Identifying & Treating Antisocial Behavior in Children

All children exhibit both positive and negative social behavior as they grow up and develop both physically and emotionally. Some kids are prone to lying, some become withdrawn, and some like to rebel against every decision of their parents. This does not automatically mean that your child is antisocial. For example, there are many introverted sports stars and brilliant but rebellious students. However, at the same time, there are many children who show high levels of antisocial behavior. They can be disobedient and hostile. They are prone to stealing, lying and may destroy property, harm animals, and even other people. They are also likely to be physically and verbally abusive. This type of conduct could be an indication that your child is exhibiting signs of antisocial behavior. Read on to know everything about identifying and treating antisocial behavior in children.

What is Antisocial Behavior in Childhood?

Some children may show high levels of antisocial behaviors right from a young age. They can be disobedient, hostile, prone to lying, stealing, and causing harm to animals, people, and things.(1,2,3,4) They may also consciously destroy property and are physically and verbally abusive. This type of conduct usually indicates that your child is exhibiting signs of antisocial behavior. Antisocial behavior can be managed without treatment, but it is important to know that if left untreated, such antisocial behavior can lead to more serious problems once the child becomes an adult.(5,6,7,8)

Antisocial behavior is usually characterized by:

  • Excessive aggressiveness
  • Deceitfulness
  • Hostility towards any authority figure
  • Defiance

These conduct issues typically show up during early childhood and during adolescence and are more commonly observed in young boys.

While there is no current data to show the number of children who are antisocial, but earlier research studies have placed the number between four to six million, and the number continues to grow rapidly.(9,10)

What are the Risk Factors for Antisocial Behavior in Children?

There can be many risk factors for antisocial behavior in children. These include:

  • Genetics and family history
  • School environment
  • Poor and negative or abusive parenting practices
  • Unstable or violent home life
  • Neighborhood environment

Neurological problems and hyperactivity can also be the causes of antisocial behavior. For example, adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are found to be at a higher risk of also developing antisocial behavior.(11)

Symptoms of Antisocial Behavior in Children

Signs and symptoms of antisocial behavior can sometimes be seen in children as young as 3 or 4 years old, and if left untreated, it can develop into a more serious condition by the time the child becomes nine years old or reaches third grade. Some of the common symptoms exhibited by children with antisocial behavior may include:

  • Chronic delinquency
  • Rebellion and violating rules
  • Stealing
  • Chronic lying
  • Abusive and harmful towards people and animals

Research has shown that antisocial behavior that begins in childhood is often associated with a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse by the time the child reaches adolescence. This is also because of shared environmental and genetic influences.(12,13)

Antisocial Behavior in Childhood Can Lead To Antisocial Personality Disorder in Adults

In children with severe forms of antisocial behavior, it is possible for it to develop into a conduct disorder, or they may be diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder.

Children with antisocial behavior are also more likely to drop out of school and also have trouble maintaining a healthy relationship and job. This type of behavior can also lead to antisocial personality disorder by the time they become adults. Adults having antisocial personality disorder are prone to displaying antisocial behavior and other types of conduct disorder symptoms before the age of 15.(14,15)

Some of the common signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder may include:

  • Arrogance
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of conscience
  • Having aggression and violent tendencies
  • Lack of remorse
  • Using charm to manipulate and have their way

Can Antisocial Behavior Be Prevented?

If the signs are caught early on, it is possible that early intervention can prevent antisocial behavior. According to the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, schools should develop and implement three types of prevention strategies:(16,17)

Primary Prevention Strategies

The first step revolves around having certain primary prevention strategies, which include keeping students engaged in school-wide activities that would deter antisocial behavior. This can include:

  • Emotional literacy
  • Anger management skills
  • Teaching conflict resolution

Secondary Prevention Strategies

The second step revolves around targeting students who are especially at a risk of developing antisocial tendencies and engaging them positively in individualized activities, such as:

  • Counseling
  • Mentoring
  • Giving social skills lessons in small groups
  • Specialized tutoring

Tertiary Prevention Strategies (Treatment)

The third step revolves around continued intensive counseling. Intensive counseling focuses on treating antisocial students and students who show chronic patterns of aggression and delinquency. It is recommended that families, teachers, counselors, and others involved with the child combine and coordinate their efforts to treat children with antisocial behavior.

Can Antisocial Behavior Be Treated?

There are other ways of treating antisocial behavior. These include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Training for developing problem-solving skills
  • Adolescent therapy
  • Family therapy

It is also recommended for parents to take parent management training that helps address any type of negative parenting issues that can also contribute to a child’s antisocial behaviors.(18)

Research has shown that a reasonable amount of discipline, affection, warmth, and an authoritative parenting style can have positive effects on children. This can help in creating positive relationships and also improve school performance.

Conclusion

It is normal for children and teenagers to show some type of antisocial tendencies, such as being rebellious or withdrawn. However, for many children, these tendencies can also indicate that there is something more serious going on. If you are worried about your child’s behavior, you should first speak with your child to get a better sense of what is going on in their life and to get an understanding of the situation from their perspective. At the same time, it is important to also speak with a doctor so that you can come up with an effective treatment plan for your child’s antisocial behavior.

Remember that it is important to address any type of conduct issues as early as possible in childhood itself in order to prevent the condition from developing into something more severe in the future.

References:

  1. Reid, J.B., Patterson, G.R. and Snyder, J.E., 2002. Antisocial behavior in children and adolescents: A developmental analysis and model for intervention. American Psychological Association.
  2. Dishion, T.J. and Patterson, G.R., 2006. The development and ecology of antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
  3. Connor, D.F., 2004. Aggression and antisocial behavior in children and adolescents: Research and treatment. Guilford Press.
  4. Ascione, F.R., 1993. Children who are cruel to animals: A review of research and implications for developmental psychopathology. Anthrozoös, 6(4), pp.226-247.
  5. Arluke, A., Levin, J., Luke, C. and Ascione, F., 1999. The relationship of animal abuse to violence and other forms of antisocial behavior. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14(9), pp.963-975.
  6. Kazdin, A.E., 1987. Treatment of antisocial behavior in children: Current status and future directions. Psychological bulletin, 102(2), p.187.
  7. Meichenbaum, D., 2006. Comparison of aggression in boys and girls: A case for genderspecific interventions. Melissa Institute. Miami, FL.
  8. Raine, A., 2002. Biosocial studies of antisocial and violent behavior in children and adults: A review. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 30(4), pp.311-326.
  9. Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., Van Kammen, W.B. and Farrington, D.P., 1989. Development of a new measure of self-reported antisocial behavior for young children: Prevalence and reliability. In Cross-national research in self-reported crime and delinquency (pp. 203-225). Springer, Dordrecht.
  10. Olweus, D., 1989. Prevalence and incidence in the study of antisocial behavior: definitions and measurements. In Cross-national research in self-reported crime and delinquency (pp. 187-201). Springer, Dordrecht.
  11. Thapar, A., Van den Bree, M., Fowler, T., Langley, K. and Whittinger, N., 2006. Predictors of antisocial behaviour in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 15(2), pp.118-125.
  12. Rhee, S.H. and Waldman, I.D., 2002. Genetic and environmental influences on antisocial behavior: a meta-analysis of twin and adoption studies. Psychological bulletin, 128(3), p.490.
  13. Gard, A.M., Dotterer, H.L. and Hyde, L.W., 2019. Genetic influences on antisocial behavior: Recent advances and future directions. Current opinion in psychology, 27, pp.46-55.
  14. Glenn, A.L., Johnson, A.K. and Raine, A., 2013. Antisocial personality disorder: a current review. Current psychiatry reports, 15(12), p.427.
  15. Farrington, D.P., 2005. Childhood origins of antisocial behavior. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy: An International Journal of Theory & Practice, 12(3), pp.177-190.
  16. Walker, H.M., Horner, R.H., Sugai, G., Bullis, M., Sprague, J.R., Bricker, D. and Kaufman, M.J., 1996. Integrated approaches to preventing antisocial behavior patterns among school-age children and youth. Journal of emotional and behavioral disorders, 4(4), pp.194-209.
  17. Walker, H.M., Kavanagh, K., Stiller, B., Golly, A., Severson, H.H. and Feil, E.G., 1998. First step to success: An early intervention approach for preventing school antisocial behavior. Journal of emotional and behavioral disorders, 6(2), pp.66-80.
  18. Kazdin, A.E., Siegel, T.C. and Bass, D., 1992. Cognitive problem-solving skills training and parent management training in the treatment of antisocial behavior in children. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 60(5), p.733.

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