Conduct disorder is a disruptive behavioral disorder that occurs in approximately five percent of children and adolescents. The condition is characterized by aggressive or destructive behavior. For example, children with conduct disorder may physically harm other people or animals. They may also cause damage to other's property, break rules, lie, steal, are truant from school, engage in substance abuse and irresponsible sexual behavior. Consequences of conduct disorder include problems in school, both academic and disciplinary, higher rates of depression and difficulty relating to both peers and adults. Conduct disordered children are also more likely to be expelled from school, experience problems with law enforcement and to attempt suicide.

Conduct disorder is more prevalent in boys than in girls. A variety of parental behaviors increase the likelihood of conduct disorder among children. Substance abuse among parents, mental illness, marital problems and child abuse or neglect, are all factors that have been tied to an increased risk of conduct disorder. Inconsistent and overly critical parenting styles also appear to play a role.

Children who suffer from conduct disorder are at risk for poor social functioning as adults, which can lead to social exclusion. Research has shown that approximately one third of children diagnosed with conduct disorder become repeat juvenile offenders and experience problems that continue into adulthood. Studies show that conduct difficulties likely predicts need for future services including special education, the criminal justice system and foster or residential care.

Parents can help to avoid or mitigate the consequences of conduct disorder. Establishing clear standards of acceptable behavior and applying those standards consistently is helpful. Consequences for inappropriate behavior should be established before the behavior occurs and they should be applied promptly, fairly and consistently. Praise should be given for good behavior and promote confidence and self-esteem.

Tips for parents who might be dealing with conduct disorder:

  • Be consistent with parenting and take an authoritative stance.
  • Utilizing a behavior management plan or token economy can assist with constancy while provided rewards and consequences for behavior.
  • Seek the assistance of a trained mental health professional or behavior modification specialist that has experience with conduct disorder.
  • Focus on the behavior you want to continue and not the behavior that you want to stop.  Appropriate attention will go a long way and increase wanted behavior.
  • Avoid power struggles.