ODD Symptoms, Causes, Prevention & Treatment

ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) is a behavior disorder in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of an angry or irritable mood, defiant or argumentative behavior, and vindictiveness toward people in authority. The child’s behavior often disrupts the child’s normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at school.

Many children and teens with ODD also have other behavioral problems, such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Learning Disabilities, Mood Disorders such as Depression, and Anxiety Disorders. Some children go on to develop a more serious behavior disorder called Conduct Disorder.

Strategies for Parents of Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Symptoms of ODD in Children

Children with ODD don’t just occasionally defy authority. They may express their defiance by arguing, disobeying, or talking back to their parents, teachers, or other adults. When this behavior lasts longer than six months and is excessive compared to what is usual for the child’s age, it may mean that the child has oppositional defiant disorder. Specific symptoms include:

  • Frequent and repeated temper tantrums
  • Refusing to comply with requests and rules
  • Excessive arguing with adults and authority figures
  • Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset others
  • Easily annoyed by others
  • Blaming others for one’s mistakes
  • Frequent outbursts of anger and resentment
  • Spiteful, mean and hateful words and behaviors
  • Cursing, swearing or obscene language
  • Seeking revenge

Children with ODD are often moody, easily frustrated, and have low self-esteem; teens are also prone to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Strategies for Parents of Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Causes of ODD in Children

Surprisingly, studies have not been able to identify a single cause of ODD. A combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors is believed to contribute to the condition.

Biological Causes of ODD

According to some studies, injuries or defects in a child’s brain can lead to behavioral problems. ODD has also been linked to abnormal functioning of certain types of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. If neurotransmitters aren’t working properly, messages may not travel through the brain correctly, which may lead to mental illness, including ODD.

Many children with ODD also have other mental illnesses, such as ADHD, learning disorders, depression, or an anxiety disorder, any of which can contribute to behavior problems. When you look at the typical ODD patterns of rebellion against adults and their rules, one can readily see how it’s possible to exacerbate the disorder by trying to make children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD or ADD) behave in ways that their brains simply can’t.

Genetic Causes of ODD

It’s fairly common for children with ODD to have close family members with mental illnesses, including Mood Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, and Personality Disorders. This suggests that a susceptibility to develop ODD may be inherited.

Environmental Causes of ODD

The dynamic of the child’s environment may contribute to development of behavior disorders. Specific factors may include: a dysfunctional family life, a family history of mental illness or substance abuse, and inconsistent discipline by parents / caregivers.

Prevention of ODD

Although it may not be possible to prevent ODD, recognizing and acting on symptoms when they first appear can prevent many of the problems associated with the disorder. Family members can learn what to do when symptoms appear. A nurturing, supportive, and consistent home environment with a balance of love and discipline may help reduce symptoms and prevent episodes of defiant behavior.

Treatment of ODD in Children

ODD in children is treatable, most often through Behavioral Psychotherapy or Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Although medicines are not specifically indicated for ODD, they may be helpful in addressing co-occurring conditions such as Anxiety Disorders, Depression, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Treatment of ODD may include:

  • Parent Management Training to help parents manage the child’s behavior
  • Individual Psychotherapy to develop more effective anger management
  • Family Psychotherapy to improve communication and mutual understanding
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy to assist with problem solving and decrease negativity
  • Social Skills Training to increase flexibility and improve social skills and frustration tolerance with peers.

If a child or teen you care for experiences symptoms of ODD, consult a mental health professional for an assessment.