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What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

A child accidentally disrupting class while talking to a friend is a normal occurrence. The same person screaming in the middle of a lesson and blatantly acting against their teacher is a whole other issue that's likely a sign of something more serious. 

If those behaviors become a pattern, it may be that your child has oppositional defiant disorder or ODD. While many kids lash out against others from time to time, those with ODD do so incessantly. It's problematic to the point that it can disrupt every part of their life. 

So what are the common traits of oppositional defiant disorder, and how do you find appropriate mental health support for it?

All children are reactive, especially when they are tired, hungry, stressed or upset. They may contradict, talk back and defy parents, teachers and other adults.

Oppositional behavior is a normal part of development for children from the ages of two, three years old through early adolescence. However, challenging uncooperative and hostile behavior becomes a serious concern when it is so frequent and consistent that it stands out compared to other children of the same age and developmental level and when it interferes with the child's social, family and academic life.


What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Oppositional defiant disorder is a type of behavior disorder that is diagnosed in childhood. As the name implies, children with ODD are defiant and may be hostile towards everyone around them. These are the students that always get into trouble despite numerous attempts to teach them the consequences of their actions. 

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a behavioral disorder that leads to disobedience and anger against authority figures and can affect a person's personal life, school performance, and social life.

Although ODD has similar symptoms to other disorders, it is different than them. Many children with ODD are diagnosed with ADHD due to their tendency to avoid work or sitting still. One of the main differences is that doctors can treat the symptoms of ADHD with medication, while ODD requires extensive training and therapy.  

Some children with ODD eventually outgrow the disorder. However, around a third of them will eventually develop a conduct disorder that may become a personality disorder. 

Traits of ODD

Children with ODD have an ongoing hostile pattern of behaviour that limits their day-to-day functioning. It's not as simple as them ignoring directions or refusing to do their classwork.

A child with oppositional defiant disorder will throw frequent temper tantrums and constantly argue with adults. They question the rules and refuse to comply with them. In some cases, they may deliberately act in a way that upsets others around them. 

The child with ODD may be easily annoyed or angered. They may talk in a rude or spiteful manner. If they feel that they were wrongly punished or even talked down to, they may seek revenge. 

Symptoms of ODD are more commonly seen at home or school due to the nature of these settings. 

Symptoms of odd:

  • Frequent outbursts of anger
  • Frequent conflicts with adults
  • Often challenges rules
  • Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
  • Blames others for his/her mistakes or misbehaviour
  • Often irritable or easily annoyed by others
  • Often loses his temper or has outbursts of anger
  • When upset hurts
  • Uses lies to be believed
  • Hostile and vindictive attitude
  • Hurtful attitude towards others and gets angry when others bother it
  • Negative mood

Symptoms usually occur in a variety of settings, but may be most noticeable at home or school.

What Causes ODD in Children?

1-16% of school-age children and adolescents are diagnosed with ODD. It is thought that the interaction between genetic predisposition and environmental factors may lead to the onset of symptoms.

It occurs more often in boys than in girls and often co-exists with attention deficit disorder, anxiety disorders and behavioural disorders.

Like many mental health disorders in teens, the exact cause of ODD is not known. However, research suggests that it is due to a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. 

There are two leading theories regarding how a child can develop oppositional defiant disorder: the developmental theory and the learning theory. 

The developmental theory suggests that the problems started when the child was still a toddler. The idea is that these children had trouble learning to become independent from their parents and act out as a way to gain their attention. 

The learning theory suggests that the negative symptoms of ODD are a result of learned behaviors. In other words, they are the result of the negative reinforcement methods used by their parents. They reflect their environments and act out because they see other people in their life reacting that way. 

It's likely a result of a combination of both because most children with ODD grow out of it to some extent. That suggests that as they develop and learn, new behaviors begin to take root. 

Odd risk factors

Brain chemistry: ADHD has been linked to certain types of brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, not working the right way. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain to communicate with each other. If these chemicals do not work properly, messages may not reach the brain properly, leading to symptoms of the disorder and other mental illnesses. In addition, many children and teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) also have other mental illnesses, such as attention deficit disorder (ADHD), learning disorders, depression or anxiety disorder, that may contribute to their behavioral problems.

Other brain differences: Some studies show that damage or injury to certain areas of the brain can lead to serious behavioral problems in children.

Temper: Children who have difficulty controlling their emotions are more likely to have ODD.

Family history: Many children and adolescents with ODD have close family members with mental illnesses such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.

Family issues: Issues such as dysfunctional family life, substance abuse and inconsistent discipline from parents or other personalities can lead to the development of behavioral disorders.

Peers: Attention from peers or others can sometimes reinforce ODD behaviors.

Diagnosis of childhood ODD


A diagnosis of childhood ODD usually involves a comprehensive assessment by a qualified mental health professional, such as a child psychiatrist or psychologist. The diagnostic process may include the following steps:

Initial assessment: The mental health professional will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the child's behavior, medical history, and family history. The mental health professional may also conduct interviews with the child and the child's parents or caregivers to gather information about the child's symptoms and behaviors.

Assessment of symptoms: The mental health professional will assess the child's symptoms using standard diagnostic criteria, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The criteria for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) include a pattern of hostile, defiant and disobedient behaviour towards authority figures, which must persist for at least six months.

Exclude other conditions: The mental health professional will also evaluate the child for other mental health conditions that may have similar symptoms to Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), such as conduct disorder or ADHD. This will help ensure an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.

Parent and teacher assessments: The mental health professional can also obtain assessments from the child's parents and teachers using standardized questionnaires to provide additional information about the child's behavior in various settings.

Observation of the child: The mental health professional may also observe the child's behavior in various settings, such as at school or at home, to assess the child's symptoms and behavior.

Overall, a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) in childhood requires a thorough evaluation and assessment of the child's symptoms and behavior, as well as consideration of other possible conditions. It is important to seek professional diagnosis and treatment from a qualified mental health provider.

Treatment of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Treatment is based on several parameters, including the age of the child, the severity of symptoms and the child's ability to participate in and tolerate certain treatments. Treatment usually consists of a combination of the following:

  • Psychotherapy: This type of counseling aims to help the child develop more effective social coping skills, problem solving, and ways to express and control anger. A type of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy aims to redevelop the child's thinking (cognition) to improve behaviour.
  • Family therapy: Can be used to help improve family interactions and communication between family members. A specialized treatment technique called parent management training (PMT) teaches parents ways to positively change their child's behavior. Behavior management plans often involve the development of parent-child contracts that identify rewards for positive behaviors and consequences (punishments) for negative behaviors.
  • Medication: Although there is no formally approved medication to treat ODD, medications can sometimes be used to treat symptoms (including impulsivity and unstable). Sometimes, a child with ODD needs medication for other mental illnesses he or she may be experiencing, such as ADHD or depression.

Management of ODD

Management of ODD

Family environment - Parents need support and understanding. They can help their child in various ways:
Always rely on the positive, give the child praise and positive reinforcement when they show flexibility or cooperation.

Take a break if you are going to aggravate the conflict with your child. This is good modeling for your child. Support him if he needs time to prevent overreaction.

Choose your battles. Because the child has difficulty avoiding conflict, prioritize the things you want your child to do.

Set reasonable, appropriate limits (age appropriate) with consequences that can be consistently enforced.

Maintain different interests from your child so that managing them doesn't take all your time and energy.

Try to cooperate and get support from other adults (teachers, coaches, and spouse) involved with your child.

Manage your own stress with healthy lifestyle choices such as exercise and relaxation. Take care of yourself.

Coping with ODD in the Classroom

School environment - Classroom strategies for dealing with ODD.

  • Tactical reminder of the teacher's understanding and respect for the student.
  • A reward system - students with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) respond much better to rewards than to sanctions.
  • Opportunities for the student to show the skills they know well.
  • When the schedule changes or a different activity is planned, prepare children with ODD separately.
  • Praise positive behavior both individually and publicly for other students to hear.
  • Remind the student that you are not the cause of his or her disdain, but rather his or her outlet.
  • Remind yourself that you are human and may need a moment (or longer) to calm down and manage your frustration - and that it is okay.

Parenting Techniques for Home 

At home, it's a different kind of struggle. While there may not be any other children to disrupt, a child with ODD can still cause disruptions in public places or yell at home. 

For re-occurring arguments, try to find the root cause of the problem. Make changes to the process and stay consistent. Use a calm voice when communicating with them, and explain why it's important to follow the rule. 

In general, effective parenting should include an enforced structure and building affiliation with your child. You should also ask for feedback and respect their choices, even if it isn't necessarily what you had planned for them. 

Complications of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

oppositional defiant disorder

ODD can lead to various complications, which can affect a child's social, academic and emotional well-being. Some possible complications of ODD include:

Poor academic performance: Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) may struggle with academic performance due to difficulty following rules and instructions and challenging authority figures. This can lead to poor grades and academic underachievement.

Problems in relationships: Oppositional Defiant Disorder can affect a child's ability to form positive relationships with peers, teachers and other authority figures. This can lead to social isolation, difficulty making friends and poor social skills.

Mental health problems: Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) are at increased risk of developing other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders. These conditions can further impact a child's emotional well-being and academic performance.

Conduct Disorder: children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) are at increased risk of developing Conduct Disorder, a more severe behavioral disorder characterized by persistent violation of the rights of others and disregard for rules and authority figures.

Family conflict: Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can cause significant stress and conflict in the family, as the child's behavior can be challenging for parents and caregivers to manage. This can lead to family dysfunction and further exacerbate the child's symptoms.

Legal problems: In some cases, the child's behavior can lead to legal problems, such as engaging in criminal behavior or getting into fights.

It is important to seek professional help if your child is exhibiting symptoms of ODD, as early intervention can help prevent further complications and improve outcomes.

The outlook for people with enantiomic provocative disorder

The outlook for people with enantiomeric provoking disorder (ODD) can vary depending on the severity of the disorder and the quality of treatment and support they receive. With appropriate treatment and support, many people with ODD are able to manage their symptoms and live successful, fulfilling lives. However, without treatment, ODD can lead to long-term complications and negative outcomes.

Research shows that early intervention is key to improving outcomes for children with ODD. Treatment typically includes a combination of behavioral therapy, parent education, and medication if necessary. Behavioral therapy can help the child learn to manage their emotions and improve their social and interpersonal skills, while parent education can help parents and caregivers learn effective strategies for managing their child's behavior and providing support. In some cases, medication may be used to manage the symptoms of other co-existing conditions, such as ADHD or anxiety.

Although Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can be challenging for both the person with the disorder and their family members, with appropriate treatment and support, many people with ODD are able to overcome their symptoms and live successful and fulfilling lives. It is important to seek professional help if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of ODD, as early intervention can improve outcomes and prevent further complications.

Prevention of Antisocial Defiant Disorder (ODD)

There is no guaranteed way to prevent oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), as the exact causes of the disorder are not fully understood. However, there are some strategies that can help reduce the risk of ODD or prevent its onset. Here are some possible prevention strategies:

Positive parenting: Providing consistent and positive parenting can help reduce the risk of ODD. This includes setting clear boundaries and expectations, using positive reinforcement to encourage good behaviour and providing emotional support for the child.

Early intervention: Early identification and treatment of behavior problems in young children can help prevent the development of ODD. This may include seeking professional help if the child exhibits persistent disobedience or defiance, aggression, or other troubling behavior.

Addressing family conflict: Addressing conflict within the family and providing emotional support to the child can help prevent the development of ODD. Family therapy can help improve communication and reduce conflict within the family.

Creating a positive home environment: A positive family environment that is stable and nurturing can help prevent the development of ODD. This may include providing the child with a safe and supportive environment, reducing stress in the home, and ensuring that the child has access to positive role models and social support.

It is important to note that while these strategies may help reduce the risk of developing ODD, they may not be effective for every child. In addition, seeking professional help if your child is exhibiting persistent behavioral problems is important, as early intervention can help prevent further complications and improve outcomes.

When should parents call for help immediately

You should immediately call the specialist who is watching the child or teenager when :

  • Feeling severely depressed, afraid, extremely anxious or angry about themselves or others.
  • Feels out of control
  • He or she hears voices that others cannot hear
  • Sees people and situations that others do not see
  • Cannot sleep or eat for 3 days in a row
  • Has a behaviour that worries friends, family, teachers
  • If he or she expresses suicidal tendencies or thoughts

Finding Mental Health Services

There's no guaranteed way to prevent or medicate oppositional defiant disorder. It's not like your child's doctor can prescribe a medication that will stop their misbehaviour. Only positive parenting and treatment can help improve their behaviour before it gets worse. 

Find a therapist that specializes in treating ODD. You can also purchase behaviour management ebooks online to help build your child's social skills, regulate their emotions, and develop empathy. There may also be parent support groups either in your area or available online that are worth joining. 

Improve Your Mental Health Support Skills

Even the best mental health professionals may struggle to manage the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder. After all, a child with ODD will defy all the rules and expectations set by an authority figure. Lucky for them, there is plenty of online material that can help.

Upbility provides material in various areas, including special education, learning disabilities, behaviour, and language. You can also search our materials by a role if you're a speech therapist, psychologist, or work in another field. Contact us to learn more about our products or if you have any questions. 

Copyright Upbility 2023

Original content from the Upbility writing team. Reproduction of this article, in whole or in part, without credit to the publisher is prohibited.

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