Every child will test boundaries and exhibit defiance from time to time. This is a normal part of growing up. However, sometimes a child’s defiance can be so frequent and so difficult to control that it signals a deeper issue. Such a child might be considered for a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
ODD is characterized by a persistent pattern of disobedience, tantrums, and other disruptive behavior directed at people in authority. Signs of ODD include:
- Temper tantrums
- Refusing to comply
- Blaming others
- Easily annoyed
- Anger and resentfulness
- Aggression toward peers
- Trouble making and keeping friends
- Trouble in school
- Low self-esteem
To be true ODD, these signs must be persistent and last for at least six months, causing disruption at home and school. ODD is often diagnosed around the time a child reaches 8 years old, but it is also seen in preschool-aged children.
Doctors are not sure of the exact cause of ODD, but they think it is a combination of genetic, environmental, and biological factors. This can include brain injuries or abnormal amounts of brain chemicals, a family history of mental illness, or inconsistent discipline. Children with ODD may also have other coexisting issues that will need to be treated, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities. The sooner you are able get an evaluation by a mental health professional, the more positive effect it will have on your child.
If you suspect your child has a problem, discuss it with your pediatrician. You may be referred to a pediatric mental health professional for a full evaluation. Treatment can include educating parents on ways to manage an ODD child, therapy to help the child better deal with anger issues, family therapy to help build communication skills, and possibly medication.
Parenting a child with ODD is a challenge, but consistency is key. Do not allow your child’s defiant behavior to intimidate you into giving in on proper discipline. At the same time, make sure your discipline is reasonable and appropriate. This will help your child become more secure and help manage the behavior.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019
- ODD is when a child has a persistent pattern of disobedience, tantrums, and other disruptive behavior toward people in authority.
- Signs are persistent and have lasted for at least six months, causing disruption at home and school. They are not the same as normal behavior of testing boundaries.
- Children with ODD may also have other behavioral issues that will need to be treated as well.
- Early treatment usually offers good results.