Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a behavior disorder that most experience in childhood. If a child struggles with ODD, they likely experience symptoms such as hostility towards others, defiance, and uncooperativeness.
In many cases, a child with ODD will also struggle with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or other mood disorders.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at ODD, it’s symptoms, causes, and how it can be treated. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
Symptoms of ODD
While ODD symptoms are most prevalent in children and teens, some people of this age range will show symptoms of ODD but not actually struggle with the condition.
The most notable traits of ODD are children defying authority, arguing parents, and overall disobeying. Symptoms may be more prevalent when they’re tired, hungry, or upset. ¹
The most common symptoms of ODD include: ²
- Angry attitudes
- Arguing with adults
- Blaming others for their own misbehaviors and mistakes
- Easily annoyed
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Harsh or unkind speech
- Purposefully annoying others
- Questioning rules (as well as refusing to follow rules)
- Refusing adult requests
- Seeking revenge
If similar symptoms are interfering with your child’s relationship with others or their ability to learn, they may be struggling with ODD.
However, ODD symptoms may also appear in other mental health issues. So, it’s important to discuss diagnosis with a healthcare professional.
What Causes ODD?
As of this time, researchers still don’t 100% what causes ODD. In order to start discussions, they’ve developed two theories: ³
- Developmental Theory – The concept that children and teens with ODD have trouble becoming independent of a parent (or other person they were attached to) and presenting these conflictions in abnormal behaviors. While this theory suggests ODD can last up until teenage years, the problems initially start when a child is still a toddler.
- Learning Theory – The concept that negative symptoms of ODD are learned through the bleak reinforcement techniques of parents and other powers (i.e. teachers). The more negative reinforcement a child experiences, the more likely they’ll struggle with ODD symptoms. Most notably due to the fact that parents continue giving a child what they want (attention or reactions) from bad behavior.
Again, these are simply theories on the causes of ODD. It’s likely there are other factors, including a link between other mental disorders, such as anxiety or ADHD.
Furthermore, ODD is believed to be more prevalent in boys than in girls.
Since researchers don’t know what causes ODD, there’s no method of preventing it in children. However, some research suggests that early intervention programs can be helpful in teaching children how to deal with anger and develop social skills. ⁴
If you have a teen who struggles with ODD, they’re more likely to benefit from psychotherapies (talk therapies), learning social skills, and receiving help with schoolwork (i.e. a tutor).
However, since ODD may be a cause of parenting, it’s also beneficial to sign up for parent-management training programs. These will teach you how to manage a child’s behavior and develop positive reinforcement methods.
ODD Treatment & Diagnosis
The sooner an ODD is diagnosed, the better chance your child has at overcoming the condition.
There is no standard testing for ODD. Instead, a doctor will ask questions about your child’s behavior and run a few mental health screenings. Other tests may take place in order to ensure your child isn’t struggling with another condition.
The most prominent treatment for ODD is various types of therapies, including:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Allows your child to develop an understanding of their thought process while also teaching them to overcome problems and better communicate with others.
- Family Therapy – Can help to improve communication skills within a family (whether that be parents or siblings). It will also provide you with the tools to help support your child.
- Peer Group Therapy – Helps to better social and interpersonal skills with a child.
There are no medications prescribed for ODD. However, if a doctor finds your child is struggling with another disorder (such as ADHD), you may receive medication.
How to Help a Child with ODD
If you do have a child with ODD, it’s in your best interest to do everything in your power to help the child overcome the illness. Here are some suggestions for parents:
- Be sure to keep up with all appointments made by your healthcare provider.
- Always participate in family therapy when it’s suggested.
- Engage in conversation with your child’s healthcare provider or other medical professionals involved, such as a social worker or therapist. The more these people know about your child’s condition, the better chance they have at helping.
- Inform others about your child’s ODD diagnosis – especially their school as further treatment plans may be optional.
- Find support in other parents that also have children with ODD. This can help relieve stress on your end and provide you with more insight into the condition.
The sooner ODD is treated, the better chance your child has at overcoming it. While it’s not as common in adults, many children and teens with the condition may find symptoms appearing in adulthood. This is likely due to the condition going untreated.
Early signs of ODD can be a blessing in disguise at it allows you to better understand what’s going on with your child’s psychology. Giving both you and them the opportunity to lead lives without ODD symptoms plaguing the maturation process.
Still have questions about what an oppositional defiant disorder is?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further advice to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Psychology Research and Behavior Management: Oppositional defiant disorder: current insight
² National Library of Medicine (StatPearls): Oppositional Defiant Disorder
³ International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy: Emerging Research and Theory in the Etiology of Oppositional Defiant Disorder: Current Concerns and Future Directions
⁴ National Library of Medicine (ClinicalTrials.gov): Prevention of Oppositional Defiant and Conduct Disorders in Preschool Children