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No. 33

Conduct disorder in children is common, and there are many reasons for it. If your child bullies or intimidates other children, destroys property, initiates fights or is cruel to other people or animals in a physical way, there may be an underlying issue that should be addressed.

Children who have conduct disorder are often viewed as bad children or delinquents by other people, although there is usually a reason for their behavior other than they simply want to act out.

Some of the reasons that children become unruly or aggressive may include traumatic experiences in their lives, child abuse, a genetic predisposition to conduct disorder and even brain damage. Environmental, genetic and social factors may all play a role in a child developing conduct disorder problems.

Research has also shown that defects and/or injuries to the brain can lead to these disorders in children. Neurotransmitters which are special chemicals in the brain that assist nerve cells so that they communicate with each other may be unbalanced or not functioning properly, which can lead to other mental illnesses like anxiety disorder, ADHD and even depression.

Conduct disorder in children typically becomes apparent in the early or middle years of childhood; nearly 50% of children who exhibit symptoms of conduct disorder do so by adolescence. You may notice that your child is disruptive, behaves in a violent manner or has trouble following rules. In the United States it is estimated that approximately 2% to 16% of children suffer from this disorder which is more common in boys.

While it isn't unusual for children to display these types of behaviors at some point in their lives, it becomes a problem when the conduct disorder is long term or disrupts the lives of the child/family.

How is conduct disorder diagnosed and treated? While there isn't a specific test that can confirm a child is affected, a psychiatrist or psychologist can often determine whether the condition exists using assessment and interviewing tools along with observing the behavior patterns and attitude of the child. It is important that the physician also have open communication with the parents who can offer more information on the child's behavior and symptoms.

Once a child is diagnosed with conduct disorder, the physician may consider a variety of therapies based on how severe the symptoms are as well as the child's age and ability to tolerate the preferred therapies. Generally speaking, physicians often use a combination of psychotherapy and medication to treat the symptoms and help a child learn to control their actions and improve their problem solving skills.

As a parent it is important to consult with a physician when you suspect conduct disorder. When left untreated, children may participate in risky behaviors such as drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and violence. While you have no control in preventing conduct disorder, early treatment and a loving, supportive home environment can greatly contribute to fewer episodes and symptoms.

This article was written by Tim Manasterski, a staff member.

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