What is conduct disorder?
Conduct disorder is a type of behavioural disorder that emerges in childhood. It is characterized by disruptive or violent behaviour, and a disregard for rules. Whilst it is common, and even normal, for children to exhibit disruptive behaviour, a diagnosis of conduct disorder is warranted when the behaviour is long lasting, violates the rights of others, is against accepted norms and disrupts the everyday life of the family and/or child.
What are the symptoms of conduct disorder?
- Generally symptoms of conduct disorder fall into four categories:
- Aggressive behaviour: This encompasses behaviour that has the potential to cause physical harm to other humans or animals. It includes things such as a bullying, fighting and using weapons.
- Destructive behaviour: This refers to intentional destruction of property such as arson or vandalism.
- Deceitful behaviour: This generally refers to repeated instances of lying.
- Violation of rules: This category refers to the breaking of formal rules or social rules that is not appropriate for the child’s age.
What causes conduct disorder?
Like most other psychological disorders, conduct disorder is thought to arise from combination biological, genetic, environmental, psychological and social factors.
Studies have shown defects with certain brain regions and neurotransmitters (the chemicals that are involved in communication between nerve cells).
Many children with conduct disorder have family members that have a form of mental illness (e.g. depression, anxiety, ADHD etc), suggesting that a predisposition for conduct disorder may be inherited. Furthermore, genetics may contribute to the development of other mental illnesses (e.g. depression), that may exacerbate the symptoms of conduct disorder.
Like with most psychological disorders, conduct disorder rarely develops as a product of biology or genes alone. Other environmental factors such as a dysfunctional family or inconsistent discipline may also contribute to the development of this condition.
There may be other psychological factors involved such as difficulties with cognitive processing and a lack of moral awareness which manifests in an inability to feel guilt or remorse.
Treatments for conduct disorder
It is important that children with conduct disorder receive appropriate treatment from relevant health professionals as it is a risk factor for the development of other mental illnesses (e.g. substance abuse and antisocial personality disorder) in adulthood. Furthermore it is also associated with significant difficulties with schooling, problems with the law, violent behaviour and suicide. Treatments for conduct disorder generally fall into two broad categories: psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy refers to counselling and ‘talking’ therapies. In particular, cognitive- behaviour therapy may be of use and can help the child improve moral reasoning and impulsivity, and find better ways to express their anger. Furthermore, if family relationships are exacerbating the issues, family therapy may also be beneficial to improve relationships and communication amongst family members. Parent management training can also help parents learn to positively influence their child’s behaviour in the home.
There is currently no medication that is used to specifically treat conduct disorder. However, various medications may assist with problematic symptoms such as impulsivity. If there are other mental disorders involved (e.g. depression and anxiety), then medication may be useful in managing these as well. Medication should be used in conjunction with psychotherapy to achieve optimal results.There is currently no medication that is used to specifically treat conduct disorder. However, various medications may assist with problematic symptoms such as impulsivity. If there are other mental disorders involved (e.g. depression and anxiety), then medication may be useful in managing these as well. Medication should be used in conjunction with psychotherapy to achieve optimal results.
Tips for parents
- It is easy for parents to ignore good behaviour and only react when poor behaviour is displayed by your child. However, it is vital that parents learn to positively influence their child’s conduct by praising them for their good behaviour. Also, be specific when praising your child’s positive behaviours (e.g. I really liked the way that you sat still at dinner tonight)
- Model appropriate behaviour for your child
- Ensure that all adults in your household are consistent with each other in their discipline procedures and the behaviour that they will and won’t tolerate. Communicate these limits to your child so that they know what is expected of them.