Ask Abbie: Listen to intuition about child’s behavior

Published 12:29 pm Saturday, January 11, 2014

Question: I thought my daughter was just acting like a brat at age three, but then it soon got much worse. She threw tantrums of screaming inconsolably for hours every day regardless of what I did. Any little thing would set her off. She is now five and has developed a very unusual ability to switch from full-blown anger to moments of extreme charm. I think I should take her to a professional for help, but my husband completely disagrees and gets mad at me when I bring up the subject. He says our daughter is just being a kid and that I am overreacting. I don’t know what to do.

Answer: I commend you for giving voice to your mother’s intuition. It is a gift of immeasurable value that should never be quieted, ignored or devalued. Please read the following three brief descriptions of real-life cases involving children’s behaviors and then pause to ask yourself what your mother’s intuition would say if you were any one of their parents.

Case No. 1. At 8, Michael’s rage continued. He would fly into a fit when Anne or Miguel tried to get him ready for school, punching the wall and kicking holes in the door. Left unwatched, he would cut up his trousers with scissors or methodically pull his hair out. He would also vent his anger by slamming the toilet seat down again and again until it broke. When not in a fit of rage, Michael was a very charming boy.

Case No. 2. A young boy, who many saw as charming, would lock his family’s dogs on chains so he could stand just outside of where they could reach. He would then beat them with whatever he had available.

Case No. 3. A 9-year-old boy named Jeffrey pushed a toddler into the deep end of a motel swimming pool. As the boy struggled and sank to the bottom, Jeffrey pulled up a chair to watch. He appeared very charming to the police when they arrived.

The voice of intuition you would have as mother to any of these children would undeniably sound with fear, worry and helplessness and would do so for good reason. These children suffer from a serious and often harmful to others personality disorder known as psychopathy. One of the disorder’s major symptoms, as illustrated in the previous cases, is an ability to switch from fits of rage and/or hostility to seemingly sincere charm. This symptom is disconcertingly evident in your daughter. Let this correlation be the push of confirmation you need to advance investigation of your mother’s intuition. Please note, further investigation does not assume a diagnosis but does advance a precaution.

The following warning signs of psychopathy in children, even though some will not apply to a those your daughter’s age, is intended to help as many concerned parents as possible determine if further investigation for their own children is warranted.

1. Look for a history of mental illness.

2. Watch for a pattern of violent acts, especially if the acts escalate from minor to severe.

3. Observe thoughts, plans and intent: They will talk about thoughts of violent acts, plans for the acts, and intent to carry them out.

4. Keep an eye out for prolonged bed-wetting (over age 12), fire-setting and torturing animals.

5. Watch out for an anger or aggression that turns suicidal.

6. Notice social media outcries or gestures for attention. They are also warning signs.

7. Keep an eye out for increasing isolation, with disturbed thoughts and fixation.

8. Look for a lack of empathy.

9. Watch for changes in behavior, dress, grades, friends, sleep-wake cycles, etc.

Do not allow fear of your husband’s reaction to keep you from seeking help for your daughter. If you don’t address the warning signs and she does in fact suffer from psychopathy, you must be willing to assume partial responsibility when she hurts herself or another. If, however, you address the warning signs and she is found to suffer from psychopathy, be encouraged. There are many new treatment approaches that are convincingly challenging the past assumption that psychopaths are untreatable.

Take action. Don’t be left with any regrets or thoughts of “if only… .”

ABBIE LONG is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to