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Conduct Disorder in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.


Conduct disorder

means 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 or her 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. Conduct disorder is more common in boys than in girls.

Specific behaviors that are common with conduct disorder:

Your child may do any of the following:

  • Act out aggressively with rage or act like he or she does not care about anything
  • Act out sexually or commit sexual assault
  • Lie to get his or her way or try to explain behavior so he or she 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

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child talks about hurting himself, herself, or others.

Call your child's doctor if:

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


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 or herself.
  • 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 child's 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.

Create a structured environment for your child:

  • Do not allow exceptions to the rules. Set limits and tell your child what you expect from him or her. Keep your child on a schedule. Set bed and wake times, study times, and free time. Make sure everyone has your child follow the same rules. This includes babysitters, family members, and teachers.
  • 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 or her own behavior and how to handle stressful situations.
  • Have your child take a time out for negative behavior. This will allow your child time to relax and rethink his or her behavior.
  • Monitor your child for alcohol and drug use. Talk to your child's healthcare provider if you think he or she 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.
  • Help your child create healthy habits. Healthy habits include regular exercise, nutritious food, and regular sleep. Too little sleep, a lack of physical activity, or poor nutrition can trigger or worsen behavior problems. Have your child go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. Offer healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole-grain breads, and low-fat dairy products. Limit foods high in sugar, fat, or salt. Encourage your child to get at least 1 hour of physical activity every day.
    Family Walking for Exercise

Follow up with your child's doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

For support and more information:

  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
    3615 Wisconsin Avenue NW
    Washington , DC 20016
    Phone: 1- 202 - 966-7300
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 6200, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address:

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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.

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