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By Don Cook

How do I address an oppositional defiant disorder in my child?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder, otherwise known as ODD, is a behavior disorder that can be diagnosed in childhood. Children with ODD can exhibit behaviors that are uncooperative, rebellious, or hostile toward peers, parents, teachers, and other figures of authority or show general episodes of anger. With ODD, this behavior is most often directed at authority figures like parents and teachers, it can also include siblings, classmates and other children. 

While experts don’t currently know exactly what causes oppositional defiant disorder, there are two main factors.

The first is developmental factors which suggests that children with ODD:

● may have underlying “temperamental” challenges that make it harder to cope with emotions, leading to a child being quick to anger and slow to calm, making them vulnerable to ODD.

● begin to experience problems in their toddler years.

● may have had an unusually hard time separating from their parents when younger.

● may not have resolved their normal development issues in their younger years, leading to behavioral problems later in their childhood.

The second is learned factors which suggests that children with ODD:

● developed unusually strong levels of negativity, which is a main trait of ODD, due to a lack of positive reinforcement.

● began to associate any type of negative reinforcement with getting more attention, time, and concern.

● started a pattern of acting out in order to gain more attention. 

Most symptoms seen in children and teens with ODD are extremely common in children, so it may be hard to pinpoint at first. One way to pinpoint ODD is that the symptoms are frequent as opposed to a child acting out that may be tired, hungry or upset. 

Some symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder may include:

● Having frequent temper tantrums

● Overly argumentative, even with adults

● Refusing to do something when asked

● Always questioning rules and/or refusing to follow rules

● Doing things to intentionally annoy or upset others, including adults

● Blaming others for their own misbehaviors

● Being easily irritated by others

● Frequently having an angry attitude

● Speaking harshly or unkindly for no reason

● Seeking revenge or being vindictive

If you see symptoms of ODD in your child or teen, get a diagnosis right away. Early treatment can often prevent future problems. A mental health professional can make the diagnosis after conducting a comprehensive psychiatric assessment with you and your child. The assessment consists of a review of the child’s behavioral problems and an overview of your child’s family history, medical history, school life, and social interactions to determine if the child may have ODD. 

Your child’s mental health professional will help explain the disorder and answer any questions you or your child may have. The next step would be to develop a mutually agreed-upon plan for treatment that works for you, your child and your family. Children with ODD may need to try different therapists and therapies to find what works best for them. 

Some examples of treatment may include:

● Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy will teach a child to better problem solve and focus on the importance of communication. It will also teach the child how to control impulses and anger.

● Family therapy. This therapy helps make changes within the family. It improves communication skills and family interactions as a whole. Having a child with ODD can be difficult for parents, and siblings. This type of therapy ensures that everyone gets the support they need and ensures there is an understanding.

● Peer group therapy. This type of therapy tends to focus on the improvement of social skills and can be beneficial for developing better interactions with peers and other children. 

Helping your child live with ODD is about getting a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible as it will prevent future problems. Some key points to remember:

● Keep all appointments with your child’s healthcare provider.

● If family therapy is prescribed, participate as needed.

● Ensure that all healthcare providers are aware of each other and included in the treatment process. Your child may get care from a team that may include many providers. Your child’s care team will depend on his or her needs and communication amongst them is key for success.

● Tell others about your child’s conduct disorder. Work with your child’s healthcare provider and school to create a treatment plan.

● If ODD interferes with your child’s ability to succeed in school, they may be eligible for certain protections and reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act. Talk with your child’s school about how to get more information.

● Reach out for support if needed. Being in touch with other parents who have a child with ODD may be helpful. Support is out there, talk to your child’s healthcare provider as they may be able to point you in the direction of support. 

For more information on oppositional defiant disorder, visit

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