Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

All children are oppositional from time to time, particularly when tired, hungry, stressed or upset. They may argue, talk back, disobey, and defy parents, teachers, and other adults. Oppositional behavior is often a normal part of development for two to three year olds and early adolescents. However, openly uncooperative and hostile behavior becomes a serious concern when it is so frequent and consistent that it stands out when compared with other children of the same age and developmental level and when it affects the child’s social, family, and academic life.

In children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there is an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster’s day-to-day functioning. Symptoms of ODD may include:

  • frequent temper tantrums
  • excessive arguing with adults
  • active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
  • blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • frequent anger and resentment
  • mean and hateful talking when upset
  • seeking revenge

The symptoms are usually seen in multiple settings, but may be more noticeable at home or at school. Five to fifteen percent of all school-age children have ODD. The causes of ODD are unknown, but many parents report that their child with ODD was more rigid and demanding than the child’s siblings from an early age. Biological and environmental factors may have a role.

A child presenting with ODD symptoms should have a comprehensive evaluation. It is important to look for other disorders which may be present; such as, attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder) and anxiety disorders. It may be difficult to improve the symptoms of ODD without treating the coexisting disorder. Some children with ODD may go on to develop Conduct Disorder.

Treatment of ODD may include: Parent Training Programs to help manage the child’s behavior, Individual Psychotherapy to develop more effective anger management, Family Psychotherapy to improve communication, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to assist problem solving and decrease negativity, and Social Skills Training to increase flexibility and improve frustration tolerance with peers.

A child with ODD can be very difficult for parents. These parents need support and understanding. Parents can help their child with ODD in the following ways:

  • Always build on the positives, give the child praise and positive reinforcement when he shows flexibility or cooperation.
  • Take a time-out or break if you are about to make the conflict with your child worse, not better.
  • This is good modeling for your child. Support your child if he decides to take a time-out to prevent overreacting.
  • Pick your battles. Since the child with ODD has trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the things you want your child to do. If you give your child a time-out in his room for misbehavior, don’t add time for arguing. Say “your time will start when you go to your room.”
  • Set up reasonable, age appropriate limits with consequences that can be enforced consistently.
  • Maintain interests other than your child with ODD, so that managing your child doesn’t take all your time and energy. Try to work with and obtain support from the other adults (teachers, coaches, and spouse) dealing with your child.
  • Manage your own stress with exercise and relaxation. Use respite care as needed.

Many children with ODD will respond to the positive parenting techniques. Working with a child and adolescent psychologist can help reinforce parental concerns and ease the stress between the child and parents.

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