Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children

November 7, 2019
Do you know about Oppositional Defiant Disorder in children? You may not have heard of it or you may be looking for information to know if your child is suffering from this problem. If so, we can help!

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (O.D.D.) is usually diagnosed during childhood. It is characterized by very negative and challenging behaviors, as the name suggests. The child consistently is uncooperative, irritable and annoyed to the people around him or her, whether they be his or her parents, classmates, teachers, or even peers.

If you think your child might be suffering from this disorder or has already been diagnosed, keep reading. In this article, you’ll learn more about it in detail and what steps you can take to treat it.

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Does my child suffer from Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

This behavior disorder affects a percentage of between 1 and 16% of school-age children, and more boys than girls.

However, it’s crucial to differentiate when the symptoms occur worryingly or temporarily, for example when the child is hungry, sleepy, stressed, or worn out.

This may also be common when the child is between 2 and 3 years old and is part of a transitional stage. However, it’s very important to pay attention to this behavior when the oppositional and defiant attitudes are frequent.

It only requires treatment if it’s hindering the learning process or disrupting classes or relationships with peers.

Common symptoms

Oppositional defiant disorder in children little boy frustrated and aggressive trying to study

The symptoms of this disorder in children may vary. However, they often manifest as aggressive behaviors, tantrums, and constant negative attitudes.

The most frequent symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in children are the following:

  • Tantrums and anger.
  • Constant arguments with the people around them.
  • Refusal and questioning to do what adults say.
  • Bothersome attitude toward others and sensitivity when others annoy him or her.
  • Cold and disrespectful language.
  • Vindictive attitudes.

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What steps can I take to treat Oppositional Defiant Disorder in children?

1. Get the right diagnosis.

First of all, it’s easy to confuse the symptoms of O.D.D. with other behavioral disorders. Therefore, if these attitudes are frequent, you and your child should go to the doctor. The right medical professional will be able to make the appropriate diagnosis. Thus, you can begin to think about the next steps and treatment.

In most cases, parents and teachers can detect these characteristics in children. However, a child psychiatrist or mental health professional must evaluate them via their medical and social history and specific tests.

2. Try a therapy-based treatment.

Little girl in therapy session with therapist and mother

Psychological therapies are an important part of the treatment of this disorder in children. However, they must be complemented with family support.

There are many treatments available. First, the child can attend individual psychotherapy sessions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used to improve their social and interpersonal skills as well as help them better control their impulses and emotions.

Also, it is important to include the whole family in therapy, especially parents. Family therapy can promote good communication and conflict resolution. It can also be a source of emotional and practical support for parents, often overwhelmed by the situation.

On the other hand, family therapy also aims to resolve this disorder starting at the root of the problem. As for the origin of this psychological imbalance, research data currently points to behavioral patterns learned in the first few years from individuals that children look up to.  It’s also often related to lack of discipline, abuse, traumatic and stressful situations or lack of family harmony, among other factors. It’s important to keep this in mind as parents and know that there are many ways that you can help.

3. Only turn to medication as a last resort or to treat other coexisting disorders.

Medication is not a common treatment for Oppositional Defiant Disorder in children, as it can have harmful side effects on health. However, in some cases, the doctor may make an assessment and decide on treatment with antipsychotics.

This is especially true if the child shows aggressive behavior, the behavior worsens significantly, or no other therapeutic option seems to work. Additionally, medication may be administered if the child becomes a danger or threat in the home or school.

In some cases, if this disorder is accompanied by other behavioral problems, other types of drugs may be prescribed. For example, the doctor may give the child stimulants if he or she suffers from ADHD or antidepressants for periods of depression and/or anxiety.

The main objective is to improve the quality of life of the child but it’s very important to always take into account the side effects of the drugs as well.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children: Conclusion

Ultimately, both the child and his or her relatives and loved ones will have to make a great effort and lifestyle changes to heal. These types of mental disorders cause great anguish and despair to the entire environment, as well as a constant feeling of helplessness. However, with the right treatment and a positive attitude on the part of the whole family and educational system, this disorder can be overcome.

  • Ghosh, A., Ray, A., & Basu, A. (2017). Oppositional defiant disorder: Current insight. Psychology Research and Behavior Management. https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S120582
  • Gale, B. M. (2011). Oppositional defiant disorder. In Stepped Care and e-Health: Practical Applications to Behavioral Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-6510-3_10
  • Greene, R. W., Biederman, J., Zerwas, S., Monuteaux, M. C., Goring, J. C., & Faraone, S. V. (2002). Psychiatric comorbidity, family dysfunction, and social impairment in referred youth with oppositional defiant disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.159.7.1214