Treatments for Disruptive Behavior Disorders in Children

It's entirely natural that you may be scared, anxious and confused right now about your child's condition and well-being; a behavioral disorder can be frightening for any parent. But you can rest assured that here at Boston Children's Hospital, your child is in good hands.

Importantly, at Children's, we consider psychiatric medication to be part of a “two-step approach,” along with talk therapy. We never prescribe medication as a standalone treatment method. Learn more about how Children's Psychopharmacology Clinic works with families and caregivers to determine whether medication can help. 

Treatments for oppositional defiant disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder is typically treated with one or more of the following methods: 

Parenting modification
Your involvement as a parent is crucial to the treatment of your child's oppositional defiant disorder. Here at Children's, we've learned that the best approach to ODD is helping parents learn new strategies, like how to anticipate problematic behavior, manage outbursts and implement consistency in the child's daily routine.

Social-emotional skills training
Building on the parenting modification techniques, therapy for ODD also focuses on providing social-emotional skills training for your child. Through the course of therapy sessions with the clinician, your child will learn:

  • new skills for identifying and managing feelings
  • how to get along better with others
  • strategies for making good decisions that are based on thinking rather than feeling 

Learn more about parenting modification strategies and social-emotional skills training for ODD. 

Psychiatric medication
In addition to therapy, your clinician may recommend medication to treat your child's oppositional defiant disorder. There currently are no drugs prescribed specifically for the condition, but certain symptoms can respond very well to medication in conjunction with talk therapy. Learn more about commonly prescribed psychiatric medications.

Treatments for conduct disorder

Children and adolescents with conduct disorder tend to have another mental health problem, such as an anxiety disorder or mood disorder (such as depression); in these cases, it's essential that both conditions be treated at the same time.

Conduct disorder itself requires complex, careful and long-term treatment, and methods usually involve a combination of intensive psychotherapy and psychiatric medication.

Some children with conduct disorder need to stay in a residential treatment center where they can be removed from their usual environment, managed appropriately and separated from others until their behavior is stabilized and safe.

Learn more about commonly prescribed psychiatric medications.

Long-term outlook

What is the long-term outlook for children with a disruptive behavior disorder?

Oppositional defiant disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder responds very well to the treatments listed above when delivered by qualified clinicians. Although some children grow out of their ODD in time, these disorders can go on to cause continued problems without timely professional intervention. 

Children and adolescents who are not treated for ODD are likely to experience:

  • difficult relationships with parents and other authority figures
  • failure at school
  • juvenile delinquency 

As they age, they may be at greater risk for conduct disorder, and so close monitoring by family and health professionals is essential.

Conduct disorder

The earlier in the child's life conduct disorder symptoms emerge, the more difficult the prognosis.

Children with conduct disorder may develop antisocial personality disorder and violent/criminal behaviors later in life, especially if their symptoms go untreated. For these reasons, it's essential to treat conduct disorder as soon as possible to help the child and family restore and maintain a healthy, functional quality of life.

Coping and support

Guiding your child and family through treatment for a disruptive behavior disorder can be overwhelming, and we're here to help. Boston Children's Hospital offers the following resources for comfort and support: 

  • Children's Center for Families is dedicated to helping families locate the information and resources they need to better understand their child's particular condition and take part in their care. All patients, families and health professionals are welcome to use the Center's services at no extra cost. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Please call 617-355-6279 for more information.
  • The Advocating Success for Kids (ASK) Program at Children's provides multidisciplinary evaluation, referral and advocacy services for children under age 14 who are experiencing behavioral, emotional, learning or developmental problems, either at home or at school. ASK works with children who receive their primary care either at Boston's Bowdoin Street Community Health Center, Martha Eliot Health Center or Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center or at Children's Primary Care Center. For more information about ASK, please call 617-355-4690.
  • The Experience Journal was designed by Children's psychiatrist-in-chief David DeMaso, MD, and members of his team. This online collection features thoughts, reflections and advice from kids and caregivers dealing not only with physical illnesses like asthma and diabetes, but also with behavioral and mental health conditions like ADHD and depression.

View Children's comprehensive guide for patients and families.


Helpful links

Please note that neither Boston Children's Hospital nor the Department of Psychiatry at Children's unreservedly endorses all of the information found at the sites listed below. These links are provided as a resource.

Helpful links for parents

Helpful links for teens