There is no single cause of conduct disorder.
We are beginning to understand that there are many different
possible reasons which lead to conduct disorder. A child may be
more likely to develop an oppositional defiant disorder/conduct
disorder if they:
- have certain genes leading to antisocial behaviour – boys are
also more likely to have these disorders than girls
- have difficulties learning good social and acceptable
- have a difficult temperament
- have learning or reading difficulties - making it difficult to
understand and take part in lessons. It is then easy to get bored,
feel stupid and misbehave
- are depressed
- have been bullied or abused
- are ‘hyperactive’ - this causes difficulties with self-control,
paying attention and following rules
- parenting factors, including discipline issues and family
disorganization - parents can sometimes make things worse by giving
too little attention to good behaviour, always being too quick to
criticise or by being too flexible about the rules and not
supervising their children
- are involved with other difficult young people and drug
What are the longer-term effects of conduct
A young person showing signs of conduct
disorder at an early age is more likely to be male, have ADHD and
lower intelligence. The earlier problems start, the higher the risk
for the young person being involved with violence and criminal
acts. This may also be related to friendship groups, gangs and use
of illegal substances.
Early diagnosis of conduct disorder and other related difficulties
is important to give your child a better chance for improvements
and hope for the future.
Depending on the severity of the problem, the
treatment can be offered across different settings, for instance at
home or in educational and community settings.
The help offered will depend on the child’s
development, age and circumstances.
Involving and supporting the family is very
important. Focussing on strengths and identifying any specific
problem areas for the young person, such as learning difficulties,
can improve the outcomes for young people with conduct
Help for behavioural problems can involve
supporting the young person to increase their positive social
behaviours, and controlling their antisocial destructive
It can be difficult for parents and carers
when their child has oppositional or has conduct problems. You may
fear your own child, and feel embarrassed, or even ashamed of your
child’s situation. You may feel helpless and unsure how to manage
As a parent, it can be easy to ignore your
child when they are being good, and only pay attention to them when
they are behaving badly. Over time, the child learns that they only
get attention when they are breaking rules. Most children,
including teenagers, need a lot of attention from their parents and
may be unsure how to get this. Perhaps surprisingly, they seem to
prefer angry or critical attention to being ignored. It's easy to
see how, over time, a ‘vicious cycle’ can be set up.
With children, it can help if discipline is
fair and consistent and for parents/carers to agree on how to
handle their child’s behaviour and offer positive praise and love.
Understandably, this can be difficult to manage alone without the
support of others, and many parents/carers require extra help.
Parenting groups can help you to access the
support you need and share experiences with others who are
experiencing a similar situation with their own children. These
groups can offer training in helping support you in encouraging
positive behaviour in your child.
Many young people with behavioural problems
struggle at school and this can be a source of distress. School
staff can help to focus on positive behaviours and reinforce work
taking place at home and in the community.
Young people with behavioural problems often
need help with social skills and school may be able to offer this.
Some children need individual classroom support and an assessment
of learning difficulties. When the problems are severe, some
children may be placed in special educational placements or schools
for their behavioural problems.
If the behavioural problems are severe and
persistent or a conduct disorder is suspected, ask your GP for
Antisocial behaviours are commonly seen in
specialist services. If specialist help is needed, they will make a
referral to your local child and adolescent mental health
service (CAMHS). This specialist team will work together with
you, school and other community groups to support you and your
Specialists can help to fully assess what is
causing the problem and also to suggest practical ways of improving
the difficult behaviour. They can also offer assessment and
treatment of other conditions which can occur at the same time,
such as depression, anxiety and hyperactivity.
The treatment may include social skills
groups, behavioural therapy and talking therapy. These therapies
can help the child to appropriately express themselves in different
situations and manage their anger more effectively.