How Do I Help My 4 Year Old Son Show Compasion?


My son laughs when a person gets hurt and smiles when someone is crying. He just does not show much remorse or compassion to others his age or especially to me. What is this called and what can I do?????

This Disclaimer applies to the Answer Below
  • Dr. Schwartz responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
  • Dr. Schwartz intends his responses to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; answers should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).
  • Questions submitted to this column are not guaranteed to receive responses.
  • No correspondence takes place.
  • No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Schwartz to people submitting questions.
  • Dr. Schwartz, Mental Help Net and CenterSite, LLC make no warranties, express or implied, about the information presented in this column. Dr. Schwartz and Mental Help Net disclaim any and all merchantability or warranty of fitness for a particular purpose or liability in connection with the use or misuse of this service.
  • Always consult with your psychotherapist, physician, or psychiatrist first before changing any aspect of your treatment regimen. Do not stop your medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.

Hi Mom,

The very first thing you can do is to stop worrying. Your son is only four years old. There is no word to fix onto your son other than he is four years old. Oh, yes, I said that already (smile).


Please do not misunderstand me. It is good that you are an alert and caring parent. You just need to be more patient and understanding.

At four years of age children have a very little idea about things like compassion. That’s because they tend to be focused on their selves. It’s kind of like telling him to “act his age.” Well, he is.

Therapists are Standing By to Treat Your Depression, Anxiety or Other Mental Health Needs

Explore Your Options Today


However, what is most important for a parent to do is to behave in the ways you eventually want him to do. Children imitate the behaviors of their parents. They closely watch us, carefully observe everything we do, including how we treat other people. Therefore, its important for you and your husband to show compassion and love to one another, as well as to him. Oh, this is why its important for kids to be shielded from violent television shows, including cartoons. They learn all the wrong messages from those things.

What you can also do is to calmly explain to him that he “should not laugh when Mommy gets hurt because it makes her feel bad.” He may not really know what you mean right now but it gets stored in his brain and will take hold. However, if you yell and punish him he will only remember being punished.

One more thing: Little children such as your son can be very aggressive towards each other. That is why parents need to be there supervising. They get themselves into situations where they need adults to calm things down and explain why they have to act nice, even if little “Johnny” was being unfare.

Please be patient with your son and do not make him into a psychological case.

Best of Luck

More "Ask Dr. Schwartz" View Columnists

Myndfulness App

Designed to Help You Feel Better Daily

Myndfuless App Rating

Download Now For Free

Learn More >