Behavior Disorders

Understanding mental health disorders is never more critical than when children and teenagers are involved. Although it can feel like a test of character for parents caretakers, children with behavior disorders, a group of problems involving excessive anger and disruptive behaviors, need understanding (as well as compassion and patience) to help them lead normal lives.

Symptoms of Behavior Disorder

There are two major types of behavior disorders, Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). (Some children whose diagnosis does not perfectly match up with either may also be classified under “Disruptive behavior, Not Otherwise Specified (NOS).”)

Conduct Disorder is a serious condition in which the child repeatedly behaves in ways that violate rules, social norms, or the rights of others. To be considered conduct disorder, three of the following must have occurred within the last year, with at least one in the last six months:

  • Aggression or harm to people and animals
  • Destruction of property
  • Deceitfulness or theft
  • Serious violations of rules[3,5]

In Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), the child displays disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior towards authority figures. This goes beyond normal childhood rebelliousness and lasts at least six months.[5] Children with ODD often appear angry and stubborn, arguing with adults often, refusing to follow rules, and purposefully upsetting people.[5] They may question rules, blame others for their misbehavior, and take revenge on others.[5]

Causes of Behavior Disorders

It’s important to remember that the causes of a child’s behavior disorder are outside of his or her control. A combination of biological, environmental, and psychological factors affect the development of behavior disorders.[6] This means the disorder may run in a child’s family or it may be the result of problems in the child’s life.

Theories have suggested that issues with parental attachment, excessive punishment by parents, seeking out negative attention, or individual temperament may play a part in developing behavior disorders.[3] Many children with behavior disorders also have a family history of substance abuse, antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia, or mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.[3] However, children with no family history and healthy family lives can also develop behavior disorders.

Effects of Behavior Disorders

Behavior disorders result in problems at school including poor academic performance and social problems.[4] Behavior disorders also ripple through the family. Frequent confrontation is stressful on all members of the family and can create a feeling of separateness. When a child with a Conduct Disorder acts out violently, individuals, animals, or things can also be harmed.[5] Any illegal behaviors resulting from the child’s behavior may also result in legal problems.

Treatment for Behavior Disorders

Children with behavior disorders require and deserve treatment to help them get better. Treatment can involve a combination of training for parents, therapy for the child and family, and training children in social and emotional skills to help them get along better with their peers.[3] Medication may also be used to help control the most problematic symptoms.[3,5]

The sooner the child receives help, the better, and a number of low-cost options are available for families with limited financial resources. Contact your child’s physician or school counselor to find out more.


  1. Behavior Disorders. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Retrieved from:
  2. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Retrieved from§ion=Facts+for+Families
  3. Disruptive Behavioral Disorders – Symptoms, Tests, Treatment. Boston Children’s Hospital. Retrieved from
  4. Psychiatric Comorbidity, Family Dysfunction, and Social Impairment in Referred Youth With Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from
  5. Therapy in Disruptive Behavior Disorders. The Child Advocate. Retrieved from
  6. What Is An Emotional Or Behavior Disorder? PACER Center. Retrieved from:

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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