Mental health: Conduct disorders

Angry parent
Image caption Parents can sometimes be tested to their limits with conduct disorders

No child behaves perfectly all of the time. Temper tantrums, disobedience and arguments will all inevitably appear at some point during childhood.

Parents can be tested to their limits but usually things do calm down and family life resumes without too much disruption.

If the behaviours are severe and continue to interfere with the quality of life of the child and others, then they may have a conduct disorder.

During September, BBC Radio Cornwall's lunchtime phone in programme discussed conduct disorders. This page contains the fact sheet.

• The child may also have problems with hyperactivity (poor attention, restlessness) or emotional difficulties such as anxiety, depression or obsessions.

• Sometimes the child only displays the problem behaviours within the family setting. However, the degree of aggression and dissocial acts means it is more serious than just a difficult parent-child relationship.

• Some children with a conduct disorder are socially isolated from their peer group and have no close friends (unsocialised conduct disorder); while others are part of a social group perhaps embarking on group truancy or stealing (socialised conduct disorder).

• Oppositional defiant disorder is a conduct disorder usually occurring in younger children. As the name suggests, these children are significantly disobedient and defiant but do not display some of the more extreme aggressive or dissocial acts.

• Clinicians will usually categorize the degree of the conduct disorder in to mild, moderate or severe according to the number of the effect they have on other people.

Effects on child and family

The Trust said that a young person with a conduct disorder will often struggle at school both socially and academically. They can become frustrated and angry, which if not channelled appropriately, can contribute to their repetitive destructive behaviours.

Low self-confidence and self esteem may mean they are more susceptible to drug and alcohol use and criminal activities.

Teenagers with a conduct disorder may engage in risky sexual behaviour.

Whole families and communities can be disrupted by conduct disorder.


There is no one cause of conduct disorder, but the following can increase the risk of a child developing it.

• Genes liked with antisocial behaviour, which are more common in boys than girls.

• Difficulties with learning or hyperactive tendencies.

• Being the victim of abuse or bullying.

Support and management

If you suspect your child has a conduct disorder then talk things through with your GP who may advise an assessment by the specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

The team will then work with families and schools to support the child in changing their behaviours and can also identify any other mental health problems e.g. depression or ADHD.

An early diagnosis helps to ensure the best possible future for the child. The help available will depend on the child's age and the severity of the symptoms.

All children and young people crave attention and will do anything to get it. If good behaviour is not being noticed by parents then the child will often resort to bad behaviour.

Schools may offer groups to help with improving social skills or extra classroom support.

Children with more severe behavioural problems may need a placement in a special educational facility.

Other community groups may be available that focus on social skills, team working and confidence building.

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