Conduct Disorder

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Causes of Conduct Disorder

Familial Contributions

Divorce, Marital Distress, and Violence
The inter-parental conflicts surrounding divorce have been associated with the development of conduct disorder. However, it has been noted that although some single parents and their children become chronically depressed and report increased stress levels after separation, others do relatively well.

Forgatch suggested that for some single parents, the events surrounding separation and divorce set off a period of increased depression and irritability which leads to loss of support and friendship, setting in place the risk of more irritability, ineffective discipline, and poor problem solving outcomes. The ineffective problem solving can result in more depression, while the increase in irritable behavior may simultaneously lead the child to become antisocial.

More detailed studies into the effects of parental separation and divorce on child behavior have revealed that the intensity of conflict and discord between the parents, rather than divorce itself, is the significant factor. Children of divorced parents whose homes are free from conflict have been found to be less likely to have problems than children whose parents remained together but engaged in a great deal of conflict, or those who continued to have conflict after divorce. Webster noted that half of all those children referred to their clinic with conduct problems were from families with a history of marital spouse abuse and violence.

In addition to the effect of marital conflict on the child, conflict can also influence parenting behaviors. Marital conflict has been associated with inconsistent parenting, higher levels of punishment with a concurrent reduction in reasoning and rewards, as well as with parents taking a negative perception of their child's adjustment.

Family Adversity and Insularity

Life stressors such as poverty, unemployment, overcrowding, and ill health are known to have an adverse effect on parenting and to be therefore related to the development of conduct disorder. The presence of major life stressors in the lives of families with conduct disordered children has been found to be two to four times greater than in other families.

Mothers' perception of the availability of supportive and social contact has also been implicated in child contact disorder. Mothers who do not believe supportive social contact is available are termed "insular" and have been found to use more aversive consequences with their children than non-insular mothers (Webster-Stratton & Dahl, 1995)

Parent Child Interactions

Research has suggested that parents of children with conduct disorder frequently lack several important parenting skills. Parents have been reported to be more violent and critical in their use of discipline, more inconsistent, erratic, and permissive, less likely to monitor their children, as well as more likely to punish pro-social behaviors and to reinforce negative behaviors. A coercive process is set in motion during which a child escapes or avoids being criticized by his or her parents through producing an increased number of negative behaviors. These behaviors lead to increasingly aversive parental reactions which serve to reinforce the negative behaviors.

Differences in affect have also been noted in conduct disordered children. In general their affect is less positive, they appear to be depressed, and are less reinforcing to their parents. These attributes can set the scene for the cycle of aversive interactions between parents and children.

Other Family Characteristics

Birth order and size of the family have both been implicated in the development of conduct disorder. Middle children and male children from large families have been found to be at an increased risk of delinquency and antisocial behaviors.

Other Useful Links regarding Conduct Disorder

  • Symptoms of Conduct Disorder
  • Course of Conduct Disorder
    • The onset of conduct disorder may occur as early as age 5 or 6, but more usually occurs in late childhood or early adolescence, learn more about the course of conduct disorder
  • Subtypes of Conduct Disorder
  • Causes of Conduct Disorder
    • Read more about the various causes of conduct disorder, including, biological, family, genetic, neurological, parent related, and school factors.
  • Treatment of Conduct Disorder
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