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What are the Symptoms of Conduct Disorder in Children?

By Lily Ruha
Updated May 17, 2024
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The symptoms of conduct disorder in children include a wide range of behavioral and emotional problems. Violent behaviors, temper tantrums and destructive actions are common among children with conduct disorder. An unwillingness to follow the rules, compulsive lying, truancy and early substance abuse are other behaviors associated with the disorder. Conduct disorder in children often involves a consistent inability to get along with others, as evidenced by continual fighting or bullying.

Conduct disorder in children manifests itself in aggressive behaviors. A child with this disorder is often mean to other children, adults, and animals. Common behaviors include threatening, name calling, bullying, and forcing others to do things against their will. A child with conduct disorder might inflict harm on others using physical force or weapons. The actions are usually impulsive and with no regard for the feelings of others.

Disruptive behaviors are a common symptom of conduct disorder in children. Whereas some children may be disruptive at home but more conscious of their surroundings at school or in public, children with conduct disorder are disruptive in most, if not all, environments. They might constantly interrupt their parents at home, start a fight in a classroom, or knock over items and shoplift in a grocery store. Their behaviors typically disrupt the flow of group activities in all environments.

Children with conduct disorder have a general unwillingness to follow the rules. They might bring weapons to school, curse in the classroom, lie compulsively to avoid consequences, skip school, or run away. Drinking alcohol or abusing substances at a young age is also often associated with conduct disorder in children. Sexual promiscuity at a young age is also a common symptom.

Highly destructive behavior is a typical symptom of conduct disorder. Setting things on fire, purposely breaking things and causing irreversible damage to other people’s property are common behaviors. The child with conduct disorder usually feels no remorse or guilt for the damage he has caused to other people’s possessions.

Conduct disorder in children is also evidenced by both a poor relationship with peers and a general inability to get along with others. The child’s constant irritability generally pushes other children away. A tendency to start fights and bully others makes it difficult for the child to sustain meaningful relationships with others. Children with conduct disorder commonly suffer from low self-esteem.

There is a high probability that children with conduct disorder will suffer socially, and can also potentially develop more serious problems in adulthood. Failing in school, being arrested, getting sexually transmitted diseases, and causing physical injury to themselves are all possible outcomes for a child with this disorder. Early diagnosis of the disorder by a medical professional can lead to effective treatments through psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication. Paying close attention to the child at home and creating a supportive yet disciplined environment are also important factors for improving the child’s condition.

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