Conduct Disorder

What is conduct disorder?

Conduct disorder is when a child's behavior is physically and verbally aggressive toward other people or property. A child with conduct disorder acts out in a way that is not appropriate for his age. The behaviors are repetitive and often start at a young age and worsen over time. A child with conduct disorder often has other mental health conditions, such as depression, ADHD, or learning disabilities.

What increases my child's risk for conduct disorder?

  • Abusive parents or parents who punish harshly

  • Parental neglect, lack of family involvement, or a family that fights consistently

  • Parental divorce and parental conflict after the divorce

  • Parental drug or alcohol abuse

  • Lack of home rules and little or no supervision in the home

  • Inability to communicate or interact appropriately in a social setting

  • Living in poor conditions

What specific behaviors are common with conduct disorder?

Your child may do any of the following:

  • Act out aggressively with rage or act like he does not care about anything

  • Act out sexually or commit sexual assault

  • Lie to get his way or try to explain his behavior so he does not get in trouble

  • Not follow directions at home or school or get poor grades in school

  • Run away from home, stay out past curfew, or skip school

  • Start fights, bully others, use a weapon to hurt another person, or hurt animals

  • Steal from others or destroy other people's property, including breaking into homes or starting fires

How is conduct disorder diagnosed?

A diagnosis of conduct disorder may not occur until your child is 10 to 14 years of age. Diagnosis is often confirmed when your child's behaviors get in the way of his functioning in society, school, or a job. Your child will need a psychiatric assessment which may include the following questions:

  • What is your home life like?

  • Have you ever been verbally, physically, or sexually abused?

  • Have you witnessed others being abused in any way?

  • Have you been the victim of a crime, serious injury or illness, or a natural disaster?

  • Have you thought of harming yourself or others?

How is conduct disorder treated?

Depending on your home situation, your child may need to be removed from home for treatment. Ask for more information about these and other treatments for conduct disorder:

  • Antidepressant medicine is given to treat depression and improve your child's mood.

  • Antipsychotic medicine is given to decrease aggressive behavior. The medicine may also keep your child from hurting himself.

  • Behavior therapy is done to help your child learn new ways to react to situations. Your child may be rewarded for behavioral reactions that are positive.

  • Family therapy helps families develop coping skills and understand ways to improve behaviors. This may include adding more structure into your daily life with specific rules and actions to take if rules are not followed.

  • Skills therapy is done to help your child interact appropriately in social situations.

How can I help manage my child's behavior?

  • Do not allow exceptions to the rules. Set limits and tell your child what you expect from him. Keep your child on a schedule. Set bed and wake times, study times, and free time.

  • Give your child positive feedback when earned. Positive words or rewards when your child follows rules will help promote good behaviors.

  • Have your child keep a diary. The diary can be used to write down feelings and reactions to situations. Your child can begin to better understand his own behavior and how to better handle stressful situations.

  • Have your child take a time out for negative behavior. This will allow your child time to relax and rethink his behavior.

  • Monitor your child for alcohol and drug use. Talk to your child's healthcare provider if you think he is using alcohol or drugs.

  • Talk to your child about safe sex. This may help decrease the risk for sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV.

Where can I find more information about conduct disorder?

  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
    3615 Wisconsin Avenue NW
    Washington , DC 20016
    Phone: 1- 202 - 966-7300
    Web Address: http://www.aacap.org
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Public Information & Communication Branch
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's aggression or other behaviors do not improve, even with treatment.

  • Your child does not sleep well or sleeps more than usual.

  • Your child will not eat or eats more than usual.

  • Your child cannot make it to his next therapy appointment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child talks about hurting himself or others.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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