Ask Dr. Sleep: Could 6-year-old child be a criminal by the nature?

He is the only child and understandably spoiled by all family members. And he has a lot of family members. The most time he spends with my grand-grandmother who did her best to spoil the child and tell the child’s father that he does not know how to please the child. Until the last year he was at home. When we placed him in kindergarten and now in school, he was always alone. When another child approaches him, Sam states that he does not need friends, because they are stupid. It is true that he exceptionally bright, using very complex sentences in both, Russian and English. He has no problem to initiate a talk with adults in stores or in the waiting room.

For example, in a pediatrician’s waiting room he freely talks to parents of other patients and without questions states that he would love to kill his grandma with a knife in the head, that he likes to watch TV cartoons especially when eyes popped from the socket and he would like to do it to his mother. He hates his mother, his father. I am very ashamed and scared. He listened only to his father so far, but when his dad once punished him, he called 911 and we have been accused with child abuse after he created a horror story.

Once he threw an iron at grandma which resulted in 6 staples. He also kicked her in the groin area when she dressed him for school because he didn’t like something. He has no remorse. The whole family could not sleep, could not live. We went to endless list of therapists, psychologists. All we hear, that we are not giving the child enough attention, that he learned it from us, or he will grow out of it. We give him a lot of attention, he could not learn it from us, and our worst fear is that he could not grow out of it.

Please, help or direct us to someone who could help us.

Desperate parents,

Marina, Utah

Dear Marina,

I agree with you that seeing your own child as a violent person who might grow up as a criminal is the most painful feeling. You are also right that in this country the attitude to a misbehaving child is not taken as serious as it is in other countries, where social discipline is reinforced very early.

To make the correction even more complicated, the legal system pushed a concept of “child abuse” to its extreme. Child abuse centers are overwhelmed with calls from minors who call 911 after parents’ small attempts to discipline the child. Your particular story is a complicated one.

Is it a wrong nature or it is a wrong rearing practice by parents including cultural issues? Probably, both, but at this time I would like to focus on the biological aspects (nature).

Several symptoms suggest that the origin of the problems is in biology (nature).This child was unusual from the infancy. Such children are unusually aggressive with toys and with pets, later with people, have lack of social skills and do not contact with peers. Parents received an explanation that it is because the child was always with great-grandmother and not in kindergarten. This notion is true, but only partially true. The deviation of his behavior will come out sooner or later. Sleep deviations, peculiar hygiene habits and sensory habits indicate deviations in internal metabolism and sensory integration. With age, the situation is usually getting worse.

Officially, as the child is still small, doctors use a confusing diagnosis: Oppositional-Defiant Disorder. After age 18, it might be considered as personality disorder.

Could this kind of a person become a criminal? Yes, it could be. But, believe it or not, in case of a social crisis, these people become heroes. The famous psychiatrist Krepelin once noted: “This type of individual we see as our patients during the peace, but they become our generals at the time of war.” Everything will depend on how these people will fit into the society.

Meantime, I strongly believe that this child should be seen as a patient by a psychiatrist and should have neurological evaluation. I would like also to encourage use of some medications which often make the child “mellow” and stop aggressive behavior. The treatment is possible and necessary in your case. If you need to find a specialist in our area, contact our direct line and we will help you.

All the best!