Children that start up fires…could it be a case of Conduct Disorder?

There is a Swahili saying that goes ~mtoto umleavyo ndivyo akuavyo~

Do we ever wonder whether offenders that die in mob justice scenarios have parents? Mama Peter is a single mother of two boys. Peter is thirteen years old and John is three. To note is that Peter had been the only child for a long time. Everything changed for him when John was born. But Peter has always been a spoilt and naughty child. His mother lived her life for him and lavished him with all she could afford. Things just got worse when his younger brother came about and took all the attention away from him.

He would leave home in full school uniform and carrying his school bag but would never make it to school. One would find him playing football during school hours all alone or recruit different street children and beg along the highway. It took a whole term for mama Peter to discover that he had not been to class even for a day after accidentally meeting the head teacher who thought the boy had transferred to a different school.

Mama Peter was fed up with her son. Every other day there was an issue she had to sort out as concerned her son. Either he had beaten up a girl in the neighborhood, broken into an old lady’s house, stolen bananas, punctured all the four wheels of a distant uncle`s probox among many other dramatic cases. What was even worse was his cruelty to animals and the fascination of killing cats, strangling rats and thereafter hanging them by the tail on people’s doorsteps. You could see him grin when a woman would open her door and get startled, scream or faint. His pranks were simply bizarre for his age.

The day mama Peter snapped was when he tried to molest the pastor’s daughter at the age of 12. She had to have the girl rushed and attended to in hospital while pleading with her parents not to report the issue to the police. Fortunately the medical report revealed he had not gone too far and minimal physical damage/ laceration had been caused.

Is Peter just a naughty 13 year old or has he just crossed the line. His mother had resolved to canning, shouting, silent treatment, denial of favors etc. All methods of punishment had been engaged at different times and things seamed to be getting worse. What was the problem here and is Peter`s future simply doomed? Will he outgrow the behavior?

The facts: –

  • Conduct disorder is an ICD-10 diagnosis characterized by a repetitive and persistent pattern of anti-social, aggressive or defiant behaviors that violate age-appropriate societal norms.
  • Commoner in boys and in urban populations
  • Highly co-morbid with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance abuse, learning difficulties, childhood depression and anxiety.
  • Associated with:
  1. Social disadvantage: – Poverty and low socio-economic class, homelessness and overcrowding, unemployment.
  2. Parent factors: – parental criminality, mental disorder or substance abuse, inconsistent and critical parenting style, parental conflicts, teenage parenting and single parenthood.
  3. Low child IQ, attachment problems, neuro-developmental disorders and poor interpersonal relationships.

What to look out for: –

Symptoms lasting more than 6 months and affecting peace at home or in school and the general interactions of the child with society.

  • Aggression/ cruelty to people and or animals
  • Destruction of property
  • Deceitfulness
  • Theft
  • Fire-setting
  • Truancy
  • Running away from home
  • Severe provocative and disobedient behavior

What can be done in Kenya: –

Parenting is one of those things that most people simply learn on the job. There is hardly a manual. Many mistakes occur in the process and most are unintentional. Some parents are too strict, others have no connection with the child whereas others are too busy trying to make ends meet or consider lavish presents and holidays as adequate bonding time. Conduct disorders are best prevented but once the symptoms set in a few options are available and they include:-

  1. Parent Management Training (PMT) a well-researched program conducted in groups by a trained health care professional based on scientific evidence and not on personal experiences.
  2. Child Interventions: Carried out by a psychologist including social skills training, problem solving skills, anger management and confidence building.
  3. Assessment and addressing any present co-morbidities like ADHD and learning difficulties.
  4. The government of Kenya should hopefully take up the social disadvantage factors to curb the menace of street children and the ever-increasing number of offenders.



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