Saturday 21 September 2019

Dear David Coleman: My son laughs at people getting hurt and has no empathy

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David Coleman

David Coleman

Q My eight-year-old son laughs when someone hurts themselves and can't stop himself. At other times too he seems to lack empathy. But he is extremely affectionate and can show a very caring side. He has a lot of friends, but no best friend. In a school outing he will be the one that is left sitting on the bus without a partner. Are his lack of empathy, laughing at inappropriate situations and inability to establish close friendships all linked in some way?

A It is possible that your son just gets overwhelmed at times by his emotions. For him, the laughing might be his way of deflecting the strength of another emotion, like distress, anxiety or anger. How does he describe why this happens?

Most eight-year-olds lack empathy, simply because of their age. Being able to view things from someone else's perspective is quite an advanced emotional skill. The fact that he is affectionate and caring also suggests that, actually, his emotional development is quite typical for children his age.

It sounds like he is sociable and interested in being with other children too.

The lack of a "best" friend may be more a feature of the particular social dynamic of the class, rather than a problem with your son's social development.

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