Conduct Disorder (Child)

A conduct disorder is a recurring and lasting pattern of disturbing behavior outside of the normal childhood behavior. It is a real psychiatric disorder in childhood and adolescence. It is not just the usual disobedience and disrespect that children often show. Children and teens with this problem have great trouble following rules. They are often labeled “delinquent.” But this condition is considered a mental illness.

Signs and symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Consistent pattern of defiance and disobedience

  • Repeatedly loses temper easily

  • Always seems angry and resentful

  • Blames others for their mistakes

  • Excessively selfish and insensitive to the feelings of others

  • Bullying, picking fights, or use of weapons to cause harm to others

  • Cruelty to people or to animals

  • Stealing

  • Deliberate destruction of property (for example, fire-setting)

  • Breaking into other people’s property

  • Lying

  • Running away from home

  • Frequent truancy from school

It is important that your child or teen has a psychiatric evaluation to develop a plan for treatment. This problem is hard to treat. Early treatment offers the best chance. The goal is to address anger and bring about a change in attitude and behavior. Parents can also benefit from therapy. It can help you with your own feelings. It can also teach you how to best support your child in making changes.

Home care

Here is what you can do at home:

  • Work closely with your child's teachers and the school's mental health professionals. Develop a school multidisciplinary team (teacher, principal, psychologist, mental health provider, social worker, or nurse) to help both your child and your family manage the disruptive behaviors.

  • Listen without giving advice or trying to fix the problem.

  • Talk about the difference between right and wrong behaviors. Model appropriate behavior.

  • Focus on the important issues like "safety" concerns. Don’t overreact to the minor things.

  • Hold your ground. When you take a position, don’t give in just to be a friend. Holding a strong and consistent boundary is more important than pleasing during this stage of your child's life.

  • Acknowledge your child's anger without trying to make a point. ("Sounds like you are really angry about that..."). Realize that there are some things that you won't ever agree on. Allow for that.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider, or as advised. Maintain good communication with your child's school. You can then make changes in treatment as soon as needed.

Call 911

  • Call 911 if there is an immediate threat to your life or someone else's.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these happen:

  • Situations where you know or suspect your child has become a danger to himself or herself or others (teeth marks, head injuries, or bruises on the child with the behavior issue, his or her siblings, or other children)

  • Attacks on you or other adults

  • Cruelty to animals

  • Expulsion from school

  • Being barred from playgrounds by other parents or neighbors

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