Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD)

As most parents know, a child can be emotional or strong-willed. But if a child has frequent temper tantrums and consistently refuses to follow requests, he or she may have a deeper problem. Defiance and aggressiveness that do not respond to discipline or redirection, and take place both at home and at school, could be a sign of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

What causes oppositional defiant disorder?

Before puberty, ODD is more common in boys. After puberty, it occurs almost equally among boys and girls. ODD has no clear cause. The behaviors appear to arise from a combination of genetics and poor parent-child interactions. It may also involve environmental factors that begin in early childhood. Children with ODD often have difficulty making friends. This is because they view other children’s behavior as hostile and respond aggressively.

What are the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder?

Children with ODD may refuse to follow commands or requests made by parents, teachers or other adults. They may also overreact to life events. They frequently fail to take responsibility for their actions, and at times show little remorse. ODD is commonly linked with these behaviors:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Is often angry or easily annoyed
  • Argumentative toward adults or others
  • Deliberately annoying others
  • Blaming others for mistakes or misbehavior, even when caught in the act
  • Being resentful, spiteful or vindictive
  • Being aggressive toward peers, and angry or disruptive toward adults.

ODD is different from normal behavior because it persists. Children with ODD typically show bad behavior for at least 6 months. This behavior disrupts the family and the classroom. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, children are diagnosed with ODD only if their behavior goes beyond what is considered normal for children of the same age.

How is oppositional defiant disorder treated?

Treatment is important because a child’s development, relationships and education are at risk if the disorder is not treated. In addition, ODD may lead to a more serious disorder called conduct disorder. A child or teen with this disorder may harm or threaten people or animals, damage property or engage in serious violations of rules.

Parents who think their child may have ODD should seek help from their child’s doctor or a child psychologist. Diagnosing ODD can be difficult and should be handled by a provider who has experience with the disorder.

Reviewed by Cindy Kim, MD, Aug. 12, 2015.