Does My Child Have Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Know the warning signs that could indicate your child has ODD.
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It’s normal for all kids to be defiant sometimes. But kids with oppositional defiant disorder are defiant almost all the time.  ODD is a behavior disorder that begins before a child reaches the age of 8 and persists through the teen years.

Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

When children have ODD, their behavior interferes with their daily lives. They may have educational difficulties due to being dismissed from class due to misbehavior or they may struggle to maintain friendships due to their severity of their behavior problems.

In order to qualify for a diagnosis of ODD, the symptoms must last for at least six months. Misbehavior must be consistent, and above and beyond what’s considered developmentally appropriate. Here are the symptoms of ODD:

  • Frequent angry outbursts
  • Refusal to follow rules
  • Questioning authority repeatedly
  • Excessive arguing with adults
  • Frequent and intense temper tantrums
  • Deliberate attempts to annoy others
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Spiteful toward others
  • Blames others for mistakes

Causes of ODD

There isn’t a single known cause of ODD, but there are several different theories. The developmental theory suggests that children develop ODD when they struggle to develop autonomy during the toddler years. As a result, they continue to exhibit negative attitudes throughout the rest of their childhood years.

According to the Learning Theory, ODD represents learned behavior that gets reinforced by adults. For example, a child who receives attention for misbehavior may be more inclined to continue misbehaving.

Studies estimate between 1 and 16% of school-age children may have ODD. It is more common in boys than girls. Sometimes ODD occurs in conjunction with other behavior disorders or mental health issues, like ADHD, depression, and anxiety.

Diagnosis and Treatment of ODD

When teachers or parents have serious concerns about a child’s behavior, it’s important to seek an evaluation.

A qualified mental health professional can determine if a child’s symptoms meet the criteria for ODD by collecting a thorough history and observing the child’s behavior. Sometimes, psychological testing may be warranted.

There are several treatment options available for ODD. A mental health professional will determine which treatments are likely to be most effective based on your child’s needs. Common treatments include:

  • Individual therapy – Depending on a child’s age and treatment needs, individual therapy may address underlying issues of depression or anxiety. Skills training is often used to teach a child anger management techniques, problem-solving skills, and impulse control.
  • Parent training – Behavior modification methods can be very helpful in reducing a child’s behavior problems. Sometimes a clinician will meet with caregivers separately to provide training on specific parenting techniques that can reduce misbehavior.
  • Family therapy – Family therapy may be warranted, depending on a child’s age and the family’s needs. Family therapy may involve step-parents, siblings, or a combination of family members.
  • Group therapy – Children with ODD often lack social skills. Group therapy can be an effective way for them to learn how to interact with peers in a more socially appropriate manner.
  • Medication management – There isn’t a medication that fixes behavior problems. But children may sometimes require medication for co-morbid issues such as ADHD or depression that may contribute to behavior problems.

If you suspect your child may have ODD, talk to your child’s pediatrician. A pediatrician may be able to assist in determining if your child’s behavior warrants a referral to a mental health specialist.

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