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4 Core Signs of Conduct Disorder in Children

Medically reviewed by Mae Charisse Antalan, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jan 21, 2023

4 Core Signs of Conduct Disorder in Children

Conduct disorder (CD) refers to a set of on-going patterns of emotional and behavioral problems in children and adolescents. At one glance, children with this condition may appear aggressive, disobedient, and disrespectful; however, please keep in mind that CD is a mental health issue; hence parents and mental health professionals need to intervene. What are the signs of a conduct disorder in children?

The Signs of a Conduct Disorder in Children

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), someone with CD may:

Show aggression to people and animals

This means they might

  • Intimidate, bully, or threaten their peers
  • Start physical fights. Moreover, they might objects as “weapons” to seriously hurt others
  • Enjoy being mean to others
  • Forcibly take things from peers while confronting them
  • Forcibly engage someone in sexual activity
  • Be cruel to animals

Destroy property

This means they might

  • Set properties on fire to cause damage
  • Intentionally destroy other’s properties (e.g., vandalism)

Become deceitful, lie, or steal

This means they might

  • Break into someone else’s home, car, or property
  • Lie to avoid obligation or get favor
  • Secretly take items without confrontation (e.g., shoplifting)

Seriously disobey parents or violate rules.

This means they might

  • Stay out all night despite parental objection
  • Runaway from home

Reminders on Signs of a Conduct Disorder in Children

If you’ll notice, the signs of CD go way beyond the typical childhood disobedience and teenage rebellion. However, people around the child or teen tend to treat them like they do things on purpose rather than someone who has a mental health condition. This makes the situation more complicated and persistent since the child or adolescent doesn’t receive the treatment they need.

signs of conduct disorder in children

Tips on Parenting a Child with Conduct Disorder

If you think that your child has symptoms of conduct disorder, set an appointment with a mental health professional. Additionally, you can also bring them to a pediatrician who will give them an initial assessment and make referrals when necessary. Contacting a medical expert is crucial because they will be the only one who can diagnose if your child has CD or another behavioral condition.

Moreover, most children with signs of conduct disorder also experience other concerns such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and learning difficulties.

Here are some tips in parenting a child with CD:

  • Make sure that your child attends all the recommended health appointments.
  • Learn more about conduct disorder as well as any concerns your child might have.
  • Participate in their treatment plans, which may include family therapy. Other management strategies are cognitive-behavioral therapy and peer-group therapy. Finally, your child may also receive medications if they have another condition, such as ADHD.
  • Keep your communication lines open to the people around your child, such as their teachers and school counselor. They need to know that your child needs support for their mental health condition.
  • Help your child or teen regulate their emotions and behavior by providing clear instructions, setting limits, and rewarding good behavior.
  • Finally, build a support network by joining groups of parents who also have kids with CD.


Call your child’s doctor immediately if your child or teen:

  • Seems out of control
  • Starts hearing voices others cannot hear
  • Feels extreme fear, anxiety, or anger toward themselves or others
  • Appears depressed
  • Cannot sleep for 3 days in a row
  • Finally, if you notice that your child has suicidal thoughts, never leave them alone until the situation is assessed and managed.

    Can You Prevent Conduct Disorder?

    According to experts, there’s no sure way to prevent conduct disorder in children, especially since its exact cause is still unknown. To reduce a child’s risk of developing CD, experts encourage a positive parent-child relationship.

    Furthermore, they emphasize that traumatic experiences, childhood abuse or neglect, brain damage, genetic factors, and even school failure may contribute to CD’s development.

    Key Takeaways

    The signs of a conduct disorder in children may make the child or teen seem too unruly or rebellious, but they really need help because CD is a mental health condition. The best course of action is to contact a doctor.

    Learn more about Behavioral and Developmental Disorders here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mae Charisse Antalan, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jan 21, 2023

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