I get overly freaked out when I see Silas hit or bite somebody or grab a toy from another kid. I don’t think he actually does this more than most kids his age, but seeing such behavior from someone whose essential goodness is an article of faith…well, it’s disturbing. Especially disturbing is when he seems sort of interested or amused by someone else’s cries of pain. II know this is age-appropriate, but it doesn’t mean I have to be fine with it. One of my friends who works with preschoolers every day says that they’re all psychopaths, and I guess that’s true. I just don’t really feel like living with one.

That said, I get a little zing of happiness any time he shows even the slightest sign of moving beyond his inner Ted Bundy. I’ve been seeing more and more of what looks almost like empathy from him lately. He’s suddenly become quite concerned about the idea that anyone, anywhere, might be hungry. One afternoon, he started talking, quite insistently, about the idea that his friend Elisabeth might be hungry. “If she’s hungry, I’m sure her mama will feed her,” I said.

He thought for a minute. “James hungry?” he finally offered.

He adores my mom, but a few weeks ago, we were sitting on a friend’s porch, and he threw a block or something at her. It hit her in the knee, and she reacted pretty strongly. I said, “No, we don’t throw things at people. You hurt Grammie!” and he ignored me.

A few days later, though, we were at the same friend’s house, and JC sat in the rocking chair where Mom had been when Silas hurt her. Silas immediately started telling JC, “Silas hurt Grammie. Grammie in chair. Silas throw it. Silas hurt Grammie.” I was surprised that he remembered, and that he felt some remorse about it.

Yesterday evening, he clocked me in the head with his wooden car. It really hurt. He didn’t seem entirely unaffected by my shocked scream, but he wasn’t offering kisses or apologies, either.

That night, as we sat in the chair in his room, waiting for sleep to come, he said, “Silas hit Mama the car. Silas hurt Mama.” He patted my head, right where he had smacked me. He gave me a kiss. Then he said, “Silas throw it. Silas hurt Grammie in the rocking chair. Silas Grammie boo boo.” He really seemed sad about it. I tried to tell him that it was okay, that Grammie still loves him, but that next time, he should be careful to throw away from people. He just kept repeating, “Silas Grammie boo boo. Silas Mama boo boo,” and offering me kisses.

I think that the fact that he is remembering his transgressions, reflecting on them, and connecting them, is a good sign. It gives me hope, anyway, that he’ll eventually start imagining that other people have feelings.


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  1. Greta
    September 1, 2012

    Love this! There is something that is a greater need for him at the moment then thinking of someone else’s feelings. His own process. My take on it with my kids was that it was one way of interacting or getting a response, or even expressing something they didn’t have words for. Like, Adrian loved and envied his big brother and was (is still!)often happily aggressive with him. Jesse’s first year of Sunday school was tricky because he was frightened by and needed/wanted the other kids. He’d put both hands on their chest and shove them with all his strength! It IS disconcerting! Then later, as with Silas, there are signs of a mental struggle from the reaction, which is probably not what he was looking for exactly. Try some responses that give him words or alternative actions. When it happened in our family, I’d ask my kids if they wanted someone’s attention, to say hi to them or whatever else I could think of that came to me intuitively from the situation. Sometimes they just want what my mom calls emotional intensity! To be chased madly (playfully) about the house and roughed up or tickled!

  2. Shannon
    September 3, 2012

    Ok–I loved this! It reminded me of when my youngest was about 20 months old. He hit his sister in the head with a hard plastic toy. She cried, and I offered comfort to her and an ice pack. After watching the scene for a bit, the 20 month old picked up the toy again, threw it to the ground and then put his hand on his head and started crying and pointing to the refridgerator for an ice pack! I don’t know if this was a form of empathy, but it sure was smart to try to get the comfort without the pain!
    I love how Silas is talking through what he has done–it is really amazing what those little brains take in and remember!

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