Behavioural problems and conduct disorder: information for parents, carers and anyone who works with young people

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Behavioural problems – the signs

All children have moments when they do not behave properly. They can go through different phases as they develop and become more independent. Toddlers and adolescents can have their challenging moments and this might mean they push limits from time to time. With the help of parents, carers and teachers, most of them will learn to behave appropriately.

Occasionally, a child will have a temper tantrum, or an outburst of aggressive or destructive behaviour, but this is often nothing to worry about.

Behavioural problems can happen in children of all ages. Some children have serious behavioural problems. The signs to look out for are:

  • if the child continues to behave badly for several months or longer, is repeatedly being disobedient, cheeky and aggressive;
  • if their behaviour is out of the ordinary, and seriously breaks the rules accepted in their home and school. This is much more than ordinary childish mischief or adolescent rebelliousness.

What is conduct disorder?

This sort of behaviour can affect a child's development, and can interfere with their ability to lead a normal life. When behaviour is this much of a problem, it is called a ‘conduct disorder’.

In younger children where the disruptive and aggressive behaviours are happening within the home, they may be diagnosed as having ‘oppositional defiant disorder’.


What does having conduct disorder mean for a young person?

Children with a conduct disorder may get involved in more violent physical fights, and may steal or lie, without any sign of remorse or guilt when they are found out.

They refuse to follow rules and may start to break the law. They may start to stay out all night, and play truant from school during the day.

Teenagers with conduct disorder may also take risks with their health and safety by taking illegal drugs or having unprotected sexual intercourse.


What effect can this have on others?

Conduct disorder can cause a lot of distress to children, families, schools and local communities. Children who behave like this will often find it difficult to make friends and have difficulties understanding social situations.

Even though they might be quite bright, they will not do well at school and are often near the bottom of the class. On the inside, the young person may be feeling that they are worthless and that they just cannot do anything right. It is common for them to show anger and blame others for their difficulties if they do not know how to change for the better.


This leaflet is based on material produced by The Royal College of Psychiatrists.  ( 
© March 2012  - The Royal College of Psychiatrists. Reproduced with permission.

MHAF would like to thank the Royal College of Psychiatrists, United Kingdom, for kindly granting permission to use this leaflet  based on material produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists ( © March 2012.