Harvard Mental Health Letter

Options for managing conduct disorder

Treatment works best when it involves and empowers parents.

All children and adolescents act out occasionally, but those with conduct disorder consistently behave in unusually aggressive ways — sometimes resulting in property damage or physical injury. Examples of such behavior include stealing from parents, threatening schoolmates to extract pocket change, breaking windows in cars, and setting fires. Although children with conduct disorder may have normal intelligence, they tend to disrupt or skip classes and fall behind in school.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), the criteria for conduct disorder consist of 15 behaviors that fall into four broad categories (see "Criteria for conduct disorder"). Editors of the DSM-V, now undergoing review, have not proposed any changes in these criteria.

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