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​How Parents Can Navigate Oppositional Defiant Disorder

It’s normal for teens to act out. They are growing up after all and with that comes an increased need for more independence and autonomy as they approach adulthood. They will test limits, argue with their parents and sometimes get into trouble.

However, sometimes there might be more going on than normal teen rebelliousness. If you notice that your teenage son or daughter seems defiant, uncooperative and is hostile towards you, their siblings, peers, teachers and others in authority, they might have a type of behavior disorder known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

What Exactly Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

ODD is often first diagnosed in childhood. In order to be diagnosed, the child has to have had consistent occurrences of at least four of the following behaviors for about 6 months:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Actively defying adults or refusing to comply with rules or requests made by authority figures
  • Constantly arguing with adults
  • Persistent stubbornness and resistance to receiving correction or direction from adults or peers
  • Deliberately doing things to upset or annoy other people
  • Failing to accept blame for their misdeeds
  • Blaming others for their own misbehavior or mistakes
  • Being touchy and frequently picking fights with others
  • Always angry and resentful
  • Being unkind, vindictive, malicious or spiteful

Although researchers are still not sure what causes ODD in some children they believe that it might stem from two things:

  1. A failure by a child to properly learn how to be independent of the parents or people they are attached to during the toddler years.
  2. Negative reinforcement methods used by authority figures. Instead of developing healthy ways to deal with their emotions, such children learn to use tantrums, anger, verbal abuse and other negative behavior to get attention or a desired reaction from their parents or those around them.

How Is ODD Diagnosed and What Treatment Options Are There?

Once you notice any of the symptoms above in your teen, it is advisable to seek diagnosis right away as early treatment can help avert future problems. A qualified mental health practitioner or therapist should be able to observe your teen, talk to you about their behavior and in some cases, conduct some mental health tests before coming up with a diagnosis.

After the ODD diagnosis is made, your mental health care provider might recommend one of the following treatments:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Through this, your teen will learn how to identify and replace negative feelings, thoughts and behaviors with positive ones. Cognitive-behavioral therapy will also teach better communication and problem-solving skills along with emotional management.
  • Peer group therapy. Interacting with other troubled teens might foster better interpersonal and social skills in your teen.
  • Family therapy. ODD is often a family affair and this therapy helps the entire family improve their communication skills in order to have healthier interactions.
  • Medication. While medicines aren’t commonly used to treat ODD, your teen might require them if they have other co-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression etc.

Ways To Navigate ODD

ODD often takes its toll on the entire family and left unchecked, it can greatly interfere with your family’s interaction. Here are ways to navigate ODD in a healthy way:

  1. Seek appropriate help for your teen as soon as possible. This way, they will receive treatment early on forestalling any future problems. Additionally, ensure you adhere to the treatment regimen, go for all family sessions if they’re required and be as supportive as you can, even if it seems your efforts are unappreciated.
  2. Be patient with your child. There’s nothing easy about living with a teen with ODD. However, learning how to manage and handle your own frustrations and anger can go a long way towards calming situations that threaten to get out of hand. Take time out to center yourself during heated moments and remind yourself that your teen’s behavior comes from the disorder and isn’t really who they are.
  3. Have boundaries but retain some flexibility. ODD teens can have a tendency towards verbal abuse and violence, especially when they don’t get their way. This calls for the establishment of strong, healthy boundaries on your part. You need to know or set your boundaries, communicate this with your teen and discuss the consequences for crossing them. At the same time, give your teen freedom to let off steam as the pressure to meet all your expectations can sometimes cause them to act out. So balance your strictness with some freedom.
  4. Know when to escalate issues. Teens with ODD have volatile behavior, making it hard to know when to seek help. You should call your teen’s mental healthcare practitioner immediately if your teen starts hallucinating, hearing voices that others don’t hear, feels out of control or is unable to sleep for a length of time. Also, call 911 if your teen has suicidal thoughts complete with a plan and the means to carry it out.
  5. Be there for your other kids. Your other children can feel sidelined and ignored since all your attention is often focused on the troubled teen. Ensure you spend time with your other kids to reassure them that you still care. Additionally, take steps to make sure that they don’t become victims of their sibling’s volatile behavior.
  6. Have your own support system. Raising a teen with ODD is stressful and you can quickly get overwhelmed. Reaching out to other parents in a similar situation gives you a support system to lean on. Talking to your extended family and friends can also be helpful.

While raising a teen with ODD can feel like an uphill battle, with the right assistance and treatment they can grow into mature, emotionally-balanced adults.


Oppositional Defiant Disorder- Infographic. Retrieved from

What is CBT? (2017). Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. Retrieved from

Abraham, K. When ODD Kids, Entitlement Mentality and Verbal Abuse Collide. Retrieved from

​How Parents Can Navigate Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Tyler Jacobson

Tyler enjoys going to the mountains near his home in Draper, Utah to connect with his wife and children through camping, hiking, and quality time together. When he isn’t rebooting in the outdoors, he shares his fatherly experiences with the world through writing and creative designs. Tyler shares the ups and downs of family life and the solutions he’s found through lengthy research and involvement in the industry and his own experiences to help parents everywhere. Follow Tyler on: Twitter or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Jacobson, T. (2018). ​How Parents Can Navigate Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Jul 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.