On other occasions we have talked about empathy, that ability to put on each other’s shoe, but what happens when empathy doesn’t exist? Lack of empathy involves a difficulty getting out of oneself and being able to be aware, understand or feel what someone else is experiencing. This inability occurs in many adults, but also in children.

If you suspect that your child is not empathetic to other people’s emotions and feelings, you can help him develop this ability. Yes, empathy can be learned and developed, in other articles we have recommended games, books or movies to keep it in mind.

How are children without empathy

The first thing we want to say is that except for serious disorders, there is no one who does not have empathy. This is the case of some personality disorders, such as narcissistic, antisocial or borderline disorder. The child may not be able to manifest empathy, or is not being raised in environments that encourage empathy. By the way, we must banish the myth that children with autism do not have empathy, because they are able to identify with other people’s emotions.

Unempathetic adults live immersed in their own reality and ignore the world of others, their problems and feelings. This same attitude is seen in children, who generally show importance only because of what happens to their closest relatives. Remember that children, also get tired, feel stress and get sick, such elements will also make them feel less empathy than usual.

In this sense Simon Baron-Cohen defines empathy as a continuous variable dividing into six degrees. And he also explains that it is more frequent to have a lack of it than an excess. Sometimes, not being empathetic, is typical of certain vital stages, such as adolescence, but this can not lead us to think that they are children or adolescents with zero empathy.

Why does this lack of empathy occur?


According to the research of the above-mentioned author, Baron-Cohen, there are several determinants when it comes to not feeling empathy. For example, the more testosterone a fetus generates in its mother’s womb, the less empathetic it will be after birth. This influence of testosterone is considered the reason why women are usually more empathetic than men.

Genes can also exert an influence when it comes to being more or less empathetic. Worse what influences capacity building most are experiences in childhood, and throughout their life, as well as experiences of neglect and abuse.

Since empathy develops, it is logical that at certain ages the child is not empathetic. This is a perfectly normal development trait. It is unrealistic to expect a child under 5 years to really empathize with others. It does not have the ability to put yourself in someone else’s place. True empathy for others develops over the age of 8 or 9.

Contributing factors


Children with attention deficit disorders with hyperactivity often have difficulty understanding empathy. The same applies to children who are stressed with too many emotional feelings from parents and caregivers, or children with addiction. In addition, personality disorders such as narcissism, borderline personality disorder and antisocial disorder, which also occurs in children, make it difficult to understand empathy.

Some signs that can alarm you about whether your child does not feel empathy include cruelty to animals, telling frequent lies, challenges to authority, bullying, aggressive behavior, lack of response to punishment, and lack of remorse for any vandal action.

It will be the therapist who will make an assessment of the child and give you the appropriate strategies so that you are able to cope better with the situation. It will also help you as a mother understand why your child behaves that way.