Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a childhood disorder that affects anywhere from 6 to 10 percent of children. It is characterized by a negative set of behaviors in a child directed toward the adults in their life, and can sometimes be mistaken for disorders that share some characteristics, such as conduct disorder and even attention deficit disorder.
The diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder is given by mental health professionals to describe a set of behaviors a child is exhibiting that include:
- Often loses temper
- Argues with adults and authority figures
- Refuses to comply with adult requests
- Blames others for his mistakes
- Deliberately annoys people
- Is easily annoyed by others
- Is angry/resentful and spiteful/vindictive.
Sound like a child you may know?
If a child exhibits four or more of these behaviors for six months or longer, he would likely be diagnosed with ODD, unless there was an alternative explanation (for example, if he’s experienced some kind of trauma or if there’s another disorder or condition at play). The most important factor to consider is frequency and intensity. All kids exhibit some of these behaviors, but not to the extent of an ODD child. ODD may develop at any time, over time, and may be secondary to another diagnosis. In other words, it might co-exist with ADHD or a mood disorder.
With oppositional and defiant kids, there are very different levels of misbehavior. You might have a young child who’s having temper tantrums, or an older adolescent who’s exhibited ODD behavior for years and who feels justified in being verbally or physically abusive, or punching holes in the kitchen wall.
A common trait of kids with oppositional Defiant Disorder is that they often see themselves as victims and feel justified in acting out. And sadly, they see so many examples of people in our culture who act out — from rock stars to athletes to politicians — that they feel even more justified in what they’re doing.
Parents are often intimidated by their ODD child’s behavior because it’s so difficult to deal with; sometimes it just seems easier to give in than to deal with trying to manage and respond differently. Again, it’s important to remember as a parent that you can change at any time. You might feel defeated because of your own stress levels, feelings of blame or failure, and exhaustion. But here’s the truth: you can learn to respond in such a way as to reduce the acting out behavior.
Here are four things you can do as a parent to effectively manage your child with oppositional Defiant Disorder:
- Respond without anger: It’s important to respond to your ODD child without anger—try to be as calm and matter-of-fact as possible. Just acknowledge the behavior, state it as you see it, explain how it will need to change and then remove yourself from all arguments. You really have to pick your battles and decide what’s most important to you—and ultimately to your child.
- Be clear and consistent: The nature of oppositional defiant behavior is to wear parents down so that they eventually give in. You need to be strong, clear and consistent in your follow through.
- 3. Do not take things personally. Do not take your child’s behavior personally. When your ODD child acts out, as hard as it might be, stay as neutral and objective as possible. You need to be clear and concise and not get pulled into a power struggle—it’s really not about you, it’s about your child and what he needs to learn. We as parents sometimes need to be great actors and actresses with our kids. The key is to keep practicing calm, consistent parenting and following through.
- Don’t be your child’s friend—be his parent: Remember, being a parent is not a personality contest. There are times when he won’t like you—he may even shout, “I hate you,” or call you foul names. But if you keep setting limits with your child and follow through by giving him consequences and holding him accountable, then ultimately you’re doing the best thing for your child.
Believe me, I know from experience that it’s difficult to manage ODD behavior. It takes work and support from partners, friends, and the school system; it requires all the important adults in a child’s life working together to help change the behavior, but it can be done.