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Childhood Mental Health: Conduct Disorders


The term conduct disorder refers to a complicated group of behavioural and emotional problems in youngsters. Children and adolescents with this disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They are often viewed by other children, adults and social agencies as bad or delinquent, rather than mentally ill. Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences.

Symptoms and Signs

Children or adolescents with conduct disorder may exhibit some of the following behaviours:

  • Aggression towards people and animals: including bullying; intimidation; use of a weapon; physical cruelty; etc.
  • Destruction of Property: including, for example, deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention to cause damage and deliberately destroying other's property.
  • Deceitfulness, lying, or stealing.
  • Serious violations of rules: e.g. truancy; runs away from home; stays out at night despite parental objections.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Children who exhibit these behaviours should receive a comprehensive evaluation. Many children with a conduct disorder may have coexisting conditions such as mood disorders , anxiety , Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder , substance abuse, ADHD , learning problems, or thought disorders which can also be treated.
Research shows that youngsters with conduct disorder are likely to have ongoing problems if they and their families do not receive early and comprehensive treatment. Without treatment, many youngsters with conduct disorder are unable to adapt to the demands of adulthood and continue to have problems with relationships and holding a job. They often break laws or behave in an antisocial manner.
Treatment of children with conduct disorder can be complex and challenging. Treatment can be provided in a variety of different settings depending on the severity of the behaviours. Adding to the challenge of treatment are the child's uncooperative attitude, fear and distrust of adults. In developing a comprehensive treatment plan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist may use information from the child, family, teachers, and other medical specialities to understand the causes of the disorder.
Behaviour therapy and psychotherapy are usually necessary to help the child appropriately express and control anger. Special education may be needed for youngsters with learning disabilities. Parents often need expert assistance in devising and carrying out special management and educational programs in the home and at school. Treatment may also include medication in some youngsters, such as those with difficulty paying attention, impulse problems, or those with depression. Treatment is rarely brief since establishing new attitudes and behaviour patterns takes time. However, early treatment offers a child a better chance for considerable improvement and hope for a more successful future.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. Based on the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry "Facts for Families" series:

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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002