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Identifying Anti-Social Behaviour in Children

Identifying Anti-Social Behaviour in Children

“Greg has been suspended from school two times this term for fighting and vandalising school property. at home, he constantly defies his parent’s orders, steals money, and bullies his siblings. His parents are worried.” 

Antisocial behavior can be defined as acts of intentional hostility and aggression directed towards other people, property, and even animals. Antisocial behaviours exist on a continuum from mild to severe and can be observed and diagnosed in children as young as 3 years old. Antisocial behaviours are more commonly observed among males than females. 


Many children will display mild antisocial behaviours as they grow up such as lying or fighting and will outgrow it as they go.  

But if you believe that this behavior is extreme and harmful to others, you should look out for the following: 


Antisocial acts may be overt or covert 

When you think of antisocial acts, you may be looking only at obviously aggressive actions. But, antisocial behaviours can be overt (easily observed) or covert (hidden and not easily observed).  

Overt behaviours to watch out for includes: bullying, hitting others, verbal abuse, impulsive behaviours, animal cruelty, defiant behavior, fighting, being bullied by others, poor grades, drug and alcohol abuse.  

Covert behaviours to watch out for includes: disobeying rules and laws, vandalism, stealing, lying and manipulation, skipping school, sexually abusing others, and arson (fire-setting). 


Lack of empathy, guilt or remorse 

A lack of empathy is a major feature of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), often paired with a neglect for other people’s rights. Empathy has been defined as the ability to understand how other people feel, even if you have never been in their shoes.  

People who lack empathy often blame others for their mistakes, shut down the opinions of others, have a difficulty maintaining the relationships in their life, and can’t understand the emotions of other people.  

They tend to have strong emotional responses such as anger or frustration when dealing with the emotions of others because they cannot understand it, often they will blame the person for being too sensitive. The likelihood that your child has antisocial personality disorder increases if they intentionally harm or hurt other people and feel no remorse or guilt for their actions.  


Manipulative attitude 

Contrary to what people think, people will antisocial behaviours are not always grumpy and rude. They can be very manipulative and excel at misleading others. They can be funny, flattering, clever, and charming. Using these qualities, they can get other children around them to do what they want, even illegal and harmful things.  


Impulsiveness and Unnecessary risk-taking behaviour 

Impulsiveness and risk-taking behaviours are major features of antisocial behaviour. Impulsiveness means to act without thinking or without taking the consequences of the action into consideration. Impulsive children will engage in acts that may be dangerous to themselves and others without much thought. They are more likely to take risks that other kids shy away from such as jumping into the well to pick balls or climbing tall, unsteady structures. Impulsive, risk-taking behaviour is a trait most antisocial children have.  



Antisocial behaviour can create serious problems if left unmanaged until adulthood. In many cases, it escalates into conduct disorder (CD) or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Once you observe that your child is displaying antisocial behaviours, take them to a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.