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Signs and Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Children with conduct disorder are often difficult to diagnose because the signs and symptoms may look similar to those of other conditions, such as ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder.

Doctors group the symptoms of conduct disorder into four categories:

  1. Aggressive behavior, such as cruelty to animals, fighting and bullying
  2. Destructive behavior, such as arson and vandalism
  3. Deceitful behavior, such as shoplifting and lying
  4. Violation of rules, which may include truancy and running away from home

Drug and alcohol abuse, sexual activity and low self-esteem are also common signs of conduct disorder that should concern parents.

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A child whose behavior consistently falls into these categories may have conduct disorder. It's important to have them properly diagnosed by a professional.

Conduct Disorder Causes Consistent Misbehavior

Since any child may show the symptoms and signs of conduct disorder at some point in their young lives, adults need to understand that acting out does not necessarily mean a child has the disorder.

In order to match the diagnosis for conduct disorder, children must present at least three symptoms within 12 months. A child who gets into one fight at school probably does not have conduct disorder. If that child starts three or more fights within a year, there is a higher chance that he or she may have the disorder.

This persistence is a foundational characteristic of conduct disorder. Every child misbehaves occasionally. Children with conduct disorder misbehave so often that it disturbs their classmates and families.

What are the Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

The symptoms of ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and similar conditions often look like the symptoms of conduct disorder. While they look similar, there are some important differences between these conditions.

Children with ADHD and ODD may seem angry or hostile, but they rarely show the cruelty common in children with conduct disorder. For instance, a boy with ADHD may get into occasional fights at school because he feels frustrated and insecure. Most counselors wouldn't diagnosis this as conduct disorder. If the boy engaged in particularly cruel behavior towards another student, though, conduct disorder is more likely.

Cruel behavior could include causing intense pain, relentlessly bullying an adversary's friends or harming the adversary's pet. Children with conduct disorder rarely show any guilt after committing cruel actions. They may also be physically aggressive toward others and willingly violate other people’s rights. They are often prone to lying or manipulation and may exhibit delinquent behaviors, such as not going to school or running away from home. Examples of behaviors that may be classified as conduct disorder include:

  • Physical aggression
  • Cruelty toward pets
  • Cruelty toward people
  • Bullying
  • Threatening others
  • Breaking curfew
  • Trespassing
  • Being truant at school or home
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Cheating
  • Vandalizing

Children with this diagnosis often don’t feel remorse for their actions or empathy toward other people. They seldom show emotion and likely perform poorly in school. They may also blame others for their performance and behaviors.

It can be difficult to recognize conduct disorder symptoms in younger children, as you may assume they’re just acting out. However, the difference between conduct disorder and misbehavior is the frequency, intensity, and duration. As these kids get older, the behaviors may escalate. You will likely see more problems in school, physical injuries from fights they have been in, and substance use.

Most children with behavioral problems do not have conduct disorder. Those who show several symptoms, however, should meet with a professional who can perform a comprehensive assessment. 

Help with Conduct Disorder

The Brain Balance Program can help your child strengthen existing brain connections and build new information pathways, leading to improvements in behavior. The Brain Balance Program uses activities and exercises to build new connections helps get to the root cause of these symptoms.

If your child struggles with difficult behavioral issues or has been diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, we can help. Contact us by completing the form, or give us a call. We're here for you, with a plan that has helped more than 50,000 families like yours.

Call 800-877-5500


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Disclaimer: The information presented on this web site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment of specific medical conditions. Discuss this information with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you and your family.

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