Conduct Disorder

What is Conduct Disorder?

A pattern of more than one antisocial behavior in a short amount of time that can include:

  • Physical aggression
  • Deception (Lying, Cheating)
  • Crimes (Stealing, Setting Fires, Destruction of Property)
  • Bullying
  • Substance abuse

Children must have displayed at least 3 or more characteristic behaviors in a 12 month period. Youth with CD often have a difficult time behaving and following rules, which leads to problems at home and at school.  They may also show a lack of appropriate feelings or empathy.  Often times children and adolescents with conduct disorder can become juvenile delinquents when preventative steps are not taken.


  • Boys are more frequently diagnosed than girls.
  • Adolescents have a slightly higher rate as compared to younger children (7.1% vs 5.4%).
  • Incarcerated juveniles have higher rates of CD than clinical samples (86.2% vs 30-50%).
  • About 1/3 of children with conduct disorder are depressed.
  • Adolescents with CD may Be at higher risk for mood and anxiety disorder.
  • Youth with higher delinquency or conduct problems often have lower cognitive test scores.

This is a great TED talk video explaining Conduct Disorder, the affect it has on our youth and society, and ways we can try to prevent as many instances of CD as possible while children are young.

Early Identification of Risk Behavior

Some early indicators of a possible conduct disorder are...

  • Temperament- Children with a tendency to engage in daring or risky behaviors, who tend to question adults authority, and who respond to threat situations with negative emotions may be at risk for a conduct disorder.
  • Early Shyness and Anxiety- These two quality actually decrease the risk for a CD.  This is somewhat puzzling because one would expect an increase. It is possible that some aspects of anxiety increase the risk, while other aspects decrease it.
  • Childhood Cognitive Skills and Language- Much research shows that children with lower cognitive abilities are more likely to develop a CD.  This is partially due to frustration from lack of understanding, and less developed social skills and communication.

Contributing Factors

Parents- Parenting practices can have a huge impact on whether children develop a conduct disorder.  Neglect, abuse, lack of communication, warmth and support, and parental substance abuse are all major factors.

Peers- When aggressive children gravitate towards one another, they reinforce one another's bad activity and imitate the bad behaviors being performed.

Age of Onset- Childhood factors can make the age of onset early for some, but CD is more prevalent in pre-teens and teenagers.

Substance Abuse- There is a strong correlation between CD and adolescent alcohol and drug use.  Youth with CD are more often involved with substance abuse and do more poorly in school.

Teaching Strategies

  • Curriculum and materials are age-appropriate and relevant.
  • Praise students when they perform well.
  • Use technology that can assist in learning whenever possible.
  • Organize class activities so that the student is not left out.
  • Have a class structure of rules, routines and schedules so that students know what is expected of them at certain times.
  • Stay calm and patient and avoid arguing with the student whenever possible. Remember that students often like to push buttons.
  • Avoid shouting at or demeaning the student (or any student) at all costs.  
  • Teach students to deal with their emotions in a healthier way, such as anger management skills.  It is best to do this when they are calm.
  • Give the student extra instruction or help when necessary, to avoid them becoming frustrated by lack of understanding.
  • Notice the signs of a student becoming upset, and try to deal with it in the most appropriate way without making the situation worse.
  • Encourage parents to employ some of these techniques as well, and to communicate with their child in a healthy way.

Helpful Technology

New game that helps students learn to behave better, get along, and learn helpful behaviors is called "Cool School Where Peace Rules"

  • Rewards students with praise and trophies for making the right decisions in the game that proposes actual situations that may arise in a school setting.
  • This game and others like it can help children from an early age associate good decision making with good results.


There are many types of programs available to help troubled or at risk youth have positive influences and experiences.  Some of these include the child having a mentor, or going on mission trips to help others or have life-changing experiences.  There are also centers where families can go and get help together.

  1. NYU Child Study Center                                                                                      One Park Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016                                           (212) 263-6622                                                                                 
  2. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry                                           3615 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20016                                     (202) 966-7300                                                                                              
  3. Mental Health America                                                                                            2000 N. Beauregard Street, 6th Floor Alexandria, VA 22311                                     (703) 684.7722                                                                                                


Beauchaine, T.P., Hinshaw, S. P. (ed.). (2013). Child and Adolescent Psychopathology.             Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved February 5, 2015 from the University           of Maryland Libraries:

Conduct Disorder Fact Sheet. (2015) Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health.          Retrieved February 6, 2015 from                                                                                

Reavy, R., Stein, L.A.R., Quina, K. Paiva, A. (2013). Assessing Conduct Disorder: A New          Measurement Approach. Journal of Correctional Health Care 20(1), 4-17.

Comment Stream