Stubbornness or Conduct Disorder in Nigeria.

Keywords: Conduct disorders, stubbornness, behavioural disorder, Nigeria.


Stubbornness or Conduct Disorder in Nigeria. What is conduct disorder? Is conduct disorder the same as stubbornness? Do Nigerian children have conduct disorder?  What causes conduct disorder?       

In Nigeria, many people, including parents do not know about conduct disorder. And most often they attribute some negative behaviours in children to stubbornness which could actually be conduct disorder. So a child who abuses or talks back to his/her elder, or who refuses to do house chores is seen as stubborn. Also a child who refuses to conform to normal societal norms is seen as a stubborn child. Having been labeled as a stubborn child, the society lets the child get away with a lot of negative behaviours. Unfortunately, this child is at risk of getting involved in vises which will badly affect members of the society. 

What is conduct disorder?

Conduct disorder is a behavioural and emotional disorder seen in children before age 18 years. Some people refer to conduct disorders as juvenile delinquency. There is a difference between conduct disorder and juvenile delinquency. The child who has juvenile delinquency has conduct disorder and is in trouble with the Police or Judiciary. So a child who has conduct disorder has problems with adhering to rules and regulations. And his or her behaviours are socially unaccepted by the society. To other children and even to adults, the child with conduct disorder presents himself as being tough and confident. But in actual fact, this child feels insecure and sees other children and other people as threatening.

Types of conduct disorders:

There are actually two types of conduct disorders.

The childhood onset –

This starts before the age of 10 years. For some children it can start as early as 5 to 6 years.

Then the adolescent onset –

This starts during the adolescent age, i.e. after age 10 years.

Actually, the behaviours among these two groups are the same, but one difference is the age the bad behaviours start. Another difference between the two types of conduct disorder are the complications that follows the bad behaviours. These complications are worse with the childhood onset type of conduct disorder.

Behavioural issues:

These children behave in ways to show that they do not want to be controlled but they want to control others. They can be hostile, physically violent and violate other people’s rights in many ways.

Physical aggression –

These children are known bullies, because they are ever ready to fight, bite, push, hit, etc. They not only extend these behaviours to their fellow children, but also to adults. They also destroy properties and set houses on fire, called arson. And they harm innocent animals that pose no harm to them or others. For example, these children can be seen stoning lizards and killing them. They can even pluck the feathers of life chicken.

Verbally aggressive –

They curse, verbally or psychologically abuse others, like other children and adults, including their parents.

Refuse to be controlled –

So they do not conform to family rules, school rules or even the laws of the land. Such children refuse doing house chores and if the rules at home are too much, they run away from home. They go to school late and may not go with their complete uniforms. They may even jump the fence to leave school and get involved with other forms of school truancy.

Get in trouble with the law –

These children with conduct disorder steal break into people’s homes and engage in robbery. They also engage in pick pocketing, especially for phones and money. Also get involved with rape and other forms of sexual assaults and may use weapons to force sex. And can also engage in forgery.

They are manipulative –

These children are perfect in lie telling and manipulate others to believe their lies. And they blame others for their bad behaviours. In the society, they believe in cutting corners to get what they want. This is because they do not feel guilt or remorse for their bad behaviours and cannot empathize with others. They usually feel happy when they engage in deceitful acts

Behavioural Red Flags –

These children are aggressive, destructive, deceitful and violate rules. They can make these bad behaviours alone, or when they are in a group. This means that they can form gangs or cults. The members of these cults can go about terrorizing people.

Is conduct disorder the same as stubbornness?

Stubbornness is being not willing to change one’s position or stance. That is, not being ready to make any change on position taken on an issue. So when children are stubborn, they are not ready to listen to their parents on a particular issue. And no amount of pleading, threats, etc. will make the child shift in his or her decision. These children are determined to do what they want and not willing to change. For example, a child will refuse doing the chores assigned to him or her by the parents. Instead, he will prefer to go out to play football the entire day.

A stubborn child may in extreme cases become aggressive. Also a child with conduct disorder does portray stubbornness. But the two conditions are not the same. Conduct disorders has 4 cardinal features that children that are only stubborn do not possess. These features are     aggressiveness, destructiveness, deceitfulness and violation of rules. And many children who have conduct disorders end up having criminal tendencies.

Do children in Nigeria have conduct disorder?

Among Nigerian primary school children in the southern part of Nigeria, 9.8% had conduct disorder in a 2020 research study. An earlier study was done among secondary school students in the urban area of Port Harcourt in 2008. This study gave a prevalence of 15.82% of these children having conduct disorder. This study listed the most common behaviours found in these students. These included bullying, threatening classmates and other students, poor school attendance, stealing and poor academic performance. They also refused to do assignments, fought with other students and were involved in crime.

Among adolescent Nigerian children serving jail terms for juvenile delinquency, 56.5% had conduct disorder in one study. Many of these adolescents had been physically and psychologically abused and neglected by their parents.

Conduct disorders among street children in Nigeria is quite high. Street children are children who live or make their living on the streets and this includes the Almajiris. These children are known to have street fights, steal, have school truancy abuse substances, engage in rape, etc.

What causes conduct disorder?

The causes and risk factors to conduct disorders involve both genetic and environmental factors.


The studies that are trying to prove a genetic link are at the early stages and more works are being done. But the researches have documented some genetic influence in the cause of conduct disorder. This means that the disorder can be inherited. Children with biological parents that have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or that abuse alcohol are at risk of developing conduct disorder. If the parent is suffering from depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the child is also at risk.  

Problems with the brain and brain chemicals:

The frontal lobe of a child having conduct disorder, is smaller in size from that of a child without conduct disorder. This is because the frontal lobe has low quantities of white and grey matters than normal. This problem at the frontal lobe makes it difficult for the child to plan adequately, avoid harm and learn from past experiences.

Neurotransmitter levels:

The levels neurotransmitters in the brain of children with conduct disorder are not balanced. For example, the levels of serotonin and cortisol are low.  

Environmental factors:

Physical traumas to the brain –

These include difficult labour and birth of the child which can cause damage to the baby’s brain. Shaking the heads of infants by adults while playing with them can predispose these children to conduct disorder. This can also damage some parts of the child’s brain, especially the frontal lobe. Even any other physical trauma to a child’s head can predispose the child to conduct disorder. An example of this is a fall affecting the head.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) –

These are risk factors to a child developing conduct disorders. Conduct disorder affects children raised in dysfunctional homes and among children whose parents died or abandoned them early. This occurs more often if the parents left the child before he/she could develop conscience. When children lacked parental care, especially maternal care, they have difficulties in obeying authority. When the mother is unavailable to care for the child, the child may be left to beg on the streets. On the streets, the child will learn to steal in order to survive. If a child lived with a relative for up to one year duration, especially before the child is of school age, the child is at risk of being delinquent.

Also being raised in a polygamous home is a risk factor to the child developing conduct disorder. This is because there are unhealthy rivalries among the co-wives and even among the half siblings.  

In monogamous families, having more than five children is a risk factor for the children developing conduct disorders. This is because of reduced funds and housing issues. The large family size also prevents the parents paying adequate attention to each child.

Exposing children to violence in the homes or on the streets can predispose children to conduct disorders. In the present day Nigeria, children witness street shootings, inter village clashes, kidnapping, insurgencies, etc.  

Low self esteem –

Children with low self esteem are likely to externalize their problems by aggression.

Poor parenting –

In this category will include children who had poor attachment with their parents, especially the mother. When this happens the child’s brain will shift into a survival mode and learning becomes difficult. It will also include children whose parents were not adequately involved with them and children with ineffective discipline. These children feel insecure, so the learn to present a tough front.

Poverty –

Poor economic factors of the parents can lead to poor nutrition for the child. This can negatively affect the child’s developing brain and predisposing the child to conduct disorder.

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