Does Your Child Have Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

9 min read
Does Your Child Have Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder, commonly known as ODD is a behavioural disorder categorised by a clinically significant stage of negative, defiant behaviour, as well as disobedience.

Every child is oppositional from time to time, especially if they’re hungry, tired, upset or stressed. 

But when their behaviour goes beyond ‘Normal defiant behaviour’ it’s time to get help for your child.

Table of Contents:

1. Diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder
2. Signs and Symptoms of ODD in Children
3. How to Manage Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children
4. Seeking Professional Help for ODD
5. My Story of a Child on ODD
Does Your Child Have Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

1. Diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder

To be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a child must show clear symptoms regularly for more than half a year.

Unlike average children, those with Oppositional Defiant Disorder may disobey, talk back, argue, and even openly defy teachers, parents and other adults. In many cases, oppositional behaviour is a normal part of a child’s development, especially for early adolescents and young children aged two to three years old.

However, openly hostile and uncooperative behaviour can become a serious concern, particularly when it is quite consistent and frequent compared with other children at the same stage of development. It can also be a great concern if it affects the child’s academic, social and family life.

In children with ODD, there is always a continuous pattern of uncooperative, hostile behaviour and defiance toward authority, which interferes with the child’s day-to-day functioning. If you think that your child might have ODD, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Any parent who suspects their child has ODD should get a referral from their GP to see a Paediatrician as the first port of call.

Early intervention is critical in helping your child to control the disorder and move forward in their personal and social development.

However, in order to be able to do this, you need to understand the signs and symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in children.

A young boy covering his ears and screaming

2. Signs and Symptoms of ODD in Children

Defiant Behaviour

Excessive arguing with others, especially with adults, maybe a symptom of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Children with this disorder usually tend to do the exact opposite of what is asked of them whether it’s something small or big, and they tend to argue about it. Additionally, children often show defiant behaviours in school, especially when asked to do something together as a group with other children.

Of course, many children are defiant, especially when figuring out where they stand in the pecking order. The key in identifying ODD is consistent defiance for no reason.

Frequent Temper Tantrums

A child with this behavioural disorder may have tantrums, which last for several hours. This may include hitting, throwing, screaming, yelling or crying. As adults, it can be difficult for us to understand what makes our children angry, especially when they’re young and not very vocal. What makes ODD tantrums different from normal tantrums is their cause.

Usually, they are the result of nothing more than an inability of the child to control their emotional output.

Lack of Affection Towards Parents

Affection is what most children with ODD lack. Many simply do not see any reason to be affectionate or to embrace the affection of others. In many ways, they are ruled by their defiance. They often do not show any affection for their families and even other children in the neighbourhood or school. 

This can be one of the hardest things for parents of children with ODD to deal with, but it’s important not to push them. Just accept what affection they do show, and move on.

Dislikes Praise

In many cases, children suffering from ODD don’t deal well with being praised. Although it seems strange, these children have a very unusual response to positive reinforcement or satisfied feedback. Parents might notice that when they congratulate or praise their child, they respond by destroying or ruining whatever it was that resulted in them being praised, a classic sign of ODD.

Mood Swings

This is commonly seen in children with ODD. One minute, the child is laughing and happy, and the next minute, they are mad and grumpy. Mood swinging can be caused by just anything. For instance, it could be about something as little as a toy that isn’t moving the way they want, or even shoes that simply don’t feel right on their feet.

Other Signs and Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder:

  • Lack of sleep that can also add to already oppositional and explosive child
  • Often questioning rules
  • Blaming others (adults & other children) for his or her misbehaviour or mistakes
  • Active refusal and defiance to comply with rules and adult requests
  • Hateful and mean talking when upset
  • Deliberate attempts to upset or annoy other individuals
  • Revenge-seeking and spiteful attitude
  • Frequent resentment and anger
  • Often being easily upset by others

3. How to Manage Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children

If your child shows certain behaviours associated with ODD, it’s quite possible to manage his/her behaviour through various strategies. Here are some of them:

Create a Well-Structured Environment

Routine, routine, routine. It can be easier for children who are well-rested, has sufficient nutrition, and physically fit to be capable of regulating their emotions. Always make exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy meals a priority. A well-structured and healthy lifestyle can both benefit your child with ODD and your entire family as well.

Of course ODD is a lot more than ‘just having enough sleep’ – but it does help.

Set Compulsory House Rules

Creating some non-negotiable house rules and then enforcing them with clear consequences is one of the best strategies you can use to manage your child’s behaviour. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are usually anxious and tend to control their environment and other children through anger and defiance.

It is good to keep house rules relatively simple and limited so your children don’t feel overwhelmed or stifled. Display all house rules and indicate the consequences of breaking those rules so children know what exactly to expect if they do. Always show your child each day is a better chance to make right decisions.

Celebrate Your Child’s Success, Always

Children with ODD have a problem regulating their emotions which can result in severe tantrums and outbursts associated with this particular disorder. When a child has successfully managed their behaviour for longer than usual, that should be celebrated. Being careful not to overwhelm your child, try and get them involved in something they enjoy doing as a reward for that good behaviour.

Let your child know you appreciate and notice the extra effort and try to create time to have some fun and connect with your children when they are calm.

Try to Stay Calm (Try..)

Often, children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are hoping to engage their parents or other adults in a battle of wills.

To combat this, parents should explain, in a few concise words, why their behaviour is inappropriate and move on. Do not allow yourself to get pulled into the argument that they are craving. Remember, it is difficult for a child to argue when there is no one to argue with. By falling into the trap of an argument, you’re allowing your child to control the exchange, which is not what you want.

So, if your child is consistently exhibiting behaviours related to ODD or is not able of regulating their emotions in an appropriate way, these techniques might help.

Of course, there are also other avenues to look into, such as medical intervention to confirm the diagnosis and programs that assist children in learning emotional management.

There’s no doubt, parenting a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a big challenge, but understanding the condition is a positive step forward for any family dealing with an ODD child.


4. Professional Help for Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

If you suspect your child has ODD, the next step is to seek professional help. Here is the chain of command to follow:

Make an Appointment with Your GP

Your GP is the first port of call. They will give your child a health check to ensure they don’t have an underlying medical issue that could be causing the behaviour. Your GP will also refer you to a Paediatrician.

Next Stop: Paedititrian

The Paediatrician will check your child’s health history and will listen to your list of concerns. They will then design a plan of action could include medication, counselling or a combination of both.

Child Psychologist

Your Paediatrician may ask you to take your child to regular Child Psychology appointments. These are INVALUABLE. They not only help your child to deal with their feelings of anger and rage, but they also help you, the parents, with strategies on dealing with that behaviour as it comes it.

Family Sledding --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

5. My Story of a Child with ODD

My son was born crying and didn’t stop for 4 years. He had constant temper tantrums that lasted hours and hours. He broke things, he yelled, he wasn’t affectionate. It’s like he didn’t want to be born and was damn angry he was here.

When he was two I took him to a Paediatrician as I knew something wasn’t right. His behaviour wasn’t anything like the other kids his own age.

The Paed kept an eye on him and his behaviour over the next few years until he was five before he put him on medication and regular visits with a Child Psychologist. It took us a few more years to find the right ‘Mix’ of medication that worked for him. But when it did – it was life-changing.

He finally would sleep at night. He smiled. I didn’t get a call from the school every single day. He stayed on medication for the next six years.


He was diagnosed with both ODD, ASD and ADHD. I’m pleased to say he did grow out of the ADHD and ODD.

He is now a teenager – and a happy one.

Seeking medical help was the best thing I could have done for my child.

Do you have a child with ODD?

About Author

Jody Allen

Jody is the founder and essence of Stay at Home Mum. An insatiable appetite for reading from a very young age had Jody harbouring dreams of being a pu...Read Moreblished author since primary school. That deep-seeded need to write found its way to the public eye in 2011 with the launch of SAHM. Fast forward 4 years and a few thousand articles Jody has fulfilled her dream of being published in print. With the 2014 launch of Once a Month Cooking and 2015's Live Well on Less, thanks to Penguin Random House, Jody shows no signs of slowing down. The master of true native content, Jody lives and experiences first hand every word of advertorial she pens. Mum to two magnificent boys and wife to her beloved Brendan; Jody's voice is a sure fire winner when you need to talk to Mums. Read Less

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