Bad behaviour in children is normal from time to time, but if it is
persistent, it is important to tackle it. Unlike adults, children are
not good at expressing their feelings and tend to act them out. A child
who is upset or anxious may behave badly as a way of dealing with these
feelings. As parents, it is useful to see bad behaviour as a sign that
something is wrong for the child. Professional people working with
children, refer to persistent bad behaviour as a "conduct disorder".
Children who have conduct disorder have normal intelligence but often
under-perform because of their behaviour.
Why do children behave badly and develop conduct disorder?
Children need to feel safe and secure. If they don't, they will
express this insecurity through their behaviour. Sometimes it is easy
to identify the cause of problem behaviour. For instance a child may
act up after a divorce, because of bullying at school, because of
violence in the home, because they have fallen out with their friends,
because they cannot get their own way over something and for a variety
of other reasons. Children who come from homes where there is frequent
arguing, violence, where they are not properly supervised or looked
after are more likely to develop conduct disorders. Children who have
been physically or sexually abused can develop conduct disorders too.
Sometimes, parents cannot properly look after children because they
may be disabled, become physically ill or have a serious mental illness
such as depression. It is important in these cases that parents get
support and help for themselves so they are better able to manage the
children. The health and social services can provide such help. Often,
other family members will help if they are asked, and they have a good
relationship with the child.
If you can identify what is troubling your child by talking to them,
the solution may come fairly easily. Unfortunately children are not
always sure what is troubling them, or don't want to say. In these
instances, you may have to take an educated guess and ask them if a
certain incident or situation is troubling them. If that does not work
and the problems continue, seek help and advice from your doctor who can
refer you to specialist services.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
learning difficulties, who are bullied or unhappy or depressed, can
develop conduct disorders too. Children with these types of specific
problems will need treatment and support. Sometimes children who are
doing badly at school start to misbehave. For this reason it is useful
to discuss any difficulties you are having with school. If you have a
child with conduct disorder, it may be the school who contact you.
What to do if your child has conduct disorder
It is important to think about the way you generally handle your
children. Different families have different ways of dealing with poor
behaviour in children. Research has shown that there are some important
things you can do as parents to help children develop better self
control and to behave in a more socially acceptable way:
Adults dealing with a particular child or children should work
together, in a consistent way. This means that you should talk as
parents about how you will deal with your children when they misbehave.
Pay attention to how you respond when you child is behaving well, by
giving praise and encouragement.
The family rules should be clear. If they are broken, a
consequence should follow. The consequence may simply be a reminder of
what is expected, but sometimes it will require a punishment. People
tend to disagree about how to punish children. Many people do not like
the term at all - but it is important that as parents, you deal with
discipline in a consistent way. Where parents have differences, they
should discuss them with each other, away from t