Understanding Conduct Disorder in Children

Your 14-year-old son steals money from your purse. He lies about where he’s going and he’s skipping school more often. You think this is normal teen behavior. But it may be conduct disorder, a condition that can be treated. If your child’s actions are causing you concern, don’t lose hope. Many caring people can help. Contact a mental health professional or your local mental health clinic.

Older boy bullying a smaller younger boy at school.

What is conduct disorder?

Children with conduct disorder often behave in violent or harmful ways. They may lie, steal or get into frequent fights. They might even carry weapons or assault others. Sometimes these children are thought of as delinquents. At other times, their actions may be dismissed as normal. Neither is true. In fact, many may have problems that have been missed or ignored. Some may have had severe trauma to the head or face. Some may be depressed or have other emotional problems.

Who does it affect?

Conduct disorder is 1 of the most common emotional disorders in pre-teens and teens. It affects far more boys than girls.

What can help?

Behavior therapy can greatly help children with conduct disorder. The goal of treatment is to help them understand how their actions affect others. Certain medications may also help relieve symptoms of conduct disorder.

Your role

Dealing with conduct disorder can be very stressful. Coping with conduct disorder can tear families apart just when your child needs your love more than ever. Your support and caring are a key part of the healing process.

Signs of conduct disorder

Not every child who gets into trouble has conduct disorder. But signs to watch for include:

  • Stealing

  • Constant lying

  • Setting fires on purpose

  • Skipping school

  • Breaking into homes or cars

  • Destroying others’ property

  • Being cruel to animals or humans

  • Forcing sex on others

  • Starting fights often

  • Using weapons in fights

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