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Understanding conduct disorders in children and teenagers

Posted on Thursday, 09 February 2023, in Behavioural Issues

children sitting together in park


As a parent, it can be hard to determine when your child's behaviour is just a phase or if there's an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. If you are worried about a child or teenager exhibiting patterns of behaviour that go against social norms and are not in line with their age, it's important to seek help.


What is a conduct disorder?

A conduct disorder is a persistent behaviour pattern involving breaking social norms and laws. For example, children and teenagers with a conduct disorder may engage in activities such as hurting others, lying, or stealing and may find satisfaction in these actions.

Conduct disorders can be difficult to diagnose, as some of these behaviours may result from environmental factors or other mental health conditions.


Common symptoms of conduct disorders

It's important to note that not all children and teenagers with conduct disorders display these symptoms, and some may exhibit behaviours not listed here. 


  • Bullying, threatening and intimidating others
  • Physical fights
  • Running away from home or staying out past curfew
  • Using weapons or dangerous objects
  • Physical cruelty to others or animals
  • Stealing from others
  • Breaking into properties or vehicles
  • Forcing others into sexual acts
  • Damaging others' property
  • Arson or setting fires
  • Lying to manipulate
  • Skipping school


Seeking help for a conduct disorder

Early intervention is key to preventing conduct disorder behaviours from escalating. Some parents may hesitate to seek help due to embarrassment or shame, but it's important to remember that behavioural problems are common and that treatment can make a significant impact.

The benefits of seeking help for a conduct disorder include:

Improved family life
Having a child with a conduct disorder can be highly stressful for the entire family. With the right help, your teenager's behaviour can improve, and arguments between family members can become less frequent.

Better future outcomes
Children and teenagers with conduct disorders are at a higher risk of developing antisocial personality disorder as adults. Seeking help early can help prevent this outcome.

Safer behaviours
Many children and teens with conduct disorders engage in dangerous activities. Seeking help early can reduce the likelihood of these behaviours.

Improved mental health
Other mental health conditions, such as ADHD, depression, autism, and anxiety, often accompany conduct disorders. A comprehensive assessment by a professional can help determine the cause of the behaviour and provide the right help for your child and family.


Experienced support is available

A child and adolescent psychiatrist is the best person to assess your child and determine if they have a conduct disorder or another mental health condition. After an assessment, we can formulate an effective treatment plan that can significantly improve the situation for both your child and family.

Medication can sometimes be effective for accompanying conditions, such as ADHD. For example, stimulant medication can improve a child's ability to concentrate and reduce frustration, while atypical antipsychotics can reduce aggression and enhance a child's ability to participate in behavioural therapy.

The best place to start is with a confidential call with an experienced team member.


Read about our psychiatric assessments for children and teenagers