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Childrens Mental Disorders: Behavior or Conduct Problems in Children


Behavior or Conduct Problems in Children


Family sitting at dinner table arguing..

Children sometimes argue, are aggressive, or act angry or defiant around adults. A behavior disorder may be diagnosed when these disruptive behaviors are uncommon for the childā€™s age at the time, persist over time, or are severe.Ā  Because disruptive behavior disorders involve acting out and showing unwanted behavior towards others they are sometimes calledĀ externalizing disorders.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

When children act out persistently so that it causes serious problems at home, in school, or with peers, they may be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). ODD usually starts before 8 years of age, but no later than by about 12 years of age. Children with ODD are more likely to act oppositional or defiant around people they know well, such as family members, a regular care provider, or a teacher. Children with ODD show these behaviors more often than other children their age.

Examples of ODD behaviors include

  • Often being angry or losing oneā€™s temper
  • Often arguing with adults or refusing to comply with adultsā€™ rules or requests
  • Often resentful or spiteful
  • Deliberately annoying others or becoming annoyed with others
  • Often blaming other people for oneā€™s own mistakes or misbehavior

Learn more about ODDexternal icon

Conduct Disorder

Conduct Disorder (CD) is diagnosed when children show an ongoing pattern of aggression toward others, and serious violations of rules and social norms at home, in school, and with peers. These rule violations may involve breaking the law and result in arrest. Children with CD are more likely to get injured and may have difficulties getting along with peers.

Examples of CD behaviors include

  • Breaking serious rules, such as running away, staying out at night when told not to, or skipping school
  • Being aggressive in a way that causes harm, such asĀ  bullying, fighting, or being cruel to animals
  • Lying, stealing, or damaging other peopleā€™s property on purpose

Learn more about CDexternal icon

For Healthcare Providers

Learn about the guidelines for diagnosing and treatingĀ ODDexternal iconĀ andĀ CDexternal icon

Treatment for disruptive behavior disorders

Starting treatment early is important. Treatment is most effective if it fits the needs of the specific child and family. The first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider. A comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional may be needed to get the right diagnosis. Some of the signs of behavior problems, such as not following rules in school, could be related to learning problems which may need additional intervention. For younger children, the treatment with the strongest evidence isĀ behavior therapy training for parents,Ā where a therapist helps the parent learn effective ways to strengthen the parent-child relationship and respond to the childā€™s behavior. For school-age children and teens, an often-used effective treatment is a combination of training and therapy that includes the child, the family, and the school.

Get help finding treatment

Here are tools to find a healthcare provider familiar with treatment options:

Managing Symptoms: Staying Healthy

Being healthy is important for all children and can be especially important for children with behavior or conduct problems. In addition to behavioral therapy and medication, practicing certain healthy lifestyle behaviors may reduce challenging and disruptive behaviors your child might experience. Here are some healthy behaviors that may help:

  • Engaging in regularĀ physical activity, including aerobic and vigorous exercise
  • Eating aĀ healthful dietĀ centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (for example, beans, peas, and lentils), lean protein sources, and nuts and seeds
  • Getting theĀ recommended amount of sleepĀ each night based on age
  • Strengthening relationships with family members

Prevention of disruptive behavior disorders

It is not known exactly why some children develop disruptive behavior disorders. Many factors may play a role, including biological and social factors. It is known that children are at greater risk when they are exposed to other types of violence and criminal behavior, when they experience maltreatment or harsh or inconsistent parenting, or when their parents have mental health conditions likeĀ substance use disordersexternal icon,Ā depressionexternal icon, orĀ attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The quality of early childhood care also can impact whether a child develops behavior problems.

Although these factors appear to increase the risk for disruptive behavior disorders, there are ways to decrease the chance that children experience them. Learn about public health approaches to prevent these risks:


Source: Centers for Disease Control


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