Resources for Parents
This information should not be used to diagnose or treat. It is not meant to take the place of consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have concerns, you should contact your healthcare provider for a screening.
Being a parent of a child or adult with psychopathy can be difficult, frustrating, and lonely. The condition is often invisible to observers who may not appreciate the difficulties parents are experiencing behind the scenes. Many professionals, including doctors and mental health care providers, have little training in working with children or psychopathy. They may be unaware of the condition or believe common myths about it. This page aims to answer questions that are common among parents of children or adults with psychopathy.
Q: How do I know if my child is at risk for psychopathy?
Complete our online screening measures, which will provide an estimate of your child’s risk for psychopathy. Be sure to select the screening measure that is appropriate for your child’s age. After you complete this measure you will see your child’s score, how this score compares to other children of similar age and gender, and whether this score places your child at risk for psychopathy.
Q: My child’s score shows they are at high risk for psychopathy. What next?
Our online screening measures are aimed at estimating your child’s risk. They do not take the place of an exam by a medical professional. If your child is at high risk and under the age of 18, the next step is to schedule an appointment with your child’s healthcare provider. Be sure to print out this handout and include your child’s percentile score and risk category on it. You can use this sheet to begin a conversation about the appropriate next steps. These may involve a formal mental health screening and/or a referral to a mental health provider who specializes in treating disruptive behavior disorders.
Q: Are there particular treatments I should request for my child?
Clinicians offer a variety of different treatments for psychopathy. But you should know that only some treatments have been shown in scientific studies to be effective in treating psychopathy. Unfortunately, not all clinicians offer the forms of treatment that have been demonstrated to be effective. However, you may wish to ask your physician specifically about the treatments (including psychotherapy, medication, and residential treatment) we describe on our site.
Q: Are there treatments I should avoid?
Yes! The difficulty of treating some children with serious disruptive behavior has often led to clinicians trying extreme approaches. But treatments like “Scared Straight” programs, rebirthing therapy, and others have not been demonstrated to help children, and can even be harmful. Learn more about such treatments.
Q: I’m having a really hard time finding mental health providers who provide these treatments. Why is this? What can I do?
It is hard to find proper treatment for your child because so few exist at this point in time.
All the experts agree that early diagnosis and treatment is essential. The reality is much different. Many mental health professionals do not understand psychopathy or have expertise in treating it. Many parents spend years searching for treatment and never find any. A few find a helpful therapist, but usually down the line after much harm that could have been prevented. Many parents cannot find treatment for their children because their child is too violent. Treatment for nonviolent children is no easier.
Psychopathy Is is working to fix this. We are working to create a list of providers who can help. What can you do in the meantime? You can educate yourself. You can read books, and join support groups like Parents of Children with Conduct Disorder to learn more about Conduct Disorder and psychopathy.
It is frustrating and unfair that parents of children with psychopathy have to become an expert in the subject to find an effective treatment. But until awareness of psychopathy is more widespread and more effective treatments are available there is no other option.
Start by checking out our bookshelf to learn more about psychopathy. Another excellent book is Before It’s Too Late: Why Some Kids Get Into Trouble–and What Parents Can Do About It. It’s not specifically about psychopathy, but it is a helpful primer for parents of children with serious behavior problems.
Currently, there is no seal of approval that will tell you a mental health provider will understand your child and what your family is going through. But one approach is to look through a list of local therapists and find someone who seems kind, understanding, and curious. Look for a provider who is willing to say, “I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out and help you as best I can.” Call them and explain your situation. Ask if they are willing to learn and if they are willing to review the information on our website and use it to help your child.
The sad fact is that universally effective treatments for children with psychopathy don’t exist yet. And there is a pervasive shortage of child psychiatrists and psychologists, which often means long wait lists. Help for violent children under the age of 12 is nearly non-existent. There are not sufficient secure places in the country to treat violent children.
The chances you will find someone local who is knowledgeable about treating psychopathy are slim. But don’t lose hope. Every single person who is an expert in psychopathy once knew nothing about the topic until they became interested and started learning. You can do that too, and so can anyone you find who is willing to learn.
Q: I get blamed a lot for my child’s behavior, even though I’m doing everything I can. Is it really my fault? Why would my clinician suggest family therapy unless I’m a bad parent?
Family members, including parents, siblings, children, and romantic partners, are often among those victimized by those with psychopathy. They also often experience significant distress, trauma, guilt, and shame. But, due in part to myths and stigmas surrounding psychopathy, they often fail to receive the support they need and parents in particular are instead blamed by others for their child’s behavior. One of the missions of our organization is to reduce the extent to which parents are blamed for their children’s psychopathy by providing accurate information about the causes of this disorder.
Psychopathy is not caused by bad parenting any more than other developmental disorders, like autism or schizophrenia, are caused by bad parenting. All of these disorders are caused by a mix of genetic risk factors and environmental factors.
Only a few decades ago, parents (particularly mothers) were blamed for their children’s autism and schizophrenia. But as scientific knowledge about these disorders grew, it became clear that parenting was not the cause of these disorders. With your support, we can promote better scientific research into the origins of psychopathy as well.
What we do know is that there are therapeutic interventions parents can use to improve the symptoms of children with developmental disorders. For example, even though autism is not caused by bad parenting, the most effective treatments for it are therapeutic interventions that parents use.
There are a few therapeutic approaches parents can use to help children with psychopathy. Learn more about these approaches. With your support, we can support researchers who seek to develop even more effective interventions.
Q: My child is abusing me (emotionally or physically). What can I do?
Victimization of parents and other family members by (usually adolescent) children is a form of domestic abuse. Children and adolescents with psychopathy often subject parents and siblings to significant verbal, emotional, physical, and/or financial abuse. Unfortunately, this is an under-recognized problem. Parents who are experiencing abuse from their children often feel alone and isolated. They may have difficulty accepting that their child is abusive towards them. They may think their child’s behavior is part of growing up or dealing with stress, or that it is just normal mood swings. Because psychopathy is linked to not taking responsibility for one’s own actions, the child may even attempt to convince parents (and others) that the parents deserve the abuse. For example, the child may argue that parents engaged in normal parenting behaviors are abusive. Parents may also fear that they will be accused by others of abusing their child if they report this behavior. And, unlike victims of adult domestic violence, whom courts can provide with some legal protections, parents of abusive children continue to be responsible for their children.
However, recognition of child-to-parent abuse is increasing. If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, you can contact a domestic abuse hotline for help. You can also download this useful booklet created by mental health providers in the United Kingdom to help parents who are being victimized by their children. More resources may also be found in this review of the scientific literature on child-to-parent violence.
Q: I wish I could do something so that other parents don’t have to go through what I have. What can I do to help?
Treatments to Avoid
When seeking therapeutic options, it is important to keep in mind that not all therapies are effective. Clinicians are not required by any accrediting body to use only therapies that have been empirically demonstrated to be effective. This is why it is important for those seeking treatment to request specific, empirically tested therapies.