Parenting a child with conduct disorder can be downright overwhelming. These children seem to make it their life’s mission to defy the rules and cause chaos and upset to those around them, leaving even the most educated and patient of parents feeling utterly exhausted and defeated. If this sounds like you, read on for 9 of our best tips and strategies for dealing with conduct disorder at home.
What Is Conduct Disorder?
Conduct disorder is a behvioral and emotional disorder characterized by disruptive and violent behaviors and an inability to follow rules. Symptoms develop during childhood or adolescence and make it difficult for a child to act in a socially acceptable manner. While most children go through a period where they act out and try to push their limits, a child’s behaviour-related problems are thought to be the result of conduct disorder if they are long-lasting, infringe on the rights of others, and/or disrupt a child’s life and the lives of his or her family members.
What Are the Signs of Conduct Disorder?
Children with conduct disorder appear tough on the outside, but often have low self-esteem. Symptoms vary depending on a child’s age and whether he or she has a mild, moderate, or severe form of the disorder, but they tend to include the following:
- Aggressive behavior that threatens and/or causes physical harm to others through bullying, physical fighting, etc.
- Destructive behavior such as vandalizing someone else’s property
- Deceitful behavior such as lying , stealing, or breaking and entering into someone else’s car or home
- Inappropriate behavior that goes against what is socially acceptable for a child’s age, such as skipping school or abusing drugs and alcohol
A child with conduct disorder acts impulsively and shows little guilt or remorse for their behavior and how it impacts others.
What Are the Causes of Conduct Disorder?
While the exact cause of conduct disorder is unknown, it is thought to be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to:
- Brain injury
- Childhood abuse and/or trauma
- Psychological and/ or cognitive processing deficits
Conduct Disorder At Home: 9 Tips and Treatment Options for Parents
Treatment for conduct disorder can be challenging, especially if the disorder is severe and/or your child simultaneously struggles with other mental health conditions. For this reason, it’s important to seek help as early as possible. If you’re looking for tips and treatment options to help you get on the right path, these ideas will help.
1. Educate yourself
If you want to know how to help a child with conduct disorder, one of the very first things you need to do is educate yourself on your child’s diagnosis. The better you understand the struggles your child faces, the easier it will be to strategize ways to help him or her at home and beyond. Putting your head in the sand, pretending your child’s challenges don’t exist, and/or blaming yourself for the diagnosis isn’t going to benefit your child in any way, shape, or form. The sooner you reach a level of acceptance and equip yourself with the information you need to help your child thrive, the better. Talk with your child’s doctors and teachers, research online, join support groups, and read as much as possible.
Sadly, there aren’t a lot of books available on conduct disorder per se, but the following offer great insight into behavioural challenges in children and teens as well as behavior management tips and strategies:
- Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges
- The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children
- Oppositional, Defiant & Disruptive Children and Adolescents
- CBT Toolbox for Children and Adolescents
2. Be clear about rules, expectations, and consequences
Developing a set of ‘House Rules’ in which you clearly define what is expected of your child is another great first step in dealing with conduct disorder within your home. Make sure to keep the list relatively short (aim for 5-10 items), focus on behaviors your child struggles with but include a few behaviors you know your child can easily achieve to ensure greater success, use basic language, and make sure the rules you’re trying to enforce are realistic. Examples might include:
- I use a quiet voice
- I keep my hands and feet to myself
- I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
- I clean up after myself
- I do not interrupt when someone is speaking
Keep the list in a place your child frequents throughout the day (his or her room, the fridge, next to the TV, etc.) so you can review it together often, and if you find your child struggling to follow the house rules you’ve set forth, consider turning it into a reward chart whereby your child earns a small reward for successfully following a certain number of rules each day (i.e. if your child earns 4 of 6 check marks, he or she gets an additional 15 minutes on his or her iPad after school).
3. Be consistent and always follow through
There’s no doubt that dealing with conduct disorder in kids can be extremely challenging, and while it can be very difficult to stand your ground in the face of your child’s explosive anger, consistency really is key. When you give into his or her demands, you’re teaching him or her that your rules are up for negotiation and meaningless. So, no matter how hard it feels in the moment, make sure to follow through!
4. Stay on top of other mental health disorders
Many children and teens with conduct disorder have co-morbid conditions like ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. These conditions can make the symptoms of conduct disorder worse, making it more important than ever to get these challenges under control. Consult with a trained mental health professional to confirm the reasons behind your child’s behavior so you can better understand how you can support him or her and which treatment options you should prioritize.
5. Discuss therapy options with your child’s healthcare provider
There are different therapy options available to help kids and families of kids with conduct disorder, each with varying levels of success.
- Parent Management Training is aimed at helping parents learn how to better manage their child’s behavior. Training is focused on enforcing rules, rewarding good behavior, learning how to negotiate and compromise with a child, and implementing effective discipline techniques.
- Psychotherapy helps a child learn how to better express and control his or her feelings, exercise self-control, see other people’s points of view, etc. Psychotherapy can be conducted in a group setting for younger kids or on an individual basis for older kids.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy helps a child learn how to reframe the way they think, allowing them to improve their impulse control, anger management, and problem-solving skills.
6. Practice new skills
Regardless of what type of therapy you decide to undertake, make sure to discuss treatment goals and strategies with your child’s therapist and teachers to ensure there is continuity at home and school.
7. Consider medication
While there is no known medication for conduct disorder, some medications can be used to treat specific symptoms (impulsivity, mood, etc.). Additionally, if your child has another condition like ADHD or depression, using medication to get those symptoms under control can be beneficial.
8. Be patient and present for your child
Children and teens with behavioral disorders receive a lot of negative feedback throughout the day. Teachers and parents spend a lot of time telling these kids about all of the things they’re doing wrong, and while this isn’t always done deliberately and is often prompted directly by the child, it can negatively impact your little one’s self-esteem. So, no matter how disruptive and misbehaved your child has been, find ways to connect with him or her, offer praise wherever possible, and make it a point to highlight one (or more) things your child does RIGHT each day.
9. Practice self-care
My last tip for parents of children with conduct disorder is to make sure you’re prioritizing your own needs. Self-care is one of the first things to slip when life gets busy and stressful. Time is a luxury very few of us have, and the idea of finding an additional 15-30 minutes to invest in ourselves can feel overwhelming. But what we fail to realize is that we cannot be good to the people we love if we aren’t good to ourselves first.
Keep in mind that self-care goes above and beyond manicures and massages, and will look different through each phase of your life. Right now, your self-care routine may be more about finding the time to eat well, exercise, sleep, and enjoy your morning mug of coffee on your own. Whatever it is that you need, make time for it. It will not only benefit you – it will benefit the people you love as well.
CLICK HERE for a list of 21 self-care care ideas for women you actually have time for!
If you’re looking for tips and strategies to help your child with conduct disorder, I hope the ideas in this post prove useful to you. Remember to educate yourself, stay on top of other health conditions that may be exasperating your child’s symptoms, discuss different therapy options with your child’s doctor, and find ways to keep your own cup full so you can be present for the ones you love.