All kids go through difficult stages and could sometimes be described as “oppositional.” There is an enormous difference between the normal defiance seen in two year olds (they don’t call it the ‘terrible twos’ for nothing!) and the early teen years though and the chronic condition referred to as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
Unlike behavioural issues in older kids and teens, ODD is typically seen in children younger than nine or ten years. A diagnosis of ODD requires that the child is defiant and disobedient, with a provocative quality to their behaviour. Tendencies toward cruelty or angry, violent aggression are not symptomatic of Oppositional Defiant Disorder and should be reported to the GP so that a correct diagnosis can be made and an appropriate treatment plan can be implemented.
Be aware that sometimes ODD can be confused with CD, or Conduct Disorder, which is actually a more severe version of ODD. The definition of CD is a serious childhood psychiatric disorder in which either major society rules, or the rights of others, are violated by the child at least three times in the last year, including at least once in the last six months. This includes physically abusing people or animals, arson, stealing and other digressions.
Symptoms of ODD
While parents shouldn’t rush to the conclusion that their stubborn, sometimes defiant child has ODD, there are symptoms that may warrant a professional evaluation. Children with ODD are likely to act out in a number of situations, with school and home being the two places where behaviours are deemed most disruptive. Occasional emotional outbursts are considered a normal part of childhood, but if parents notice an ongoing pattern of the following behaviours, especially if the child’s actions cause them difficulty in everyday functioning, a thorough evaluation is recommended:
- Frequent and/or extreme temper tantrums
- Tendency to be easily annoyed by others
- Blatant refusal to comply with household or school rules
- Takes argumentative stance with adults
- Rude, uncooperative and confrontational attitude
- Use of mean-spirited language when upset
- Deliberate attempts to upset and annoy others
- Frequent bursts of anger or resentful attitude
- Tendency to place blame on others
- Outward and belligerent defiance
- Revengeful attitude
A professional evaluation can be of great assistance since it can be very difficult for parents to ascertain the root causes of their children’s troubling behaviours. Additionally, children with other conditions, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), anxiety issues, mood disorders (including depression or bipolar disorder), or learning disabilities may exhibit similar symptoms, making diagnosis by an untrained parent especially difficult.
Causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder
There is much speculation about the causes of ODD, with no definitive answers at this time. Many parents of kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder do report that those children were rigid and demanding from an early age, compared to their siblings, raising the possibility that there may be biological or environmental factors involved. Some studies seem to indicate a tendency for ODD to run in families, strengthening the argument for a biological connection. Some experts believe that the condition is more common in children whose parents are hostile a lot of the time, or who tend to argue a lot.
It is estimated that at least five per cent of the population suffer from ODD, but the way it manifests itself can range greatly. Some children with the disorder tend to argue and talk back a lot, while others are overly hostile virtually all of the time. What holds true for most of the children, however, is that authority figures bear the brunt of the hostility – be they parents, teachers or others. As a result, they find school a difficult time, despite their intelligence, and often have a hard time making and keeping friends.
Experts believe that ODD is more common in a child who has been already been diagnosed with ADHD, although an exact link has not been established. In fact, as many as half the number of children with ADHD may also have ODD. Others believe that some sleep disorders may be mistaken for ODD. While the exact causes are still a bit of a mystery, treatment options are well-established.
A number of treatment options have proved effective for the management of ODD. It is vital that parents are actively involved in their child’s struggle to control inappropriate and troubling behaviour, so attending a parent training program can be quite helpful. Additionally, family psychotherapy may be beneficial in helping improve communication as the child attends individual therapy sessions to learn anger management techniques. Cognitive behavioural therapy and social skills training classes may be needed to help kids with ODD increase their problem solving skills while learning to interact more positively with peers and authority figures.
All of this can be difficult on parents, who often feel helpless and discouraged. Actively taking measures to help their children cope and function can be empowering for parents, making life easier for the whole family:
- Offer children praise and encouragement when they are cooperative.
- Refrain from arguing with children and make it clear that they will not engage in confrontational displays.
- Establish reasonable and age-appropriate behavioural expectations and be consistent in following up with consequences for disobedience.
- Learn and utilise stress management techniques. This will not only help them to cope with the pressures of raising a child with ODD, but will also provide good examples for their children.
Some parents of children with ODD offer other advice as well, which will not “cure” the condition but will help alleviate some of the symptoms. Limit the amount of television and computer time your child has, find out what interests they have and encourage them to develop them as much as possible, and enlist the help of others when you can.
Doing the Best for Your Child
Most parents of children with ODD know from a very early age that their child is different from others – in some cases, different from their other siblings. But having a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder need not be too disheartening, as there is help around. Several support groups now exist for parents of children with this disorder, as well as parents of kids with ADHD. Some parents find it easier for their children to find other children with ODD to play with; they seem to be on the same “wavelength” and get along well, with less squabbling and bickering.
What is vital is that parents get the support and encouragement they need, so that they can continue supporting and encouraging their own children. Once you can get the right diagnosis for your child you can take the right steps to learn more about ODD, and help your child live life to the full.