Disruptive behavior disorders (DBD) are a group of behavioral disorders that are characterized by ongoing patterns of defiant and hostile behaviors that children and adolescents direct at authority figures. The two most common forms of DBD are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder. While all children go through stages where they can be defiant in an attempt to test limits, kids with DBD exhibit these behaviors to such an extreme that it disrupts their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis. If you have a child who presents with symptoms of DBD, you might feel like you are trapped in a vicious spiral of negative behaviors without the hope of there ever being any reprieve. But there is hope for change.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of disruptive behavior disorders will vary based on the age of the child and the type of behavioral disorder that he or she has. Children’s temperament, social skills, and coping mechanisms will also affect the severity of the symptoms. The following are some common examples of symptoms that people with DBD may exhibit:

Behavioral symptoms:
  • Social isolation
  • Bullying
  • Revenge-seeking behaviors
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Willful destruction of property
  • Blaming others
  • Actively defying or refusing to comply with rules
  • Being cruel to animals
  • Playing with fire
Cognitive symptoms:
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent frustration
  • Memory impairment
  • Inability to “think before speaking”
  • Lack of problem-solving skills
Psychosocial symptoms:
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of remorse
  • False sense of grandiosity
  • Persistent negativity
  • Chronic annoyance and irritability
  • Low self-esteem


Treatment is usually multifaceted and depends on the particular disorder and factors contributing to it, but may include:

Parental education – for example, teaching parents how to communicate with and manage their children.

Family therapy – the entire family is helped to improve communication and problem-solving skills.

Cognitive behavioral therapy – to help the child to control their thoughts and behaviour.

Social training – the child is taught important social skills, such as how to have a conversation or play cooperatively with others.

Anger management – the child is taught how to recognize the signs of their growing frustration and given a range of coping skills designed to defuse their anger and aggressive behavior. Relaxation techniques and stress management skills are also taught.

Support for associated problems – for example, a child with a learning difficulty will benefit from professional support.

Encouragement – many children with behavioral disorders experience repeated failures at school and in their interactions with others. Encouraging the child to excel in their particular talents (such as sport) can help to build self-esteem.