By their very nature, children can be challenging or uncooperative at times. Perhaps they have an occasional tantrum. When these tantrums and defiant behaviors become routine and interfere with daily life, the child may be showing signs of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Oppositional Defiant Disorder is typically diagnosed in children and adolescents and is based on a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behaviors, and/or vindictiveness that lasts at least 6 months. Children and adolescents with this disorder tend to have trouble with authority figures and tend to be touchy and uncooperative when given directives. To qualify for a diagnosis of ODD, these behaviors must be disrupting normal functioning (i.e., school adjustment, home life, etc.) and not attributable to another mental health disorder (i.e., depression, trauma, etc.).
Having a child with ODD can place significance stress on the entire family system. It is commonly understood that parents and adults are more distressed by the child’s oppositional defiant behaviors than the child is him- or herself. As parents try to manage their child’s behaviors, the increased limit-setting can trigger an increase in oppositional behaviors. This pattern can become very stressful and place great strain on the caregivers, as well as create a more stressful environment for the child. This is why having a neutral third party, such as a therapist or group treatment provider, can be the best approach to treatment.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder may subside with age and treatment, especially with early intervention. In some cases, children may go on to develop Conduct Disorder, which is characterized by more rule-breaking and antisocial-type behavior. Children and adolescents with ODD also commonly possess other behavioral or emotional challenges, such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression. There is no clear cause for this disorder, but genetic, environmental, and developmental factors are suspected.