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What Is Conduct Disorder? CBT Kenya
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  • Posted by: cbtkeadmin

What Is Conduct Disorder? CBT Kenya

Conduct disorder is an ongoing pattern of behavior marked by emotional and behavioral problems. Children with conduct disorder behave in angry, aggressive, argumentative, and disruptive ways. Conduct disorder in children goes beyond bad behavior. It is a diagnosable mental health condition that is characterized by patterns of violating societal norms and the rights of others. It’s estimated that around 3% of school-aged children have conduct disorder.

It is not uncommon for children and teens to have behavior-related problems at some time during their development. However, the behavior is considered to be a conduct disorder when it is long-lasting and when it violates the rights of others, goes against accepted norms of behavior and disrupts the child’s or family’s everyday life.

What Are the Symptoms of Conduct Disorder?

Symptoms of conduct disorder vary depending on the age of the child and whether the disorder is mild, moderate, or severe. In general, symptoms of conduct disorder fall into four general categories:

  • Aggressive behavior: These are behaviors that threaten or cause physical harm and may include fighting, bullying, being cruel to others or animals, using weapons, and forcing another into sexual activity.
  • Destructive behavior: This involves intentional destruction of property such as arson (deliberate fire-setting) and vandalism (harming another person’s property).
  • Deceitful behavior: This may include repeated lying, shoplifting, or breaking into homes or cars in order to steal.
  • Violation of rules: This involves going against accepted rules of society or engaging in behavior that is not appropriate for the person’s age. These behaviors may include running away, skipping school, playing pranks, or being sexually active at a very young age.

In addition, many children with conduct disorder are irritable, have low self-esteem, and tend to throw frequent temper tantrums. Some may abuse drugs and alcohol. Children with conduct disorder often are unable to appreciate how their behavior can hurt others and generally have little guilt or remorse about hurting others.


Conduct disorder isn’t just a challenge for caregivers—it actually impairs a child’s ability to function. Some areas where the condition may affect a child’s life include:

  • Education: Children with conduct disorder misbehave so much that their education is affected. They usually receive frequent disciplinary action from teachers and may skip school. Children with conduct disorder may be at a higher risk of failure or dropping out of school.
  • Legal issues: Adolescents with conduct disorder are also more likely to have legal problems. Substance abuse, violent behavior, and a disregard for the law may lead to incarceration.
  • Relationships: Children with conduct disorder also have poor relationships. They struggle to develop and maintain friendships. Their relationships with family members usually suffer due to the severity of their behavior.
  • Sex: They may also engage in risky sexual behavior. Studies show that teens with conduct disorder are more likely to have multiple sexual partners and are less likely to use protection.


Researchers aren’t exactly sure why some children develop conduct disorder. A variety of biological, psychological, and social factors are likely involved. Quite often, those factors overlap. Some that may play a role include:

  • Brain abnormalities: Imaging studies suggest children with conduct disorder may have some abnormalities in certain areas of the brain. The pre-frontal cortex (which affects judgment) and the limbic system (which affects emotional responses) may be impaired.
  • Cognitive deficits: Low IQ, poor verbal skills, and impairment in executive functioning may make children more vulnerable to conduct disorder.
  • Genetics: Studies suggest that inherited genes may be responsible for about half of anti-social behavior.4 Researchers aren’t sure which specific genetic components contribute to conduct disorder.
  • Social issues: Poverty, disorganized neighborhoods, poor schools, family breakdown, parental mental illness, harsh parenting, and inadequate supervision are all strongly linked with conduct disorder.


Treatment for conduct disorder depends on several factors, such as a child’s age and the severity of behavior problems. The most common treatment methods include:

  • Family therapy: Parents, siblings, and other family members may be invited to attend therapy with the child. Sometimes, improving the relationship between parents and a child may improve family interactions.
  • Medication: There isn’t a medication that specifically treats conduct disorder. But sometimes doctors may prescribe medication to treat the disorder’s symptoms or to address other underlying mental illness.5
  • Parent training: Treatment often involves caregivers and parents. Parents may be taught behavior management strategies and techniques to increase safety in the home if a child is aggressive or violent.
  • Psychotherapy: Individual therapy may be helpful when a child could benefit from learning new skills, such as anger management and impulse control.
  • Residential placement: In cases where a child or adolescent’s behavior has become out of control, treatment in a residential program may be necessary to keep everyone safe. A therapeutic environment may address substance abuse issues, sexualized behavior, or violence.

Early intervention is key to getting the most effective treatment, so it’s important for parents, educators, and physicians to be aware of the signs of conduct disorder in children so that appropriate referrals and interventions can be put into place.

Can Conduct Disorder Be Prevented?

Although it may not be possible to prevent conduct disorder, recognizing and acting on symptoms when they appear can minimize distress to the child and family, and prevent many of the problems associated with the condition. In addition, providing a nurturing, supportive, and consistent home environment with a balance of love and discipline may help reduce symptoms and prevent episodes of disturbing behavior.

Getting professional help does not mean you are weak or broken. It’s choosing to get better and take care of yourself. CBT-Kenya (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Kenya) counseling center offers counseling and therapy sessions for persons from all walks of life. We focus on helping clients gain insight into themselves by going through a healing process. Our purpose is to help you to achieve your therapeutic and life goals, to improve the quality of your life and to help you to build strong relationships in your life. Get in touch or book an appointment on +254 739 935 333, +254 756 454 585 or info@cbtkenya.org.

Author: cbtkeadmin
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