Conduct Disorder Signs, Symptoms & Effects In Children

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of conduct disorder is an important part of the effort to get treatment for a child or adolescentAt Little Creek Behavioral Health in Conway, Arkansas, we’re proud to be a source of information and comprehensive care for young people who have been struggling with conduct disorder and other mental health conditions.

Understanding Conduct Disorder

Learn about conduct disorder

Conduct disorder is a mental health condition that causes behavioral changes in young people. Children or adolescents living with conduct disorder often display behaviors that violate societal and age-appropriate norms or institutional rules. When behavioral violations are repetitive and continual, they are often impactful enough to warrant a diagnosis of conduct disorder. 

Young people struggling with conduct disorder often display behavioral concerns across multiple settings, yet children and adolescents dealing with this mental health condition are often unaware of the severity of their behaviors. This makes it vital that mental health professionals obtain information from a child’s caregivers and teachers in order to understand the true effects of conduct disorder. 

Children living with conduct disorder may fall into one of four categories, including aggressive conduct, non-aggressive conduct, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violations of rules. Aggressive conduct involves violence toward other people or animals, while non-aggressive conduct includes the destruction or damage of property. A child may meet the criteria for one of these subtypes if they demonstrate symptoms of conduct disorder for one year, with at least one symptom occurring in the past six months. 

While the onset of conduct disorder may occur as early as the preschool years, this condition typically arises in adolescents. However, those who are struggling with symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder as children often develop conduct disorder as they mature. 


Statistics about conduct disorder

The National Center for Biotechnology Information and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) have collected the following statistics about the prevalence of conduct disorder in the United States: 

  • Approximately 4% of the population is living with conduct disorder each year. 
  • Conduct disorder is more common in adolescents than in children. 
  • This condition is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls. 

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for conduct disorder

A child is at risk for conduct disorder based on factors such as genetics, personality, and environment. Even if a child has one or several of these factors, there is no guarantee that they will experience symptoms of conduct disorder. The following factors increase a young person’s risk for facing this mental health condition: 

  • Below-average IQ 
  • Inconsistent, absent, or harsh parenting 
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Being raised in a large family
  • Family history of criminal behaviors and mental health conditions 
  • Exposure to violence 
  • History of institutional living as a child 
  • Socializing with peers who are involved in criminal activities 

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of conduct disorder

A young person struggling with conduct disorder may display behavioral and mental symptoms that can negatively impact many areas of their life. Children or adolescents may exhibit different symptoms depending on the subtype of conduct disorder they are living with. These can include: 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Bullying peers 
  • Treating animals cruelly 
  • Using weapons to harm others 
  • Initiating physical fights 
  • Forcing sexual activity on others 
  • Damaging property, sometimes with fire 
  • Stealing 
  • Lying to receive goods or favors 
  • Missing school frequently 
  • Running away from home for one or several days 
  • Staying out past curfew 

Mental symptoms: 

  • Showing no guilt or remorse for actions 
  • Lacking empathy toward those they have harmed 
  • Rarely expressing any feelings 
  • Lacking concern about performance in school or sports 
  • Infrequently demonstrating positive emotions 
  • Showing positive emotions only for personal gain 


Effects of conduct disorder

Conduct disorder has the potential to significantly impact many aspects of a young person’s life and negatively influence those around themSome of the behaviors that can result from untreated conduct disorder and may cause adverse outcomes in your child’s development and functioning include: 

  • Injury to self or others resulting from violence 
  • Difficulty establishing or maintaining interpersonal relationships 
  • Poor academic and extracurricular performance 
  • Substance use 
  • Criminal charges due to misconduct, theft, and violence 

These effects are not guaranteed, and they can be greatly mitigated if your child receives individualized services to treat conduct disorder. With the appropriate intervention, a young person has the potential to manage the symptoms of conduct disorder and live a happier, healthier life. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among children and adolescents who have conduct disorder

Children and adolescents who are living with conduct disorder may also experience other mental health conditions. If one or more of these diagnoses are untreated, this can complicate the care and outcomes of each condition. Children struggling with conduct disorder may also experience the following concerns: 

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) 
  • Antisocial personality disorder 
  • Learning disorders 
  • Anxiety disorder 
  • Depression 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Substance use disorder 
  • Communication disorders 

It is beneficial to seek services that focus on each mental health condition that your child is living with. At Little Creek Behavioral Health, your child will receive the personal care they need to learn how to cope with the symptoms of conduct disorder and experience a vastly improved quality of life. 

Marks of Quality Care
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval