Disruptive Behavior Disorders in Children

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"Parents are an essential part of treatment for their child's disruptive behavior disorder. The most effective interventions we've seen are parent-based."

Eugene d'Angelo, PhD, chief of Children's Division of Psychology

When a child is acting out—disrupting activities, ignoring rules, goading others or erupting in defiance at being told “no”—the entire family feels the impact. You may feel helpless to control your child’s restlessness or anger, unsure how to respond or at a loss as to how to return some sense of stability and normalcy to the family environment. You may also find yourself with more questions—What’s wrong with my child? How can we keep our family together in the midst of all this chaos?—than answers. 

Children’s Hospital Boston’s team clinicians are here to help. First, it might be beneficial to learn as much as you can about your child’s condition. 

  • Disruptive behavior disorders are a group of behavioral problems. They are called “disruptive” because affected children literally disrupt the people and activities around them (including at home, at school and with peers).
  • The most common types of disruptive behavior disorder are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder.
  • Children with oppositional defiant disorder display a persistent pattern of angry outbursts, arguments and disobedience. While this behavior is usually directed at authority figures, like parents and teachers, it can also target siblings, classmates and other children.
  • Conduct disorder is a far more serious condition that can involve cruelty to animals and people, other violent behaviors and criminal activity.

It may also help you to know that you’re not alone. Disruptive behavior disorders are relatively common in children, and with the right care, these conditions can be treated successfully.

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches disruptive behavior disorders

Children’s Hospital Boston has a long history of pioneering important advances in behavioral and mental health for children and adolescents. Our Department of Psychiatry clinicians are committed to evidence-based treatments—therapies that have been tested and proven effective through careful scientific analysis, both here at our hospital and at top health centers around the world.

At the same time, we practice medicine that’s patient-focused and family-centered. We never lose sight of the fact that your child is, first and foremost, an individual—not merely a patient—and we include your family at every stage of the treatment process.

Here at Children's, our clinicians use several techniques to treat disruptive behavior disorders, including:

  • parenting modification strategies
  • social and emotional skills training for children
  • psychotherapy for the child and the family
  • if necessary, the addition of medication to the therapy plan

Working with your clinician, you can make a difference for your child by learning and using new:

  • communication skills
  • parenting skills
  • conflict resolution skills
  • anger management skills
Experience Journal gives kids, families an outlet
The Experience Journal is an online resource for kids and caregivers dealing with a variety of medical and psychiatric illnesses. Topics in each journal range from “Having to Go to the Hospital” to “Things that Help” and “Words of Wisdom,” and are organized by age group for easier navigation.

Disruptive behavior disorders: Reviewed by David R. DeMaso, MD
© Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011

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