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Managing conduct disorder in kids

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Photo credit: acamh.org

All parents desire perfect children, without any form of disorder. However, this is far from reality, as some kids are born with developmental disorders, while others are affected by environmental factors, according to a Child Psychologist and Mental Health Counsellor, Eunice Chinedu-Nwigwe.

“Statistically, it is estimated that about three per cent of school-aged children have conduct disorder, and it is more common in boys than in girls.

Conduct disorder in children goes beyond having bad behaviour. It is a mental health condition that we need to give serious attention to,” she said.

Chinedu-Nwigwe added that children with conduct disorder are always angry, aggressive, argumentative and disruptive. They have difficulties obeying rules or behaving in a socially-acceptable way. They are often difficult to diagnose, because its signs and symptoms may look similar to those of other childhood developmental disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder.

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However, conduct disorder is characterised by patterns of violating societal norms and rights of others. Its symptoms are grouped into four categories:

• Aggressive behaviour: Children with conduct disorders display aggressive behaviour, such as cruelty to animals, committing rape, using weapon, fighting and bullying.
•Destructive behaviour: This involves vandalism, skipping, sexual behaviour at a very young age and excessive use of drugs and alcohol
• Deceitful behaviour: A child, who has been diagnosed with conduct disorder can exhibit shoplifting, forgery and lying behaviour.
• Violation of rules: Truancy and running away from home are common behaviours expressed by children with conduct disorder.

Chinedu-Nwigwe said a child whose behaviour consistently fell into these categories might have conduct disorder. However, it is important to have them properly diagnosed by a professional.

She said conduct disorder was not only a challenge for parents, teachers or caregivers, but also impaired a child’s ability to function.

The condition may affect their education. Children with conduct disorder misbehave so much that their education is affected.

Adolescents with conduct disorder are more likely to have legal issues. They cannot manage relationships, as they struggle to develop and maintain friendships. They may also engage in risky sexual behaviour.

Studies show that teens with conduct disorder are more likely to have multiple sexual partners and are less likely to protect themselves. Causes of conduct disorder:

“ Brain abnormalities. This involves children having some abnormalities or injuries in the brain.

Also, low Intelligence Quotient (IQ), poor verbal skills, and impairment in executive functioning might make children more vulnerable to the disorder.

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Additionally, studies suggest that inherited genes might be responsible for about half of anti-social behaviour.

Social issues, such as poverty, disorganised neighbourhoods, poor schools, family breakdown, parental mental illness, harsh parenting, and inadequate supervision are all strongly linked with conduct disorder.”

Chinedu-Nwigwe said conduct disorder was not a death sentence. Children with conduct disorders could be helped and managed using the right techniques. With family therapy, parents, siblings, and other family members might be invited for a therapy with the child.

Treatment often involves caregivers and parents. Parents would be taught behaviour management strategies and techniques to increase safety in the home if a child is aggressive or violent.

With psychotherapy, individual therapy could be helpful as the child would benefit from learning new skills, such as anger management and impulse control.

While there may not be medication, specifically to treat conduct disorder, doctors may prescribe medication to treat the symptoms or to address other underlying mental illnesses.

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