How to Discipline a Child Who Shows No Remorse

Portrait of girl (8-9) leaning on table
You can help your child feel remorse and develop a sense of empathy. (Image: D. Anschutz/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Dealing with a child who shows no remorse can be challenging, disturbing and even frightening, particularly if the child is your own. There are several reasons a child may fail to show remorse, some of which might be related to inherent conditions, such as Asperger's Syndrome. In other cases, particularly involving young teens and tweens, your child may be sorry, but might simply refuse to cave in and apologize. Recognizing the source of the problem is key to resolving this troubling issue.

Step 1

Seek understanding, not apology. According to Psychology Today, forcing a child to render an empty apology won't teach her anything and won't ease your mind. Instead, discuss the problem behavior and the feelings surrounding it. According to Maia Slalavitz, coauthor of "Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential - and Endangered," in Time Magazine, children can learn to understand the impact of their behavior as early as 14 months of age. If your child shoves another child, for example, you can start by asking her how she felt in the moment of the behavior.

Step 2

Progress from understanding to empathy. Once your child has learned to put her own feelings into words, try to make the connection to the other person's feelings, Slalavitz advises in Time Magazine. After your child acknowledges how shoving another child made her feel, ask her how she thought the other child felt. You might need to repeat this step a few times, but learning empathy is crucial to developing a sense of compassion and remorse.

Step 3

Refrain from spanking. As much as you might feel that an unrepentant child needs to be taught remorse, physical discipline may, in fact, have the opposite effect. Newsweek cites a study conducted at the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, which finds that children who are spanked are more likely to exhibit aggression and sexually masochistic behavior as adults. Rather than spanking, advises psychology professor Dacher Keltner in Time, encourage your child to talk about her behavior and its appropriateness. Take a time-out first if you are upset.

Step 4

Rule out possible disorders. Psychology Today reports that people with Asperger's syndrome, a condition similar to autism, may have difficulty expressing emotions like remorse and empathy. If you suspect this disorder in your child, speak to her pediatrician, who will likely refer you to a psychiatrist who can diagnose and treat your child. According to Kids Health, you'll need to receive specialized parental education to learn how to discipline a child with Asperger's Syndrome.

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