Common Features of Conduct Disorder

The common features of conduct disorder are identified in four categories and occur for at least six months: aggression to people and/or animals, destruction of property, theft, and violations of rules and/or lying.

Aggression to People and/or Animals:

  • Often bullies, threatens or intimidates others
  • Often initiates physical fights
  • Has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., a bat, a broken bottle, knife, gun)
  • Has been physically cruel to people and/or animals
  • Has stolen while confronting a victim (e.g., assault)
  • Has forced someone into sexual activity

Destruction of Property:

  • Has deliberately set fires with the intention of causing serious damage
  • Has deliberately destroyed others’ property

Deceitfulness or Theft:

  • Has broken into someone else’s house or car
  • Often lies to obtain stuff or favors from others
  • Has stolen items without confronting the victim (e.g., shoplifting without breaking and entering; forgery)

Serious Violation of Rules:

  • Often stays out at night despite parental rules
  • Runs away from home
  • Frequently misses school

Why Conduct Disorder Occurs

Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including genetics and environmental factors such as poverty, school challenges, and traumatic life
experiences.

Conduct disorder refers to a group of behavioral and emotional difficulties in children and adolescents. Those with this disorder have difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way; their behavior is often impulsive and can be dangerous. These behaviors cause challenges with friends and school.

To be diagnosed, the behaviors listed must occur for at least a six-month period. Your family doctor will likely refer you and your child to a mental health professional for family and/or individual counseling.

Children with a conduct disorder may have other conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety, PTSD, substance use, ADHD, learning problems, or thought disorders which can also be treated. Research shows that youth with conduct disorder are likely to have ongoing problems with relationships, school, and work if they and their families do not receive early and comprehensive treatment.

Treatment takes time, developing new attitudes and behavior patterns requires patience. Treatment is often conducted in the context of the family. The family may require assistance with things such as parenting skills or management strategies for the affected child. Treatment may also include medication for some children, such as those with difficulty paying attention, impulse problems, or those with depression. Early treatment offers a child a better chance for considerable improvement and hope for a more successful future.

How You Can Help a Child With Conduct Disorder

If you suspect your child has any of the signs identified:

  • See your family doctor.
  • Focus on the positives; give your child praise and positive reinforcement when he/she cooperates.
  • Take your own time out if you are about to make the conflict with our child worse instead of better. This is good role-modeling for your child if he/she decides to take her own time out to prevent overreacting.
  • Work with others involved in your child’s life to ensure you are providing the same message to your child (i.e. teachers, coaches, etc.)