Conduct disorder is a type of behavior disorder. It’s when a child has antisocial behavior. They may disregard basic social standards and rules. They may also:
Skip school or run away (delinquent behavior)
Steal or do other things to violate the rights of others
Physically harm animals or other people, such as committing assault or rape
These behaviors sometimes happen together. But one or more may occur without the others.
Experts believe that many factors play a role in conduct disorder. These are:
A traumatic event
Past school failure
Some children with conduct disorders seem to have a problem in the frontal lobe of the brain. This interferes with a child’s ability to plan, stay away from harm, and learn from negative experiences.
Some experts believe that a series of traumatic experiences occurs for a child to develop a conduct disorder. These experiences then often lead to depressed mood, behavior problems, and involvement in a deviant peer group.
A conduct disorder is more common in boys than in girls. It's also more likely to develop in children or teens who come from homes that are:
Children with these mental health problems are also more likely to have conduct disorder:
Mood or anxiety disorders
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Learning problems or learning disorders
Children or teens who are considered to have a difficult temperament are more likely to develop behavior problems.
Most symptoms seen in children with conduct disorder also happen at times in children without this problem. But in children with the disorder, these symptoms occur more often. They also interfere with learning, school adjustment, and sometimes with the child’s relationships.
Each child’s symptoms may vary. But the 4 main groups of behaviors are described below.
Cruelty to others or animals
Using a weapon
Forcing someone into sexual activity, rape, or molestation
Intentionally destroying property (vandalism)
Not going to school (truancy)
Very early sexual activity
These symptoms may look like other mental health problems. Have your child see his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A child psychiatrist or qualified mental health expert can diagnose a conduct disorder. They will talk with parents and teachers about the child’s behavior and may observe the child. In some cases, your child may need mental health testing.
If you notice symptoms of conduct disorder in your child or teen, you can help by seeking a diagnosis right away. Early treatment can often prevent future problems.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment for conduct disorder may include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy. A child learns how to better solve problems, communicate, and handle stress. They also learns how to control impulses and anger.
Family therapy. This therapy helps make changes in the family. It improves communication skills and family interactions.
Peer group therapy. A child develops better social and interpersonal skills.
Medicines. These are not often used to treat conduct disorder. But a child may need them for other symptoms or disorders such as ADHD. These other disorders often occurs along with symptoms of conduct disorder.
Experts don’t know exactly why some children develop conduct disorder. Things such as a traumatic experience, social problems, and biological factors may be involved. To reduce the risk for this disorder, parents can learn positive parenting strategies. They can be good role models for their children. This can help to create a closer parent-child relationship and give the child with examples of how to respectfully treat other people, animals, and property. It can also create a safe and stable home life for the child.
Early treatment for your child can often prevent future problems. Here are things you can do to help your child:
Keep all appointments with your child’s healthcare provider.
Take part in family therapy as needed.
Talk to your child’s healthcare provider about other providers who will be involved in your child’s care. Your child may get care from a team that may include counselors, therapists, social workers, psychologists, teachers, school psychologists, school counselors, and psychiatrists. Your child’s care team will depend on their needs and how serious the disorder is.
Work closely with the staff at your child's school. A specialized educational plan may need to be developed to help your child succeed in school.
Tell others about your child’s conduct disorder. Work with your healthcare provider and schools to develop a treatment plan.
Reach out for support. Being in touch with other parents who have a child with conduct disorder may be helpful. If you feel overwhelmed or stressed out, talk with your healthcare provider about a support group for caregivers of children with conduct disorder.
Call your healthcare provider right away if your child:
Makes you worried about your own safety or the safety of others
Abuses or kills animals
Physically injures himself or others (bruises, head injuries, cuts, teeth marks)
Attacks other children or adults
Is barred from school or by neighbors because of his behavior
Feels extreme depression, fear, anxiety, or anger toward themselves or others
Feels out of control
Hears voices that others don’t hear
Sees things that others don’t see
Can’t sleep or eat for 3 days in a row
Shows behavior that concerns friends, family, or teachers, and others express concern about this behavior and ask you to seek help
Call 911 if your child has suicidal thoughts, a suicide plan, and the means to carry out the plan. Never leave them alone until the situation is assessed and treatment laid out. This may include a hospital stay.
Conduct disorder is a type of behavior disorder. It’s when a child has antisocial behavior.
Both genetic and environmental factors may play a role.
Children with other mental health problems are more likely to have this disorder.
Symptoms are divided into 4 main groups. They are aggression, destruction, deceitfulness, and violation of rules.
Therapy that helps the child interact better with others is the main treatment. Therapy may include both individual and family counseling. Medicines may be needed for other problems, such as ADHD.
Reach out for support. Being in touch with other parents who have a child with conduct disorder may be helpful.
Call 911 if your child has suicidal thoughts, a suicide plan, and the means to carry out the plan. Never leave the child alone.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.