Difference Between Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder

It is common for children to show signs of change as they grow older. There can be both physical and mental changes.

Physical changes are often noticed, but not everyone can notice mental changes the same way. However, mental changes are not as prevalent as physical changes.

Mental changes can sometimes manifest as disorders. Defiant disorder and conduct disorder are two of the most common disorders.

Defiant Disorder vs Conduct Disorder

The main difference between defiant disorder and conduct disorder is that disobedience to elders is a key characteristic of defiant disorder, whereas disobedience to rules is a hallmark of conduct disorder.

Defiant Disorder vs Conduct Disorder

Children afflicted with defiant disorder exhibit rebellious behavior toward their elders. Children afflicted with defiant disorder dismiss everything that is said to them by their elders.

These types of behavior occur when children believe the elderly are trying to control their lives by imposing unnecessary rules and regulations, which makes them suspicious of them.

A child with a conduct disorder is also likely to show signs of disobedience.

However, the rebellious behavior shown by them is more directed towards the general rules imposed on everyone rather than just them.

Such rules are dismissed by children suffering from conduct disorders because they think they limit the fun and adventure.

Comparison Table Between Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder

Parameters of ComparisonDefiant disorderConduct disorder
DefinitionDisobedience towards persons of authority such as parents, teachers, or even strangers.Disobedience towards absolutely anyone regardless of age such as siblings, friends, or even animals.
Prominent behaviorThe predominant emotions are vengefulness, agitation, and irritation.The predominant emotions are aggression and violence.
CausesGenetic reasons, an inadequate structure at home, and disagreements with elders are a few of the causes.  Parenting problems, traumas, and low intelligence are some of the most common causes.
SymptomsThe symptoms of defiant disorder include argumentative behavior towards elders, short tempers, and resentment towards others.Physical fights, damage to property, bullying, and stealing are among some of the symptoms exhibited by children with conduct disorder.
TreatmentCurrently, no medications are approved for its treatment. It is best treated through therapy.It is best to seek therapy. In addition, medications such as Dexedrine, Ritalin, and Lithium can also be used.

What is Defiant Disorder?

Defiant disorder is characterized by an uncooperative and defiant attitude toward authority figures on the part of a child. Children with this disorder often have difficulty coping with their everyday lives.

By arguing, disobeying, or talking back, children may demonstrate their defiance toward their parents or teachers.

The child may have defiant disorder if the child displays these behaviors for longer than six months.

Children may develop defiant disorders due to genetic factors, a lack of structure at home, or a disagreement with their elders.  

Children with defiant disorders usually show signs during preschool. An angry or irritable mood, argumentative or vindictive behavior are some of the symptoms displayed by these individuals.

There’s little chance your child will see his or her behavior as problematic. It is more likely that he or she will complain about unreasonable demands or blame others.

Child psychologists or child psychiatrists with experience in disruptive behavior problems may be able to help if a child shows signs of defiant disorder or if you have concerns about your ability to parent a challenging child.

As no medication is proven to cure this disorder, the only way to treat it is through therapy.

What is Conduct Disorder?

An emotional and behavioral disorder characterized by repeated and persistent patterns of behavior in children is known as conduct disorder. Individuals with this disorder are unable to follow rules.

A few other common problems include being empathic, respecting the rights of others, and acting in a socially acceptable manner. The problem is that they are often more ill-mannered than mentally ill. 

Conduct disorder can be caused by many factors, including a cold-hearted attitude, past trauma, and damage to the brain.

In addition to aggression towards people and animals, damage to property, lies, theft, and dishonesty are common symptoms.

Children with conduct disorders can be challenging to treat. Depending on the severity of the behavior, treatment can be given in various settings.

A child’s unwillingness to cooperate, fear of adults, and distrust of them add to the challenge of treatment.

To help a child express and control anger appropriately, behavior therapy and psychotherapy are usually necessary. For children with learning disabilities, special education may be required.

Medications such as Dexedrine, Ritalin, and Lithium may also be prescribed in some cases.

Children who receive early treatment have a much better chance of improving considerably and gaining a better chance at success in the future.

Main Differences Between Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder

  1. Both disorders involve disobedience; however, in defiant disorder, this rebellious behavior is directed towards elders, while in conduct disorder, it’s directed towards any rule imposed regardless of who imposed it.
  2. Disobedience is often accompanied by vengefulness, agitation, and irritation, whereas behavior disorders are characterized by aggression and violence.
  3. Defiant disorder may result from genetic factors, lack of structure at home, and disagreement with elders, whereas conduct disorder may result from poor parenting, past trauma, and a low IQ.
  4. A child diagnosed with defiant disorder will argue with elders, have short tempers, and demonstrate resentment. In contrast, a child diagnosed with conduct disorder will initiate physical fights, damage property, be bullied, and steal.
  5. Treatment of either disorder is best achieved through therapy. While no other medications are safe or effective for the treatment of defiant disorder, medications such as Dexedrine, Ritalin, and Lithium can be beneficial for treating conduct disorder.


Acting out is something that all children do occasionally. A parent, a relative, a teacher, sibling, a friend, or even a relative can see this happen.

When this behavior persists for more than six months or becomes repetitive, it must be considered concerning.

Defiant disorder and conduct disorder are two examples of problematic behavior found in children.

Though both defiant disorder and conduct disorder involves disobedience on the part of a child, how this disobedience is expressed is what differentiates them.

Before trying to eradicate the disorders, it is important to consider whether the children are rebellious toward older people or towards their peers and siblings, as well as behaviors such as aggression, irritation, violence, and resentment.

It is not wise to ignore these mental disruptions in a child’s changes. Identifying the root causes of the child’s behavior and fixing them is the best course of action.

Therapy may be the best approach in this regard. 


  1. https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2010-23724-004
  2. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4899-1501-6_6
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