Conduct disorder is an emotional and behavioural condition that leads children and young people to act in a way that is disruptive and violent, and not follow rules

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Most young people have behaviour-related difficulties at some time, however conduct disorder is considered to occur when the problems are long-lasting, violating the rights of others, going against accepted norms and disrupting the young person’s everyday life. Having a child with a conduct disorder usually has a big impact on everyone in the family and life becomes very stressful.

A combination of factors are thought to cause conduct disorder including biological, genetic, psychological and social factors. Most young people with conduct disorder have had some negative life experiences which contribute to the development of the condition, even if they did not apparently react directly to those events at the time. What conduct disorder looks like can vary depending on the age of the young person and how severe the problem is, however symptoms of conduct disorder usually fall into these categories:

  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Deceitful behaviour
  • Violation of rules

Young people with conduct disorders may appear very irritable, moody or unpredictable and some may misuse drugs and alcohol and get into lots of trouble at school, college or in the community. It may seem that a young person behaving in these difficult ways does not care about the feelings of others and does not appear to show remorse for what they do. However conduct disorder is an emotional and behavioural condition and a lot of the emotional difficulties get overshadowed by the behavioural ones. For example, young people with conduct disorder usually have very low self-esteem and identity issues and their behaviour serves to cover up this and their difficult life experiences.

Top tips

  • Meaningful activities: It is important that young people with conduct disorder engage in activities which interest them, but which have a positive impact on others – this could be anything from painting friends’ nails to volunteering at a local football club.
  • Belonging: It can help our identity to belong to a group, and sometimes we join the wrong kind of group for these very reasons. Finding group activities and clubs and making opportunities available to young people can help develop identity and self-esteem.
  • Authority: Often local police services will offer preventative community work which involves talking to young people in a supportive way about the path they are taking and the potential impact it can have on their future.
  • Role models: It is important for young people with conduct disorders to have positive experiences with people they relate to and who inspire them. This can give them a reason and hope to change things around.
  • Empathy: If you are trying to support someone with a conduct disorder it is very important to see the person and not the behaviour. Try to develop an understanding of why things may have come to be this way, even if the young person is not ready to hear this view. Empathy and compassion can go a long way, especially if it is rarely encountered.
  • Self-care: If you are the parent or carer of a young person with this condition, it is important to look after yourself so that you can order to provide the right kind of support for them. This might involve allowing time for yourself or talking to other parents who may understand.
  • Nurture: If you are the parent of a child with a conduct disorder, you may feel as though you are tearing your hair out or that you are torn between family members at home. Sometimes feelings of guilt can also get in the way – it can be really tough for parents. We know that young people with these difficulties benefit from experiencing a nurturing, supportive, consistent home environment that has the right balance of love and discipline, so a ‘good enough’ aim to this should be adopted.
  • Professional support: A young person with a conduct disorder may benefit from talking to a professional person and/or considering medication advice if their behaviour is having a significant impact on themselves and/or others.

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