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Quick Facts

Conduct Disorder


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Nov 2020| Content last modified Nov 2020
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What is conduct disorder?

Conduct is how people behave. Misconduct is misbehavior. Lots of children misbehave from time to time. Children sometimes break rules, take things without permission, or say things that aren't true.

Conduct disorder is:

  • A behavior problem in which a child repeatedly breaks many laws and rules

  • Misbehavior that's bad enough or frequent enough to cause significant problems for the child or others

Children with conduct disorders:

  • Act selfishly, don’t appear to care about the feelings of others, and may bully, damage property, lie, or steal without guilt

  • Are more likely to be boys

  • Often have parents with mental health problems such as substance abuse, ADHD, schizophrenia, or antisocial personality disorder

  • Often improve their behavior by the time they become adults

  • Doctors may have your child talk with a therapist, but the best treatment may be moving the child to a very structured setting such as a mental health facility

What are the symptoms of conduct disorder?

Conduct disorder usually begins in late childhood or early adolescence (teen years).

Children with conduct disorder don’t relate well to other people. They may:

  • Act selfishly and not care about other people’s feelings

  • Lie, cheat, and steal

  • Use illegal drugs

  • Bully or threaten others and get into fights

  • Be cruel to animals

  • Assume other people are threatening them and become aggressive

  • Run away from home and skip school

  • Damage property, especially by setting fires

  • Not have an appropriate sense of guilt

Sometimes children with conduct disorder talk about killing themselves. Always take suicidal behavior seriously and immediately take your child to the doctor or a hospital emergency department.

How do doctors tell if my child has conduct disorder?

To tell if your child has conduct disorder, doctors will ask about your child’s behavior. To be considered a conduct disorder, your child’s behavior must be troubling enough that it harms their relationships and performance at school or work for at least 12 months.

How do doctors treat conduct disorder?

Conduct disorder can be hard to treat because children don’t understand that their behaviors are wrong. Treatment may include:

  • Moving a child to a very structured setting such as a mental health or a juvenile justice facility

  • Therapy with a mental health professional to help children control their behavior

  • Medicine, especially if the child also has ADHD or depression—treating the other problem may also help the conduct disorder

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