Conduct Disorder

What is it?

  • Conduct disorder is also called disruptive behavior disorder. This behavior (how your child acts) is seen in children less than 18 years old. Your child may not follow rules and may have problems getting along with people. He may start fights with others. Some children with conduct disorder hurt animals, set fires, destroy things, steal, or lie.

  • Children with conduct disorder often have learning problems, like attention deficit disorder (ADD). Children that have conduct disorder often have problems with anxiety and depression. Conduct disorder is more common in boys.


It is not known what causes conduct disorder. These things may increase the chance that your child could have conduct disorder.

  • Being left alone often without older people around.

  • Being left alone without activities to do by themselves.

  • Having at least one parent who is an alcoholic.

  • Having one or both parents who show angry or harmful behavior.

  • Having parents that yell at their child or hit them.

Signs and Symptoms:

Your child may show signs of conduct disorder as early as 4 years old. Conduct disorder signs may get worse as your child gets older. Or, the signs may get better with treatment. You child may have one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Your child may argue and refuse to follow adult rules. He may be angry and lose his temper. Your child may lie, cheat, skip school, or run away from home. Or, he may pick fights or fight with a weapon, such as a gun or knife. Your child may hurt others, such as tying a child to a tree. He may also hurt animals or set fires.

  • Your child may blame others for his problems or bad behavior. He may harm people's belongings, like breaking car or house windows. He may use alcohol, cigarettes, street drugs, or be sexually active at an early age.

  • Some children with conduct disorder get better. But, your child's behavior may get worse as he gets older, especially without treatment. Some teenagers with conduct disorder become adults with criminal and emotional problems.


At first, your child may be seen in a clinic or your caregiver's office. He may need to see his caregiver several times a week until he feels better. Caregivers will ask him questions about how he feels now. You may also be asked how he has felt in the past. Your child and family members may have meetings with his caregiver. These meetings can help family members understand conduct disorder. Caregivers will help him talk about his feelings. In some cases, medicine may be helpful in controlling some of your child's symptoms. He may need to go to the hospital for other tests and treatment.


Accepting that your child has conduct disorder is hard. You and your child may feel angry, sad, or frightened. You may even feel relieved to know why your child is not like other children. These feelings are normal. Talk to your child's caregiver, family, or friends about these feelings. Caregivers will talk with you about how things are going at home. Your caregiver can help your family better understand how to react to a child with conduct disorder.

  • Your family may also want to join a support group. This is a group of people who have a child with conduct disorder. Ask your caregiver for the names and numbers of support groups in your town.

  • Ask your health care provider if they know about books that you can read. Reading about conduct disorder may help you better understand it. You can also call or write one of the following national organizations for more information.
  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
    3615 Wisconsin Avenue NW
    Washington , DC 20016
    Phone: 1- 202 - 966-7300
    Web Address:
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    141 Northwest Point Boulevard
    Elk Grove Village , IL 60007-1098
    Phone: 1- 847 - 434-4000
    Web Address:
  • 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:

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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