Oppositional Defiant Disorder: Could Your Child Have This?

As any parent can attest, certain stages of children's developmental process include periods where they are especially difficult, such as the so-called terrible twos. However, sometimes children exhibit troubling behavior that's beyond what we'd normally expected at that age and stage of development.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) is a behavioral disorder that usually begins in early childhood. The psychiatric industry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder defines ODD as a persistent pattern of angry and irritable mood with defiant and vindictive behavior. Children younger than five old must exhibit this behavior most days for at least six months, and children older than five must display such behavior at least once per week for at least six months to be diagnosed with ODD.

ODD is more common in children who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Tourette syndrome (a nervous system condition that causes uncontrollable tics). In fact, about one-third to one-half of children with ADHD also have an accompanying behavior disorder. Individuals with Oppositional Defiance Disorder may also experience anxiety and depression.

Children with ODD tend to:

  • Lose their temper often,
  • Argue with adults or refuse to comply with rules and requests,
  • Be angry, resentful, or vindictive,
  • Annoy others or become easily annoyed themselves, and
  • Blame others for their mistakes or behaviors.

Mental health professionals consider ODD a family disorder since it tends to run in families. There may be a genetic component or ODD may simply be learned behavior. It's more likely in families in which parental limits are overly harsh or overly lax, the family lacks structure, or parents apply rules inconsistently. Children with ODD generally have at least one parent who models ODD behavior or at least one parent who is emotionally or physically unavailable to their child due to their own emotional problems. ODD behavior may be a way for children to feel safe, gain a sense of control, or get attention.

Some research indicates that ADHD symptoms place children at risk for behavior consistent with ODD, and other research suggests that children with elevated ODD symptoms seem to be persistently involved in the juvenile justice system and have a greater probability of eventually receiving charges for serious crimes.

Behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing behavior, is generally effective for addressing ODD and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may help older children. It can take time before you see results from therapy.


American Psychiatric Association. "Oppositional Defiant Disorder." Web.


Encyclopedia of Mental disorders. "Oppositional defiant disorder." Web.


Pardini, Dustin A. Ph.D and Fite, Paula J., Ph.D. "Symptoms of Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and Callous-Unemotional Traits as Unique Predictors of Psychosocial Maladjustment in Boys: Advancing an Evidence Base for DSM-V."

Journal of American Academy Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 49(11) (2010): 1134-1144. Web.


Centers for Disease Control. "Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)." Web. 12 December 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/conditions.html