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What Does Conduct Disorder Look Like?

A conduct disorder involves both behavioral and emotional problems found in children who do not adhere to what is socially acceptable. Kids who understand, but choose not to follow rules, can often fall into the category of conduct disorder. Teachers frequently reprimand these children more often than others from an early grade.

There is no known cause of conduct disorder. While it was originally thought to have been a product of poor parenting, the general consensus has changed. There are multiple factors that may play a role in this particular development. The most common areas of concern are: genetics, environment, and psychological problems.

Environmental factors include the family and school. Alcoholic parents who fight or neglect their children may fall into this category. Being bullied in school or having issues with specific teachers can be an environmental cause. Inconsistent discipline, whether at school or at home, has a huge impact on the behavior of a child.

Psychological problems including cognitive processing can cause a shift in normal behavior. Problems feeling remorse or guilt can arise from this segment of the disorder.

Genetics can also play an important role. Families with a history of mental illness may be more susceptible to behavioral disorders in children. Mood disorders and anxiety disorders can occur under a parent’s or teacher’s radar. If the intensity of emotion is experienced differently than others their age, children may not know how to handle their surroundings in a socially acceptable way.

General behavior conduct disorder includes:

  • Criminal behavior, such as stealing.
  • A lack of respect for rules, such as skipping class.
  • Lack of empathy. Children who hurt animals on purpose usually fall into this category.
  • Bullying. Acting out with the intention of purposely hurting other children is a common sign of conduct disorder.
  • Lack of respect for boundaries, such as vandalism. Destroying other people’s property, whether it’s someone’s home or another child’s toy, is a good representation of both breaking boundaries and bullying.
  • Persistent lying. When a child knows the truth and lies anyway, especially for no apparent reason, this can be seen as a red flag.

This disorder may impact your child if you notice:

  • Burn marks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • False sense of grandiosity or egotism
  • Low esteem
  • Inability to plan

Many children diagnosed with conduct disorder have co-existing conditions. Some of these include: ADHD, personality disorders, anxiety, and learning difficulties.

If a conduct disorder is left untreated, the outcome can be dangerous not only for the child diagnosed, but for those around him/her.  

Problems from lack of treatment can include:

  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Abuse of others
  • Antisocial personality disorder diagnosis
  • Incarceration

Conduct disorder is much more prevalent in boys than girls. The rate of conduct disorder in boys is between 6% and 16% while girls ranged from 2% to 9%.

Children who display signs of conduct disorder in early development are at greater risk for long-term difficulties. They are more likely to struggle with relationships and less likely to finish school.

Treatment Options Include:

Involving both family and school. Discipline for certain behavior should be consistent, whether the child is at home or in school. When teachers and parents work together, they have a clearer sense of what needs to be accomplished and how.

In addition to focusing on how to overcome the negative aspects of conduct disorder, focus on the positive. Engaging your child in healthy social structures will benefit him/her in the future. Using praise for healthy behavior is also suggested.

Studies show that behavioral parent training leads to the reduction of antisocial behavior. 

What Does Conduct Disorder Look Like?


Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has published with: Harvard, Adbusters, The Virginian Pilot etc. Her book, Object Relations, is due for publication in July.


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APA Reference
Lee, R. (2018). What Does Conduct Disorder Look Like?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 25, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-does-conduct-disorder-look-like/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.