Conduct disorders are repetitive and persistent patterns of behaving, where the young person behaves in ways which go against social norms and that are not in line with normal behaviours for the age of the child.
Children and teenagers with a conduct disorder may get gratification out of hurting someone else, lying or stealing. Conduct disorders can be difficult to diagnose, as some of these troublesome behaviours can be a result of environmental factors or other mental health conditions
It’s hard for parents to know what is normal for their child and what is a sign there might be an underlying problem. We speak to hundreds of parents each year who aren’t sure where to turn to help their child or teenager with a suspected conduct disorder – speaking to an expert in the field gives parents much needed support and advice and can ensure that their child receives the right help or treatment.
Children under 10 are likely to meet the criteria for ODD. Children over 10 are more likely to meet the criteria for conduct disorders.
There are several common symptoms that indicate your child may have a conduct disorder.
The symptoms of Conduct Disorders include:
Bullying, threatening and intimidating others
Getting into physical fights
Running away from home and/or not coming home at night
Using a weapon or something that could do harm to someone
Being physically cruel to others or animals
Stealing from others
Breaking into properties or cars
Forcing others into sexual acts
Damaging others property
Arson or setting fires
Lying to “con”
Playing truant from school
Children and teenagers with a conduct disorder may show all or some of the above. Some, although by no means all, young people with conduct disorder show no (genuine) remorse or guilt for their actions and even seem to get a ‘kick’ out of their actions or feel justified in their behaviours.
Seeking help for a Conduct Disorder
We know that early intervention is the most effective way of preventing the behaviours associated with a conduct disorder from escalating.
Many parents hope their child or teen’s behaviour is just a phase. Parents may hold back from seeking help because of shame or embarrassment; however behavioural problems are very common, and treatment can make a real difference.
The benefits of seeking help for conduct disorder:
Impact on family life - having a child who has a conduct disorder can be incredibly stressful for the whole family – arguments between family members may be a daily event and parents are often at a complete loss of what they should do. It is particularly difficult if your teenager is increasingly independent or if you fear that they could hurt you or someone else in the family if you intervene. However, help is available and with the right help, your teenager’s behaviour issues can get better.
Impact on your child’s future - we know that children and teenagers who have a conduct disorder are more at risk of developing conditions such as antisocial personality disorder as an adult.
Risky behaviours - we also know that the risky behaviours that many with conduct disorder engage in can be extremely dangerous. Seeking help early is therefore key.
Your child’s mental health - other mental health conditions such as ADHD, depression, Autism and anxiety are common in those with conduct disorder. A comprehensive assessment of the issues your child or teenager is experiencing is, therefore, the first step to knowing what is causing their behaviour.
Seeking help from a professional who understands conduct disorders and can carry out a thorough assessment to understand the issues and causes for the behaviour is the first step to getting the right help in place for your whole family.
The Psychiatrist’s help and caring nature were greatly appreciated. He took the time to fully explain everything to us and answered all our questions.
What help is available for conduct disorders in children and teenagers?
Assessment It can be difficult to know if your child has a conduct disorder or another mental health condition that is causing their behavioural problems.
A Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist is the best person to assess your child and will spend time ruling out other conditions. As they are experts in child mental health, they will be able to formulate an effective treatment plan, which can significantly improve things for both your child and your whole family.
It might seem a bit scary getting a diagnosis, many of us are loathe to ‘label’ our children – however we hear from parents every day who describe huge relief at having a reason for their child or teenagers’ behaviour and have found it incredibly helpful in terms of both the understanding this has led to, but also their ability to communicate to others why their child behaves as they do.
Parent/foster care training programmes Parenting programmes are recommended for parents, children and young people aged between 3 and 11 years who have been diagnosed (or have a high risk of developing) conduct disorders.
Child-focused programmes and therapy Group and individual social and cognitive problem-solving programmes are recommended for children aged 9-14 who have been diagnosed (or have a high risk of developing) conduct disorders.
Medication In some cases, medication can be hugely effective for other conditions that frequently accompany conduct disorders, although medication is not used for conduct disorder itself.
For children with ADHD (which is often undiagnosed and put down to ‘bad behaviour’), stimulant medication can have a significant impact on the child’s ability to concentrate and feel less frustrated. There are some medications that can be used effectively for other conditions, such as atypical antipsychotics that can reduce a child’s aggression and can be useful to help a child be able to fully engage in their behavioural therapy.
Young people with conduct disorder, especially the ones with adolescent onset of the disorder and milder symptoms, tend to recover well and could be very well adjusted in adult life. Appropriate treatment may change the paths of these young people very substantially indeed.
Dr Ougrin is a psychiatrist with nearly 10 years of clinical and academic experience specialising in child and adolescent psychiatry. He also has undertaken much research in the area of self-harm and has developed an effective intervention for...
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