Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Your Kid

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a behavior disorder that’s usually diagnosed in childhood. Children diagnosed with ODD have to exhibit extreme behavior issues for a period of at least six months. The severity and length of time the behavior lasts distinguishes it from other disruptive behavior. 

What causes ODD in a child?

Experts don’t know what causes ODD but they have two main theories for why it happens. The first is that the behavior could be a normal development problem that lasts beyond the toddler years. Children may have trouble learning how to detach emotionally from a parent or caregiver.  

The other theory is that the negative symptoms of ODD could be learned and mirror the negative reinforcement used by parents and other authority figures. The behavior means a child gets attention and a reaction from parents or others. 

Parents dealing with ODD often react by becoming too permissive or too coercive, neither of which works. It usually results in more negative interactions and takes a toll on family relationships. Counselling can help, and counsellors at Interactive Counselling in the Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey regions offer a variety of therapies and counselling options including online, in-person and phone sessions. 

Symptoms observed with ODD

Children with ODD will have well-established patterns of behavior problems that include the following:

  • Arguing with authority figures
  • Often losing their temper
  • Questioning rules and refusing to follow them  
  • Blaming others for their mistakes
  • Being unusually irritable and angry
  • Annoying people deliberately
  • Being spiteful or vindictive

One of the above symptoms on its own does not indicate ODD. There needs to be a pattern of symptoms that keeps occurring. Many children tend to argue with their parents, especially if they are hungry, tired or upset. However, in children with ODD, these symptoms happen more often and interfere with adjusting to school, learning and relationships. 

A persistent pattern of being defiant, uncooperative and hostile towards their peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures often starts occurring in children between  age six and eight years old and is more common in boys than in girls.   

Diagnosing ODD

Getting an early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent future problems. Clinicians will evaluate the intensity, frequency and duration of symptoms. They must have lasted for at least six months and involve at least one other individual who is not a sibling. 

Clinicians will usually take a detailed history of how a child behaves in various situations, as the behavior may not be evident in a single session. ODD is usually diagnosed when children are in elementary school. 

Treating ODD

ODD is treated with behavioral therapy or a combination of therapy and medication. Parents usually play a large role in the treatment and parent-management training therapy can teach them how to set clear expectations, positively reinforce good behavior and discipline effectively when the child is disobedient. 

Besides therapy for parents and the family, peer group therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may benefit children. CBT helps them to learn how to communicate, solve their problems and control their impulses and anger. Social skills training may help to improve their peer relationships. 

Medicines are not often used for ODD but they may be necessary if a child has other symptoms or disorders, such as ADHD or anxiety disorders. 

Reach out for support

Parents who have a child with ODD may find it helpful to be in touch with other parents who are also dealing with a child with ODD. They can find out if there’s a support group where they live or participate in an online group. 

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