Parenting a Child with Conduct Disorder

June 16, 2023

Your child has just been diagnosed with conduct disorder, and your worst fears as a parent has been confirmed: You may be raising a teenage sociopath. It’s terrifying to think that your child can potentially grow up to be a psychopath, but don’t lose hope. There are treatment options available, and there are steps you can take as a parent to still make sure they grow up to be a decent member of society.

In this article, we’ll go over what conduct disorder is, how to treat it, and what you can do as a parent to help your teen.

What is Conduct Disorder?

Conduct disorder is a disruptive behavioral disorder characterized by a pattern of aggression, disregard of social norms, and the violation of the rights of others. It’s often comorbid with other mental health disorders such as depression, ADHD, and learning disorders. Because of this, in order to diagnose a child with conduct disorder they must be psychiatrically evaluated over a long period of time and across multiple settings.

Occasional rebellious or disrespectful behavior is common during childhood and adolescence, but conduct disorder is distinguished by the persisting pattern of aggression towards other people, animals, and property. 50% of children diagnosed with conduct disorder develop antisocial personality disorder, a similar condition that can only be diagnosed after 18 years old.

Symptoms and Signs of Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder may present differently in each child. It can be difficult to distinguish when your child’s misconduct is due to adolescence or a disorder that needs professional intervention. Being able to identify the symptoms and signs and see how they persist throughout their adolescence can be very helpful in the diagnosis process.

Some of the signs of conduct disorder are:

  • Aggressive/Violent Behavior. This can include bullying, physical fighting, sexual assault, and cruelty to animals.
  • Destructiveness. This can include arson, destroying property and surroundings, and damaging possessions.
  • Manipulation. This can include lying, cheating, emotional abuse, and coercion.
  • Delinquency. This comes from the general disregard for rules and lack of respect for authority figures. This may include drug and alcohol abuse, skipping or being late to school, and violating curfew.

This type of behavior is likely due to the symptoms of conduct disorder, which are:

  • Disregard for social norms and the rights and feelings of other people
  • Enjoyment from causing harm
  • Lack of remorse or empathy
  • Lack of or shallow display of emotions


Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of conduct disorder is unknown, there are several risk factors for the condition, such as:

  • Physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse or neglect
  • Biological parents with psychiatric disorders such as depression, ADHD, alcohol use disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poverty
  • Psychopathology in the mother
  • Witnessing violence
  • Excessively harsh or lack of parenting

Treating Conduct Disorder

Treatment for conduct disorder will typically depend on the severity of your child’s condition, age, and tolerance for specific treatment options. Some treatment options are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT can help your child learn how to channel their anger through more appropriate means. It can also help your child build moral reasoning skills, impulse control, and problem-solving skills.
  • Family Therapy and Groups. Studies show that parent and family focused interventions significantly improved how competent caregivers felt while also reducing symptoms in their child. Family therapy helps improve communication and interactions between family members and can help parents learn how to positively change their child’s behavior.
  • Medication. While there are no medications officially approved for conduct disorder, there are medications that can help treat co-occurring mental health issues that could be exacerbating their condition. It is important to do a thorough assessment of your child’s psychopathology to effectively treat any other mental health issues in conjunction with their conduct disorder.


Tips on Parenting a Child with Conduct Disorder

Even with treatment, parenting a child with conduct disorder can be challenging. But there are some strategies you can implement at home that may help.

  1. Clearly define boundaries and rewards. Your child may need incentives to follow your house rules. By consistently disciplining unwanted behaviors and rewarding good ones, you may be able to positively influence your child’s conduct. Sit down with your child and set an agreed upon reward system. On top of this, let them know the consequences if they were to continue engaging in other negative behaviors.
  2. Be consistent. Make sure to always follow through with your child in rewards and consequences. Without consistency, your child may learn that there is wiggle room in your rules or that they can be negotiated. No matter the reaction of your teen to your discipline, stand your ground and let it be known that your house rules are firm.
  3. Focus on the good. Teens with conduct disorder are often reprimanded all throughout their school day. While this may be prompted, adding on to this can surmount to more stress and lower self-esteem in your child. While you should still be consistent in your disciplinary measures, make sure to also acknowledge and praise the things your child has done well no matter how small those things may be.
  4. Remember self-care. No matter how busy or stressful parenting may get, don’t forget to prioritize your needs too. Self-care looks different for everyone, but whatever it is make sure to make time for it. Even just 15 minutes a day can be all the difference in your mental health. You can’t show up for your family if you don’t show up for yourself first.

If you’re concerned for your child’s behavioral or substance abuse issues, Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center can help get your child back on track. Our programs are evidence-based and personally designed to fit your child’s needs and goals for treatment. For more information, contact our admissions team today.

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