Oppositional Defiant Behavior in my Child

Most parents give a sigh of relief when their child turns 3 and they can relax, because this is the end of the terrible two’s.  We all recognize a two year old’s temper tantrum as a normal developmental milestone to learn how to deal with their environment.  Children become oppositional, angry, disobedient and defiant when they are hungry, tired, stressed or upset. Unfortunately there is a surge in oppositional behavior again when our children turn into teenagers. Again, at this stage it is normal, although unfortunate for the long suffering parents.  Our children’s behavior is driven by a yearning for independence from us and shows up as being uncooperative and disobedient to authority figures.

As I explained, oppositional behavior is expected at certain times during a child’s development. But many parents ask the question: “When is my child’s behavior not just a symptom of growing up? When should I worry about this behavior that is making the family’s life unbearable?”

Oppositional behavior becomes a problem when he is frequently and consistently defiant of authority and his behavior is worse that that of his peers.  It becomes a problem when his behavior affects his social, family and academic life. Children who suffer from Oppositional Defiant Disorder have an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant and hostile behavior when it comes to authority figures.

Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder:

  • Frequent tantrums
  • Excessive arguing with adults
  • Always questioning the rules
  • Active defiance and refusal to comply with requests and rules
  • Deliberate attempts to annoy and upset others
  • Blaming others for their mistakes or misbehavior
  • “Touchy”, over sensitive and easily annoyed by others
  • Frequent anger and resentment
  • Mean and hateful speech when they are upset
  • Spiteful attitude
  • Seeking revenge.

These symptoms have to be present in multiple setting in order for your child to be diagnosed as Oppositional Defiant.

Will my child become Oppositional Defiant?

Early signs of oppositional defiant behavior is when infants are very fussy, colicky and difficult to soothe.  Power struggles ensue over eating, sleeping and potty training. These children throw many temper tantrums in an attempt to change their parents’ behavior.

When they get older you will find that the child consistently dawdle and procrastinate when it comes to tasks and requests.  They often claim to not have heard your request. Older children will turn homework, keeping their room clean, picking toys up and bathing into a battle field, and they will do almost anything to end up as the winner. You will find that this child talks back and interrupts conversations.

What causes Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

The jury is still out on this issue, but we generally agree that it is a combination of genetics and environment.

  1. A circular family dynamic is common in the households from which children with ODD comes. These children who are temperamentally inclined to be difficult and easily angered cause frustration for the parents. Being frustrated with their child they start expecting certain reactions when they request things. Anticipating a negative response from their child they become unresponsive parents, leaving the child feeling helpless, needy and frustrated.
  2. These children find that negative attention is better than no attention at all.  They annoy their parents on purpose just to get a reaction from them.
  3. Parents with children with ODD are often inconsistent when disciplining their child. Today he is allowed to put his feet on the table, but tomorrow it is unacceptable.  Inconsistent parenting leads to a child feeling unsafe and unsure of rules.

How can I help my child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

There is no medication that can change oppositional defiant behavior.  Medication can, though be given to children with ODD to help them cope with the co-morbid  conditions of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Learning Disorders. Many children with ODD also suffer from debilitating Depression that can be effectively treated with medication.

Parent Management Training helps parents change their own behavior which in turn can alter their child’s negative behavior.  Parents often need training to rather focus on their child’s pro-social behavior instead of giving negative attention. Ineffective harsh punishment and poor parent modeling should be replaced by the use of effective brief non-aversive punishment.

How can I help myself as a parent of a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

  • Organize a baby sitter at least once a week to give you and your partner the opportunity to go out.
  • Give yourself some time to vent and moan about your difficulties with your child.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep.
  • Follow a balanced diet and avoid drastic diets.
  • Try to not take too many things on at the same time.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Get a hobby to distract yourself.
  • Limit the amount of TV, video and computer games in the house.

The prognosis for children with ODD is not all bad.  Some children simply out of it, whilst others’ diagnosis change to ADHD or Conduct Disorder. Unfortunately other disorders are common with children with ODD, it is unusual but about 5% of these children retain their diagnosis.

Conduct Disorder is often only the result of ODD when Opposition Defiant Disorder is already present when the child is 3 or 4 years old and the defiant behavior is severe.  It has been found that children with Conduct Disorder usually have a biological parent who is a career criminal.

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