What if my child shows no remorse?

Q: Our 6 year old son has had issues since learning to walk. Defiance is key with him. He has ALWAYS done whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. As I’ve said above, we’ve done everything we know how, and everything counselors have told us to do and none of it works. The scariest thing is through all the consequences, through all the rewards, through all the extra attention and ‘time-in’, he just doesn’t care. He will look you straight in the eye and say “I stole, I know it is wrong” with no remorse, no care. You can cry and be honest with him how it saddens you as a parent and he looks at you blankly. 

A: It sounds like he may be emotionally closed off due to some kind of internal distress. If so, it makes sense that guilt and crying and all that other stuff that may seem to work with your other kids won't penetrate his shell. Often, despite appearances, kids actually have a whole lot of feelings happening underneath those blank looks.

For starters, I'd recommend that you ask your doctor to complete a thorough medical evaluation in case there are physical or developmental issues that are impacting your son. 

Next, at the risk of saying something you already know - if consequences aren't working, it may be time to focus instead on figuring out what he is attempting to achieve with his behavior. For some kids, wanting something they don't have is almost physically painful. Couple that with immature strategies for acquisition (I'll just steal it is an idea that seems perfectly reasonable to a young child), and it's double trouble. He may benefit from very specific guidance while learning and implementing more socially acceptable ways to get what he wants. He may also need a lot of help managing the intensity of his own feelings.

Sometimes, consequences alone don't work to prohibit behavior because they teach children what not to do, but don't teach another way to meet their goals. Not all kids are wired for successful obedience or imitation. He may need you to break things down into baby steps and give more explanation than is necessary for your other kids.

Sometimes, parentally applied consequences intended to change behavior actually make the behavior worse. The cycle looks like this: the child feels bad because he really really wants something and doesn't have it. His desire makes him unable to think clearly, so he just takes it. He feels better momentarily. Then he gets in trouble -- consequence, punishment, someone gets mad at him, or whatever. He then feels bad because he really wants love and approval and doesn't have it. His inability to think clearly while in distress gets him in more trouble. You can see how this leads to perpetual stress for everyone involved!

What might break this cycle is a loving and empathetic intervention when he feels bad about wanting something he doesn't have. We can talk some more about how that might sound during a phone consultation if you'd like.

If he experienced some kind of separation or trauma at a young age, there are therapies that can repair and restore whatever was disrupted in his development and re-awaken his empathy. Dr. Bruce Perry's work is well regarded on this subject. I'm not sure how you found me, but if you are in the Boulder area, I can suggest some therapists who have excellent reputations for unwinding trauma responses that impair normal functioning.
I hope this helps. I commend you for your dedication and motivation in continuing to search for something that will work. You are surely a blessing to your family, and I hope you can find some time to nurture yourself in the midst of this very challenging situation.

Perhaps these resources will provide some additional food for thought:

The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene
Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, by Post and Forbes

take care,


Anonymous said...

Thank you I will check out those books. He has not gone through any early traumas/seperations. He has been evaluated and is normal, so it sounds like we just gotta keep trying something until we find what works.

Syn said...

My stepson was like this. He could hurt his siblings and not feel any remorse. Talking to him about it or consequences would get you a "dead stare" (that is SCARY to have looking back at you). His mother wouldn't back us up EVER and excused every violent thing he did. His therapist says he doesn't feel empathy and that if he wasn't taught how soon (this was two years ago), he'd grow up to be a criminal. His mother took him out of counseling when the counselor wanted to counsel her too and never took him back. Sad really.

karen alonge said...

Oh my ... I'm shocked that a counselor would make such a dire prediction about a child. I hope someone truly helpful enters the scene and facilitates some healing for all parties involved.
good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

My son is exactly like this, and it doesnt seem to matter what I do, I take things away, he just steals it back, I put him in his room, and he will just walk out and do what he wants. I even spank him and it still doesnt get through to him. My real problem my 3 year old is starting to develope this behaviour, and I can not even handle one problem child, with out losing it, i definately can not handle 2 problem childern. I am at my witts end, I am to the point where I am ready to have him removed form my home, by child welfare.As much as it will hurt me to do so, but I see no other choice. I NEED HELP WITH HIM !!!

karen alonge said...

sounds like an incredibly stressful situation, and my heart goes out to you. I can understand that it seems like the only thing left to do is have him removed, but I hope there are some options before it gets to that point. Perhaps your local social services agency can provide some parenting classes or a mentor for you, so you are not so all alone in this. I hope some good help quickly arrives on the scene to provide resources and support. Please keep reaching out and asking for help. Family, friends, teachers, principals, neighbors, or perhaps your church may be able to give you some support. You can also read portions of the books I recommend on Amazon for free. Good luck to you.

karen alonge said...

to the anonymous commenter who sent me a request for help last night: I wish I had a magic wand that could bring peace to your heart and home. You may find some comfort and help in the book Beyond Consequences by Heather Forbes and Brian Post. I believe the authors see clients in private practice, and have had successfully transformed challenges such as those you describe. You can find their contact info by googling their names. Good luck.

karen alonge said...

To the commenter who asked me about ADHD:

My favorite resource on this topic is the book Scattered by Dr. Gabor Mate. Here's the link to his site: www.scatteredminds.com

I've also heard good things about Thom Hartmann's books.

I hope this helps!


Anonymous said...

I know this is an old blog/post but this is my child exactly. We've been to psychologists, one who flat out didn't believe us that he was so aggressive because he was SO passive with her. We found another one who was much better but as soon as we start to delve into my son's issues and aggression he shuts down. He tells the therapist he'll try all these options but at home he yells at me and tells me he doesn't want to try. He yells, he calls me names, he hits, he screams and has rages. NEVER is he remorseful. I have 2 younger ones at home that I do have to protect. I've had him looked at physically, nothing wrong. I've read the explosive child, he won't participate. I've read all kinds of books but if he wont' participate, then what can I do? At 3 he told me he wanted me dead. At 5 he told me he was going to kill me with a knife. I've tried pretty much all the solutions I've read on this whole site...restraint, empathy back at him, reasoning etc.

I don't know where to turn. I, too, have had the thought of having him removed, but being as he was adopted before a year, I'm sure that's not the best move.

Anyone have any thoughts? Help? I'm trying almost anything at this point.

karen alonge said...

It sounds to me like your family may need some concrete and individualized hands-on support to work through this ... the situation sounds beyond the scope of a book's advice.

I believe Heather Forbes, LCSW, is doing quite a bit of ground breaking work with families who have difficult adopted children.

I mention her book Beyond Consequences in my post, and her website is www.beyondconsequences.com. Perhaps she can refer you to a practitioner in your area.

Her co-author, Dr. Bryan Post, also seems to be having some breakthrough results, and may know of some therapists local to you. www.postinstitute.com

There's an organization in my town of Boulder, CO called VIVE! that offers concrete support services. Maybe they would have some ideas of what is available locally in your area as well. www.vivenow.com

I wish you all the best in your search for help. I wish I had more to offer you.

good luck,

Unknown said...

My son is exactly this way. We had an ordeal today where he broke our hamster's leg. Only reaction was he was sorry he got into trouble. He has 2 sibs and they used to follow his behavior until they got older and realized that he was making poor choices. Reading this post and the comments made me cry, because I know all too well just how much of a toll this takes on your house, your budget, your emotions, and sometimes your sanity. I've tried counselling and tried a psychiatrist. we haven't gotten far and I've been at this for 7 years now (he's 9, and I knew from his outrageous fits at just 2 years old that he wasn't behaving quite right). I believe placing him into a theraputic group home is the best option. However, thanks to the many systems out there involved, it's not possible to get him placed. I've ran into road block after road block, without any success or new options. His therapist says he believes he needs to be in one as well. They told us that he needs to be placed into an accute care facility (mental hospital) twice in order for them to consider placement in a home. in order to get placed in a hospital, he has to hurt someone. I found out today that animals don't count. Now, I'm crying out desperately to anyone who will listen to help. My only option that seems to be working on my side is the legal system. I've filed a police report and I'm waiting on CPS to get into touch with me. I don't know what else to do. The part where this could stem from another issue rings true with him. His father is not in the picture, and when he was, it wasn't a healthy relationship. I will definitely be checking out those books and also bookmarking this post to see how others are doing and looking for hope. I'm glad to hear I'm not alone...

karen alonge said...

Amber, you are definitely not alone! I very much hope you find the help you are looking for.

One thought that occurs to me as I read through all these comments again: it must be deeply exhausting to parent such a child, because they'll need to be very closely supervised. That cliche about not leaving the chicken coop open when the fox is in the yard comes to mind.

If a child does not feel bad about hurting an animal or a person, that child will probably need to have his opportunities to cause harm reduced as much as possible.

So while you may be able to give a verbal instruction or restriction to another child and have him comply when you turn your back, you can't count on these kids to obey when you are not there. Therefore, you simply might not be able to leave them alone with animals or other kids yet.

At the risk of way oversimplifying my point, you'll want to parent them based on their self-control skills rather than their biological age. It may free up some of your mental energy if you adjust your behavioral expectations to match what your child is actually capable of, rather than what he should be. It's really tiring to keep wishing someone isn't the way they are.

Underneath the lack of remorse is usually a scared kid who feels disconnected from others as well as his own feelings. And yes, it might be WAY underneath, so far down that it is completely inaccessible. But I suspect that when these kids hurt other kids or animals, way down deep they do feel the consequences. They just may not admit it, to you or themselves.

So I believe we do them a favor when we set up their environment with built in restrictions and close enough supervision to prevent them from doing harm whenever we can. It may seem like more work, but you are actually just investing your time in prevention rather than doing damage control after a lapse has occurred.

Please keep us posted on how you are doing.

take care,

Anonymous said...

Most of these responses are more severe than we are experiencing right now, but I fear we're headed down that same road.

We have a 13 year old (my stepson) for whom consequences mean nothing. Just today he told us he doesn't care if he gets in trouble. He hates school and at least once per week will cause such a disruption that he gets sent home. He's been caught cutting, makes horrid sexual comments to kids in his class, telling others in the class they don't have to do what the teacher says... the list goes on and on. I've made note of the books you've recommended and will go from there. We are really at our wits end on the whole thing, have no idea where to og next. He's got a therapist he sees once a week and is being evaulated for Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I guess we have to wait for the results of that. Thanks for the posting. I'll bookmark and check often for other responses.

karen alonge said...

You parents are real heroes -- in the trenches day in and day out, dealing with these difficult, difficult challenges.

Bless you all for being here on the internet trying to find a way to help your children. I salute you for your patience and persistence. Most of us will never truly understand what you are going through.

I hope you are finding support locally - you each deserve a helping hand, a kind listener, and shoulder to cry on.

thank you for hanging in there. I am humbled by the love and devotion you invest in your children.


ellen said...

Our youngest son, 7 yo, just got in trouble again in school for hitting another first grader in the privates. We have a small school, 15 students is first grade, and we are rural where we all know each other (or are related). Our son is easily influenced, and seeks reactions from others whether it is good or bad. We know this, and have doen our best as parents, researching and changing our parenting practices. We have two other children 9 yo and 11 yo, who are excelling in school, as is our youngest. The principal thought he was trying to keep up with older, more advanced siblings, (he actually said smarter), however, he is at the top of his class academically. There are other behavior problem children in his class, but he seems to get the brunt of things. Classmates tell on him, even tho others explain that he wasn't actually involved at times of trouble. When he reports, he gets dismissed and told tattling isn't appropriate. One time, I had to pick him up from school because he and another child wrote swear words on the teacher's white board. When I get to school, he was sitting with his legs dangling from the chair, on the edge of the chair, gripping the edge with his hands and hanging his head. The other first grader was bouncing in his chair, smiling and laughing and joking with passersby that he got in trouble, again. The biggest concern from his teacher is that he doesn't seem to show remorse for his actions. School punishment for this action was no recess. Instead, he was able to sit in a cushy chair next to the same kid who also got in trouble. He also stated that it didn't matter if he went out for recess, because he could sit with friends at lunch. And if he was in at recess, he could be safe and wasn't in trouble (red flag, I know--whole new basket of beans). This was a concern for the teacher because he didn't show remorse. I know my child is not perfect, and although he is my angel, he can occasionally sprout horns (as we all can). This is not the first time she has brought up the remorse thing. I guess my question is, what exactly do people look for when evaluating the feeling of remorse? How EXACTLY do you teach remorse? OUr son shows compassion to others, not always, but it does happen. He displays empathy when appropriate. Is there more we should or could do? Home school, maybe?

karen alonge said...


I love your questions, and I think the best person to answer them would be his teacher. It might be very illuminating to ask her to get specific and concrete about what behaviors she looks for to indicate remorse.

She's the only one who knows the standards she has set, and if you get that information, you might be able to help your son demonstrate those behaviors so he can drop off her radar a little bit.

He sounds bright, and you are clearly an involved and aware parent, so he's got a lot going for him already. This may be more of a mismatch between the temperament and expectations of a teacher and a student than a case of a truly troubled child.

Once you learn what she is watching for, you might present it to him like this: "Miss Teacher feels better when kids say they are sorry and shake hands after someone gets hurt. I know you don't like getting in trouble all the time, so I wonder if doing that might be a way to stay out of trouble. What do you think?" You might also offer to practice this behavior with him.

In my opinion, the best way to teach remorse is by example. So be as transparent as you can with him. Let him see you apologizing and offering to make amends - especially to him when appropriate.

You could also check out picture books at the library, and talk about them. Or make up bedtime stories about characters who accidentally hurt each other, and let him help you figure out how to handle it.

Make it as playful and funny as you can - should he write I'm sorry with a skywriter? in strawberrry jam on his toast? with silly string on the front door?

Occasionally introduce a plotline where one character got so upset that he thought he wanted to hurt someone else, but then he felt so bad about doing it that he didn't know how to say he was sorry.

Kids often enjoy listening to a story with an almost exact replica of their own situation if you put an animal in their role, and will often eagerly help to solve the animal's problem if you ask, Oh no ... what should Squeaky do? While helping Squeaky, they are brainstorming solutions for themselves.

Also, I highly recommend the book When the Labels Don't Fit by Barbara Probst. Based on what you've said here, I think you might find it very comforting and informative.

I hope this helps. Good luck, ellen, and please keep us posted.


ellen said...

I tried to brainstorm with the principal and the teacher this a.m. with what to do. It seems one other major concern is that he can't seem to keep his hands to himself. I don't really know many first graders that can, but whatever. After much thought and reflection on home events, we thought that since he wants to stay in from recess, perhaps he was being over-exposed to peers and needs a break away from them, and doesn't know how to verbalize his needs. He does need breaks from his siblings every once in a while, and reads or draws or plays with Legos alone in his room or goes outside. The report from the principal included that about every 3-4 weeks he goes through this type of event, goes home early, gets 12-14 hours of sleep and then is good for a while. Is there such a thing as needing more sleep? Or should I be looking deeper into this? He is usually in bed by 8 or earlier and gets up about 6:30 to 6:45 in the a.m. He prefers fruit and vegetables,(his favorites are beets and asparagus) refuses pastas and cheese, meat in moderation, and junk snacks are not purchased on a regular basis.

I even talked to the principal about personality conflict. He didn't seem to think that was an issue. I also do not want to be the parent that thinks their child is perfect, I believe strongly that parents and schools need to communicate openly and without fear of one another in order to pave a positive pathway to adolescence and adulthood.

I did find out that our son does offer apologies, although the teacher doesn't think the apologies are sincere. I did ask what the expectations were for the remorse that she was looking for. She wanted him to apologize without being prompted, to feel bad and not to do the action again. She states that no matter what the consequence, he still does bad things and that he should have learned from his mistakes by now. I asked how she knew how he felt. She didn't have an answer. OUr son is one that gets over things quickly and moves on. I see that as not holding a grudge and something that he will be able to use in the future. He does show caring and empathy towards others-not all the time, but frequently. I don't know......

My husband stated last night that he thought when he talked to our son that nothing seemed to sink in. What I saw was that he stood and made eye contact, with wide-open eyes and a look of "oh my". He knew he had done something wrong. Will he do it again? Don't know. When I try to talk with him he turns and walks away-I don't get eye contact unless I stop him and ask him to look at me. I guess I thought eye contact was important and that standing and listening were important. Thanks for letting me vent!

karen alonge said...

hi ellen -

more sleep is certainly worth experimenting with! it can't hurt to try it and see what happens.

eye contact can be a tricky thing. it's very stimulating to the nervous system, and if a child is already internally agitated, it may simply be too much input.

if he can't meet your eyes, you might try letting him spend some time alone to settle his system down before you engage with him.

let us know how it goes.


mrsbethb said...

I am so concerned/frustrated with my 9 year old daughter right now. It seems that she has a split personality...she is perfect at school...all A's in academics and E's in conduct. Yet, at home she acts completely different. When we ask her to do something, she always questions me, "Do I have to do it right now," or "wait a minute." It eventually escalates into "I hate you; you are the worst mother ever." There have been times that she has lunged at me, dug her nails in her arms, and broken pencils. I am so concerned with her lack of remorse after these horrid events. I am torn up inside and worry every day. She, however, shows no remorse and blames me for all of her problems. I get the dead stare as well. I pour my heart out to her and there is no response. I will get "Beyond Consequences" and contact a doctor tomorrow. She has a high IQ, so I know that she is extremely intelligent and can distinguish between good and bad. I am worried that my 5 year old son and our family as a whole will suffer. Thanks for letting me vent!

mrsbethb said...

I am so concerned/frustrated with my 9 year old daughter right now. It seems that she has a split personality...she is perfect at school...all A's in academics and E's in conduct. Yet, at home she acts completely different. When we ask her to do something, she always questions me, "Do I have to do it right now," or "wait a minute." It eventually escalates into "I hate you; you are the worst mother ever." There have been times that she has lunged at me, dug her nails in her arms, and broken pencils. I am so concerned with her lack of remorse after these horrid events. I am torn up inside and worry every day. She, however, shows no remorse and blames me for all of her problems. I get the dead stare as well. I pour my heart out to her and there is no response. I will get "Beyond Consequences" and contact a doctor tomorrow. She has a high IQ, so I know that she is extremely intelligent and can distinguish between good and bad. I am worried that my 5 year old son and our family as a whole will suffer. Thanks for letting me vent!

karen alonge said...

hi mrsbethb-

there's another resource I've been recommending lately that you may find helpful - wwww.handinhandparenting.org. there are dozens of free articles there, and I think you may find some insight as to what is going on with your daughter when she acts that way with you.

in particular, you may enjoy

please keep in touch and let us know how things are going ...

take care,

mrsbethb said...

Thank you for the website. I bought "The Explosive Child" and see my daughter described to a tee. I have an appt tomorrow with the psychologist. I am hopeful that we can find a solution that will work for our family. Thank you again!

Anonymous said...

I do not know if this will be of some comfort.

My daughter from my 1st wife never felt any remorse or would not cry at moments when I thought she would. Her behavior and given my religious upbringing thought that my child did not comply with what I was taguht about how one should feel when one did something wrong. This truly disturbed me from deep embedded christian beliefs.

She is now 18, suffers from depression and truly feels the WEIGHT of some of her choices in life. She now opens her heart.

There was a time that my own value system thought that she might be evil or something. This was my CRAP ... not hers. She simply did not know how to apply remorse at the time because she was a kid growing up in very different time to when I grew up. I was applying my value system to hers.

If kids are acting out then this is just a behaviour ... not who they are. They are doing something they think is working for them to perhaps survive.

Remorse is something that all our kids will learn later in life as they discover their own time limit to this life.

Don't stress ... just because your child has not learned remorse does not mean that it will not happen because chances are very much in favour that one day ... they will GET IT :)

karen alonge said...

thank you for sharing your personal experience with us. it's helpful to hear the perspective of a parent with an older child ...

mrsbethb said...

We did start counseling and I read "The Explosive Child." The book gave me insight on how my daughter perceives my rules and requests for compliance. I was able to see that changing how I approached discipline and requests was crucial to being a better parent. I saw an immediate difference in her behavior. At the psychologist office, she was able to guide me through finer points of how to prevent explosions and "let go" of unimportant events. That one was hard for me, but I "got it!" My daughter has seen the psychologist as well. We have not had an explosion in 3 weeks! That is a change from 3-5 a day. Thanks for your comments. I believe that my daughter's anger (and no remorse) came from feeling that she had no control. Once I changed my words and tone, things improved greatly!

karen alonge said...

wow, mrsbethb! congratulations! It's not easy to make these kinds of shifts in our parenting - kudos to you for digging deep and making it happen.

thanks so much for taking the time to keep in touch - it is wonderful to hear such a powerful success story!

take care,

kat said...

it is good to see that I am not on my own. I have a 7 year old son, he shows no remorse. I am a childminder and I have tried so many stratagies, I am at my witts
end. He can not share, play games he hits kicks bites and screams. He is big for his age and I have to drag him to his room which is now becoming very hard. We have seen local senco and they have mentioned disbraxia but that it is. When I phoned up to say I dont know what to do I am lost I need help, the lady advised me to get a grip and dont let him beat me. Please help me, I really am struggeling I need help before I go over the edge

karen alonge said...

hi kat-

kudos to you for dealing every day with such a challenging situation with your son.

I wonder if perhaps an occupational therapist might be able to help? There are therapeutic interventions for dyspraxia, which may take the edge off some of his most difficult behaviors.

Additionally, the OT might be able to teach you some strategies you can implement at home with him.

In the meantime, The Explosive Child by Ross Greene may also offer some helpful suggestions.

I hope you are getting plenty of support from friends who can simply listen without giving you advice - you will need somewhere to release all the stress and emotion that inevitably accumulates when dealing with such a challenging child. Having someone to talk to can keep us from going over the edge.

good luck, kat. I wish I had more to offer you.


Unknown said...

I have a 5 year old son, who seems to show remorse only when presented with the most dire consequences. From the age of 3 he has had problems standing in line with the other children, he would be the last to join the line, then he would run into the other children, sometimes knocking them over, as he lined up. Even then, he couldn't help but to swing his arms and bump his body into the other children. He has problems sitting with other children at the lunch table, getting distracted by others. He gravitates toward the most rowdy of the bunch and they always seem to get in trouble. At 3, he was always given tasks and activities with the older children in preschool, then when they "graduated" to kindergarten, he couldn't understand why he wasn't going...this seemed to make matters worse, and the school finally said that they couldn't keep him as he required too much attention. He couldn't sit in circle time and had problems on the playground with rough play. He then went to a Waldorf school, which lasted a year, but the exact same problems caused them to ask him to leave. He is now in a Catholic school, which started out incredibly well, and now his behaviors are coming out again. The teacher has asked us to seek a specialist to monitor and assess his behavior. He had been in counseling, but that didn't seem to have much of an effect on his behavior. My ex-wife and I are at our wits end, and my current partner wants us to move as she can't handle his behaviors and doesn't trust him around her 8 year old daughter. When he is around someone who is evaluating him, such as a counselor, he is an angel of a child, and we're often told that he has no issues whatsoever. He is also in an after school program that he seems to excel in...I'm so frustrated, I don't know what to do...

karen alonge said...

my hat is off to you, Donald. sounds like you are facing some big challenges.

I hope you will take a look at the resources I mention in this post, especially The Explosive Child by Ross Greene, and let me know what you think.

It also sounds like perhaps your son may have some sensory integration issues. This is not my area of expertise, but there's a comprehensive list of indicators here: http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/sensory-processing-disorder-checklist.html

If you recognize your son in this checklist you may want to consider an evaluation by an occupational therapist. OT can really make a difference.

In some states, the public schools are mandated to provide free screenings, even for kids birth to kindergarten.

In the meantime, I hope you have a source of support who you can call on to listen while you discharge some of the perfectly normal feelings of frustration you are experiencing.

I hope this helps, and please keep in touch.


karen alonge said...

one additional thought - you mentioned that he's an angel while being evaluated. I suspect that when he's one-on-one with someone, he acts fine because he feels safe and connected.

groups of kids are pretty inherently stressful places to be, and under stress, we all regress. it might be worth paying close attention to what is going on around him when he's behaving as well as when he loses control. this might clue you in on his triggers, and once you've identified them, you might be able to help him set his stage for prosocial behavior.

Unknown said...

thanks so much, Karen, I will go check out the Explosive Child at the library. I looked at the Sensory Integration Dysfunction site, and another parent at the Waldorf school had also suggested looking into this 'disorder'. There are many things that are remarkably different from my son's symptoms and the symptoms that they describe. His fine motor skills are highly developed, in fact, his drawings are consistently displayed on the school's art board. The art teacher there has taken me aside many times to tell me what an incredible artist he is, from his color choices to his imagination and technique (which makes me feel very proud, to say the least). He is very physical, and relishes contact, never shying away from it. I often said to friends that my son is going to end up being a linebacker because of his physical nature during play. He learns very quickly and absorbs everything around him, then comments how he is bored, the teachers keep giving him more and more to do, and he doesn't seem to have a limit. But when he is left with downtime, where his mind isn't engaged, such as lunch time, he consistently has problems focusing. He has to be reminded to eat, and sometimes a teacher must sit with him, as he wants to interact with the other children constantly. You may be right, he may be compensating for the stressful environment of a group with his silly behavior (another thing the teachers at the Waldorf school 'complained' about). A silver lining to my last post: After writing it, I met with the vice-principal of the school who mentioned how much she adored my son, and how he was very popular with the teachers and students. She did not agree that he seemed to show no remorse, instead thought he was hiding the remorse, because it affected him so greatly. She also believed that this behavior would 'go away' as he adapted to his environment, and that she didn't think he needed assessment, just observation. I know there must be an answer, and treatment, to gently steer him from this behavior...

karen alonge said...

thanks for the update, Donald. it's so wonderful to hear that your son not only has an attentive and dedicated advocate in you, but that the vice-principal also sees his strengths. he's a lucky kid! keep us posted.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned "unwinding trauma responses that impair normal functioning."? My 5 year old kindergartner seems to feel quite threatened by other children at school and lashes out either verbally or physically. It's as though people that come with her space threaten her but yet she can be a bit impulsive and poke or bother others and not pick up on their cues that they do not enjoy that and wish for her to stop. She has always had a struggle with too much noise - for example she is the child who typically squeals that she wants the radio off after 20-30 seconds in the car... Her issues were there and we were leary of her starting kinder since she seemed a little less mature than the other children, but put her in anyway. We've since had two deaths in the family and also she watched her younger sibling (by 18 months) have a seizure in the car right next to her last summer. I'm thinking that maybe their is a bit of trauma going on that we need to address? Is there someone that you recommend in the San Antonio, Texas area?

Anonymous said...

By the way, the same 5 year old lost her primary caregiver at 15 months, lost the bottle at the same time and cried for months with a stressed out mommy when we moved cities and I transitioned from working full time to being a stay at home mom. (I'm thinking this is maybe when some of the trauma began) She does not feel remorse when she lashes out at other people - whether verbally or physically.

karen alonge said...

ohhh, poor thing! sounds like she's got a lot on her inner plate. she's lucky to have you to help her get this stuff out of her system.

I'm not able to recommend anyone in Texas. if any of my readers have worked with someone you really like, please feel free to comment here.

I am a huge fan of Hand in Hand Parenting, and they may be able to give you some referrals. Here's an article from their site about overcoming trauma that I really resonate with. If you do, too, then you might try contacting them for a referral to a Hand in Hand friendly practitioner in your area ...


I wish you all the best with this. It can be really hard to be present with a child who is acting out without getting upset ourselves. I hope you have a great support system to vent to when you become frustrated with her. It happens to all of us!

take care, and please feel free to come back and let us know how things are going.


Anonymous said...

I have a 7 yr old daughter that likes to hit other kids, her grandfather, and father- it gets to the point that my father does not want her in his house.My mom babysits her, while I work.My father is retired for the past two years. My daughter was suspended 4 times last year, the last upsetting thing she did was put scissors across a little girl's neck-pretending to cut her. She had a high fever a one month old, and I have always wondered,if somehow it affected her brain part, where she knows it is wrong,, but does not realize the consequences that can occur, when she does something violent-I can tell that she does not take it seriously,and does not feel remorseful.

DrMatt said...

I just wanted to say to several of these comments--sensory processing disorder can look a lot of different ways. My son who has sensory processing disorder bumps into other children but is an angel with adults one-on-one. There are different subgroups. Plenty of children are sensory-seeking. I also wanted to add about remorse--this is something that the teachers and principal of the school bring up, but it's not clear to me what they are looking for in remorse and why it is so important. My 6-yr-old son certainly has empathy in a lot of situations, but he doesn't demonstrate it at the times/when the teachers want him to. I think, like that one poster said, that there are some moral overtones that have affected the way some people/teachers are looking for children to "show remorse."

karen alonge said...

'Remorse' is such a loaded and complicated topic. there are lots of factors that can mask or suppress the inherent sadness and regret that we feel when we hurt someone. many of those factors can be worked through and released.

I know I sound like a broken record here, but I really respect the work of Patty Wipfler at www.handinhandparenting.org. There are many helpful (and free) articles there that might give you some insight as to how to proceed in this type of situation.

I also admire the work of Dr. Ross Greene (The Explosive Child and other books).

Both of these experts believe that children do well when they can, and when they can't, they need our help. Once we as parents have identified a pattern, it's possible for us to step in at some point in the cascade and interrupt it. It's not always easy or simple, and doesn't always work perfectly, but it feels better than watching the chain of events unfold powerlessly from the sidelines.

If you'd like, check out Patty's articles on aggression and let us know what you think.

karen alonge said...


yes, thank you for reiterating the point that sensory issues have many different manifestations that show up in different contexts. Parents often become detectives, taking close notice of what conditions require closer supervision and quicker/earlier intervention. Good for you for already identifying some of those situations for your son!

I agree that there are often moral overtones to the concept of remorse, and it's too bad that they sometimes obscure the reality that something is going on for the child that is keeping him from feeling, something that a compassionate and attentive caregiver may be able to provide some assistance with.

I think you may enjoy the articles on www.handinhandparenting.org. If you check them out, let us know what you think.


Andy Banks said...

My son is five years old. He is a perfect angel at daycare and all his teachers say that he is very polite and is rarely, if ever aggressive towards them or other kids. However, when he is at home it is another story.
Usually, a set of circumstances escalates his anger until he just looses it. Other time he will switch from being just fine to acting angrily in a second for no reason at all. If something triggers his anger he just goes into this rage. He will kick, punch, bite and basically do anything he can to hurt you. He gets this evil blank look on his face and nothing you can say or do can snap him out of it. The only thing you can do is sit on him or lock him in his room so he doesn’t hurt you or anyone else. Just recently he has begun telling my wife and me (more my wife) that he is going to kill us.
Most disturbing to my wife and is that he doesn’t seem to be remorseful for this behavior. After he is disciplined for saying or doing something you would expect him to show remorse for he just acts as if nothing has happened. He never says or acts as if he is sorry for something he has done.
His behavior has left us feeling depressed and worried that our son might grow up to be a delinquent, scared that he will truly hurt our 3yr old son (who shows none of these characteristics) and broken hearted because we love him so much and just want him to grow up and be a happy, functioning human being. We have dealt with this for most of his life and we just don’t know what to do. We love him so much and there is a lot about him that is so promising. He is an intelligent, athletic child and he could have such a positive impact on the world. I just don’t know what do.

karen alonge said...

hey andy - I'm hoping you read through the other comments so you don't feel so alone in this. there are a whole bunch of articles on www.handinhandparenting.org that you may find helpful.

And Heather Forbes at www.beyondconsequences.com is doing some powerful work with behaviors like this as well.

You might also check out Ross Greene's book The Explosive Child , and Barbara Probst's book When the Labels Don't Fit http://www.whenthelabelsdontfit.com/Site/Sample%20Strategies.html

we'd love to hear what you think about these resources - please feel free to keep us updated as things unfold.


Anonymous said...


I am not sure if you're still checking these posts but I have 2 boys, 8 and 4 who both have concerned me with "lack of remorse"issues. I discovered the Explosive Child books which really helped. I think the hardest thing is that somehow this "generation" doesn't have the shame/remorse I remember having. Maybe our parents were much more severe? I have worried about exactly the same things Andy and his wife have worried about...I will say that my oldest was SO SCARY at age 5 (literally attacking me in explosive rages) but he has calmed so much and now understands the need to control his anger. We did take him to a counselor for a year who said his issues were "behavioral" which meant nothing to us. The best help was for ME to get parenting counseling from an experienced counselor who coached me on dealing with his outbursts. Some very helpful things were to simply let things go: Like pajama day whenever you want it and if you don't want breakfast, fine. I realized that his explosions were triggered by my steadfastness in expectations and his inability to handle the unexpected. LIterally the most inflexible person!
The Explosive Child (approaches A , B or C) are so helpful even though they go against everything we all grew up with.

karen alonge said...

thank you so much for taking the time to post a comment, anonymous. it's so helpful for parents to hear from someone a bit further down the path who can provide insight and reassurance that things can change and improve.

your kids are blessed that you were willing to get the support you needed and make some modifications to help family life become smoother. kudos to you!

thanks again for providing some grounded hope by sharing your experience.


Anonymous said...

My son is 6 yrs old and he does whatever he wants,when I correct him he keep telling me he hates me and he wished he had another mother.

What can I do to????

karen alonge said...

hopefully you read through all the comments here and checked out the references I recommended, including www.handinhandparenting.org. I think it would be best to schedule a phone session in order to adequately address your question - feel free to contact me at karen@karenalonge.com if you would like to do that.

take care,

Anonymous said...

My six year old stepson killed our pet bird while he was visiting his father and I last week. When we asked him how it happened, he said he squished her by smacking her with his hand while she was out on the floor. He said he did it because it was my favorite bird and I loved my bird. He also pulled the head off one of our ducks after asking me all day if I loved them. He has been watching "Megamind" the whole time he's been here, which is a Disney/Pixar movie about an anti-hero. He has been calling himself "The Collector" which is the name of the main bad guy character in the game Little Big Planet (a children's game). Today, now that he's gone, I cleaned his room up and found a notebook. He had written "you will die" on the front page. I don't know what to do. My husband, of course, still wants to be with his child, but I'm not sure I can be around him anymore. I fear for my safety. My husband and I are trying to conceive; I fear for the safety of a newborn around this child. There is little to no communication with the child's mother and she encourages his behavior by belittling me and the father in front of the boy. She has said he is on medication for ADHD, but she won't tell us what kind. She has moved and won't tell us where she lives or where the boy goes to school now. Pickup and dropoff is at the grandparent's home. I don't know what to do. My husband has no support from his family and has been effectively cut out of the child's life except for visitation. I am scared for my life, my husband's life, the life of my pets, and the life of the child we will (hopefully) soon have. Please, PLEASE HELP

karen alonge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
karen alonge said...

dear anonymous -

I'm so sorry your family is going through this ... it must be deeply distressing for all involved.

It seems to me that this situation calls for professional intervention from a licensed family therapist.

You might try asking your doctor or pastor, or the local elementary school for referrals.

You might also investigate www.beyondconsequences.com -- I believe that Heather Forbes LCSW works with intense situations such as what you describe, and she may be able to refer you to a local therapist who specializes in her approach.

I wish you all the best and commend you for being persistent in seeking the help and support that you all deserve. Something like this is just too big for any of us to handle alone...

I hope this helps in some small way,

Unknown said...

I happened to stumble across your post today after receiving another call from the preschool Director where my 5 year old attends. He is nearly an exact replica of how you described your son and the events you identified regarding academic mentality, little expression of temorse, and frequently in trouble for playing too rough with his peers. My son, too, seems to need time apart from others to be alone...I can often see an improvement in hid behavior with even a short 15-30 minute break. My son also seems to sleep or need more sleep when these episodes occur. Do you think they can be connected with growth spurts? I recognize that there are other children at preschool/daycare, but do you think it's unrealistic to ask for a "time out" from his peers even before the behavior occurs? Perhaps time to draw or "read" through a book alone each day? I'd love to know more about your journey and how you are handling your son's situation as I am going through the exact same thing!

karen alonge said...

hi Cara -

Thanks for your comment.

I received the inquiry in italics at the top of my post from a parent who may or may not be still following these comments, so I can't speak to the outcome of the situation.

However, I think your idea of a time out BEFORE the behavior occurs is very wise. If you and his teachers can do some detective work together to help you piece together a sense of what circumstances and factors lead to the problem behavior, they will hopefully be able to intervene at school in a positive way before it gets to that point. You could even think of this as a time-IN, where he can get attention and redirection while he's still acting appropriately. This sounds like a skillful way to support your son's success.

I've also heard positive things from parents about enrolling their children in martial arts training (many programs will take five year olds) as it gives the child an appropriate context and reward for physical prowess as well as clear boundaries about when it is not okay.

wishing you all the best,

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Karen,. I know it's been quite a while since anyone has posted here. I stumbled across this blog while researching how to handle a new foster son who is non-remorseful. Thank you for all of your input and guidance. It is wonderful to find resources like this.

karen alonge said...

Thanks for taking the time to post, Unknown. I'm glad to hear you found it helpful.

Thank YOU for taking care of foster children! What a gift you are giving those kids. :)

karen alonge said...

This comment is for anonymous, who wrote to me about "Sally." I did not post your comment because I didn't want to reveal too much about your situation publicly.

Bless your heart for all you've done to help this child!

The situation seems more complex than I could do justice to here, but you might consider checking out www.handinhandparenting.org and reading their free articles. If you find their approach to be a good fit for you, they have consultants who can provide individual guidance for situations like what you describe.

I hope you have access to help and support -- what you are doing is very challenging and you deserve a safe place to vent and recharge!

kind regards,

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,

Thank You for responding. Wow, I honestly thought you would tell me I am just a little overly concerned and this will work itself out. It is so hard when I am not the parent or even related. I try hard not to overstep my boundaries, though I know I do, because I have been allowed, and I am careful not to go too far.

I really do trust and respect the parents, I just feel they need to be more proactive. Unfortunately, the passive form of parenting they have chosen is what I see out of all young parents nowadays.

Thank You for the recommendation. I will check it out.

Leslie said...

I’ve just stumbled upon these posts. The last 2 moms in particular, your sons’ issues sound just like my grandson. Please take your kid to an occupational therapist for an evaluation and screening for Sensory Processing Disorder. Playing too rough with others, unable to keep hands to oneself, needing quiet breaks from recess play, anger outbursts and trouble regulating emotions- these are all red flags for sensory processing issues.

karen alonge said...

thanks, Leslie. Great advice.

Anonymous said...

You have been patient at answering most parents. It means a lot to them and also to us who go thru looking for answers.

I'm Reading thru every post from parents here past years and just tearing up with sadness. Yes, Its 2021 folks, We have all come out of COVID lockdowns, Masks are almost off. But the effect of Virtual schooling seem to have had a MAJOR impact on my 16yr old son. He already suffers from Sensory Integration dysfunction and is either oversensitive to movements and lacks self-awareness and is disorganized. Now that he is getting close to Senior year, he is overwhelmed and thinks the only way to escape from Mommy's prompts (of-course he thinks am annoying) is to watching youtube for hours and playing Videogames.
Now he started swearing a lot that he does to his little 8yr old sister. Time-outs, taking away electronics or even yelling at him out of frustration, NOTHING WORKS. We are frustrated and depressed. I feel we should try a psychologist. Not sure if this will work or make it worse. I know my son wouldn't cooperate. He is at a stage where he boldly ridicules us and is very defiant without remorse. If working thru a psychologist could work, what kind of psychologist should we try? Please HELP. Its a critical Year before he applies to college and we are worried.

karen alonge said...

Hello Anonymous with a 16 yr old son in 2021-

It sounds really tough for you and your family, and you all deserve tons of support. I don't feel I can do your question justice here, but I would be happy to offer you a free one hour phone consultation to see what we can come up with together for you to try. After that, if you want to continue working together, I offer a client-determined sliding scale to ensure that finances are never a barrier to getting help. Please email me directly at karen@karenalonge.com and we'll find a time to talk.

In the meantime, as site I really like that may offer some guidance is www.ahaparenting.com. The site is well organized and it should be fairly easy to locate the articles about teens.

Looking forward to connecting,