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Educating Students With Conduct Disorders: The Challenges

Updated on February 19, 2012

Conduct Disorders: Society's Problem


The Facts About Conduct Disorders

Conduct disordered youth are more likely to resort to criminal activity therefore interventions should focus on changing the behavior and educating the student. Treatment for a conduct disordered student involves a multi tiered model, including the family, school, and the community. Success will not be seen unless strategies are developed to meet the needs of the student and the family.

It is also important to understand what family situations may impact treatment and account for these potential issues. When all of this is done there is hope for conduct disordered youth in society, but the key to anyu successful plan involves persistence and patience.

What Is a Conduct Disordered Student Like?

Conduct disorders are characterized by a persistent and pervasive pattern of aggressive and destructive behavior. Generally, disruptions and behavioral problems are experienced in multiple settings (school, home, community) and affect the way in which a student reacts to situations and people in positions of authority. In many cases, conduct disorders will present with other mental disabilities or personality disorders.

What is a conduct disorder and what might I experience in my classroom if I have a student who has a conduct disorder?

Conduct disordered youth often refuse to obey authority figures. They are quick to question rules and will argue with authority figures.

Are more likely to be truant and skip school.

Engage in more substance abuse use, gang activity, and crimes

Have a lack of empathy for others

Are often spiteful and vengeful

Display aggressive behaviors such as bullying, harming animals and sexual/physical abuse

Are more likely to start fights

Often carry and use weapons

Lie to parents, teachers, and other adults

May engage in criminal behaviour such as stealing, deliberately lighting fires, breaking into houses, shoplifting, sexual abuse and vandalism

Have a tendency to run away (especially girls) (National Mental Health Association, 2005)

Have learning difficulties and underachieve in school (Australian Psychological Society, 2002)

Suffer from lower levels of self-esteem or have other issues with inadequacy

May have suicidal tendencies or participate in risk taking behaviors.

Causal Factors in Conduct Disordered Youth

In order to fully understand what a conduct disorder is and reasons it has such an impact on a student's ability to learn it is important to look at the underlying causes known to be precursors to the development of conduct disorders.


Parents do not set limits and follow through with consequences (Morrell & Murray,2003)

There is limited supervision at home

There are problems in the family and higher incidence of stressors

Physical and emotional abuse from parents and guardians

Living with parents who have an aggressive parenting style or a history of mental illness


Lower socioeconomic status; living in poverty

Being in foster care

Brain damage


Differences in gender; boys are more likely to have conduct disorders than girls(National Mental Health Association, 2005)

Suffering from post traumatic stress (PTSD)

Having anxiety, depression, or other mental health related disorders

Being diagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disordered (ADHD)

Classroom Strategies For The Conduct Disordered Student

Working with a conduct disordered student can be a challenge by any means and may lead to teacher burn out if appropriate strategies are not utlized. However, certain strategies, when combined, can lead to success for the conduct disordered student. Above all else, it is important to not engage in verbal battles with this type of student because it can make the situation worse. Listed below are some academic, family, and medical strategies that have proved to be effective with this population.

Academic Interventions

Apply behavior therapy both in the school and in the home

Anger management and stress management classes

Incorporate a social skills and peer relations curriculum in the school to address problem behaviors

Refer students to a special education program if necessary

Individual Classroom Strategies

Insure that the student is in a structured classroom environment

Make sure rules are established and provide daily routines to keep the student balanced

Assign consequences for problem behaviors and make sure the student knows why the consequence was assigned

Give positive reinforcement and praise student for doing good

Establish a token economy system in your classroom

Teach pro social skills and have the student practice these skills in real life situations

Give behavioral contracts (focus on 3 goals that are the most pressing for the student)

If necessary, establish a time out room/place for student when furstrated

Family Interventions

Schools can help by developing programs that teach parents ways to manage their child’s behavior

Functional family therapy

Integrated approach by family and teachers

Medical Interventions

Management of any co-existing problems

Medication (in case of co-existing depression or ADHD) combined with counseling


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