others.
Children with personality disorders such as narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder may have a difficult time understanding empathy. Children with addiction problems may also lack empathy for others.
You can and should participate in the process of developing empathy in your child . Even if your child is very young, you can talk to him about how good it is to help others. While a 2 or 3-year-old may not understand exactly why this makes her feel good, it can foster the pride she feels when bringing a toy to a baby or comforting a crying friend. The feelings of satisfaction for a job well done also helps them understand their own and others’ feelings.
At age 5, present hypothetical situations to your child, asking how she imagines a friend would feel if someone laughed at her mistakes or made fun of her. Give your child the right words for the feelings he expresses; tell him that he looks sad, that he is acting in a bad mood, or that he looks very excited about a new toy. Model empathy and praise behaviors that show empathy towards others.
Lack of empathy in the preteen or adolescent can be a warning sign of a psychiatric disorder . Other signs that should prompt concerned parents to seek medical help and guidance include cruelty to animals, setting fires, telling frequent lies, stealing without remorse, constant challenges to authority, bullying , aggressive behavior, failure to respond to punishment, and lack of remorse for any vandalism. Talk to the doctor if you notice these signs in your child … you can seek a referral to see a mental health professional or a family therapist if your child’s condition is affecting the family nucleus.
The therapist will give you the appropriate strategies so that you are able to better cope with the situation and understand why your child behaves in this way with a lack of empathy towards others.