Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children

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Having a child who is openly hostile and defiant can be hard. You may be wondering what you did wrong, or how you could help change their behavior. While all children can be rebellious, children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) display this behavior frequently. If ODD is interfering with your child's daily life, then consulting with a professional can help. 

Oppositional defiant disorder is a behavior disorder. Children who have this condition are hostile, uncooperative, and defiant towards peers, parents, and authority figures. 

Causes and Signs of ODD in Children

Currently, two theories exist for why ODD occurs:

  • Developmental theory suggests that the problems start when children are toddlers. Children with ODD may have had issues becoming independent from a parent or people with whom they are emotionally attached.
  • Learning theory suggests that the symptoms of ODD are attitudes learned from parents or other authority figures. The child engages in these behaviors to gain attention and get a reaction from parents and other adults.

A child with ODD may:

  • Have frequent temper tantrums or arguments with adults
  • Refuse to do what an adult asks
  • Frequently question and refuse to follow rules
  • Speak harshly, unkindly, or with an angry attitude
  • Purposely annoy or upset others
  • Blame others for their own misbehavior or mistakes
  • Annoy easily
  • Seek revenge or seem vindictive

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA Health Children's

A child psychiatrist or other qualified mental health provider can diagnose ODD. The provider may want to observe your child and possibly discuss your child’s behavior with their teachers. In some cases, your child may need mental health testing.

Treatment for ODD may depend on your child’s age and the severity of the condition. Treatment may include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Peer group therapy
  • Medications