Remorseless school ager

Why you child might not feel guilty about acting out

Q: My seven-year-old son got in trouble for invading a classmate’s personal space. His teacher dealt with the problem on the spot, but, like me, is puzzled over my son’s lack of remorse. He’s never acted this way before.

A: Children this age can have difficulty managing their intense feelings. They are still developing the capacity for feeling guilt, and continue to need a parent’s help with understanding their feelings and behaviour.

Because a lack of remorse is unusual for your son, his behaviour at school may have been a response to something that had happened previously, which the teacher perhaps didn’t know about. Ask your son if something happened prior to the incident at school; he may think because he didn’t start the interaction, he isn’t to blame and shouldn’t be punished.

You can teach your son that each person needs to be responsible for his own behaviour, regardless of who started it. Teach him about a person’s need for personal space; at the same time, be open to the possibility that he feels his own space was violated, and help him learn to manage his emotions by suggesting some strategies for interacting with classmates, such as telling them when he needs space, talking to the teacher if someone bothers him, or ignoring a classmate’s unwanted behaviour and walking away.

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