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What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

By Kristen C.

Children are sometimes defiant towards parents, teachers or other authority figures. They may argue, talk back, refuse to follow instructions, or outright break rules. Simply being tired, hungry or upset can bring on these behaviors.

It’s all very normal.

However, if a child is consistently negative, hostile, or defiant for longer than six months, they may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). The behaviour of children with ODD is more severe than that of other children of the same age.

Signs and symptoms (from of ODD:

  • Recurring temper tantrums and outbursts
  • Constantly arguing with adults
  • Refusing to comply with what adults request of them
  • Always questioning rules and refusing to obey rules
  • Purposely doing things that annoy or upset others, including adults
  • Putting blame on others for their own misbehaviors or mistakes
  • Being easily annoyed by others
  • Often having an angry attitude
  • Speaking harshly or unkindly towards other people
  • Seeking revenge or being vindictive

These symptoms may be present with other disorders. ODD frequently coexists with disorders such as ADD, learning problems, conduct disorders, and anxiety and mood disorders. Make sure your child sees a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis if you suspect they have ODD.

Problems at School

Students with ODD can be so uncooperative that it can affect their ability to focus, learn, and follow instructions in the classroom. The characteristic anti-social behaviors and poor impulse control also impacts on their ability to get along with teachers and fellow students.

For students who have been diagnosed with ODD, a few extra measures may need to be carried out in order for them to have a safe and productive time whilst on campus.

Here are a few examples (from

  • Sit closer to the teacher to prevent disruptions amongst students
  • Permitted to leave classrooms when needed
  • Extra time given when it comes to assignments or homework
  • Freely consult with the school counsellor or psychologist during school hours
  • The option of having an individualized education program (IEP) if their learning difficulties are caused by the occurrence of ODD
What Causes ODD?

There have been no identified causes of ODD. However, researchers have two main theories as to its origins.

1. Developmental Theory suggests the onset of ODD is in toddlerhood. Problems arise when the child has trouble becoming independent from their parents (or caregiver) to whom they are emotionally attached. Their ODD may be viewed as an extension of toddler-like behavior – an outcome of this unresolved developmental step.

2. Learning Theory suggests that ODD’s negative behaviors are learned. They are the outcome of negative reinforcement methods used by parents, teachers or others in power. The reinforcement methods increase the frequency of ODD behavior, and the ODD behaviors benefit the child in some manner, driving the cycle of defiance and opposition.

How is ODD Treated?

Treatment options depend on the child’s age, the severity of their behaviors, and their ability to participate in various therapies. Typically treatment is a combination of the following:

  • Psychotherapy to develop social and emotional skills
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to reshape thinking
  • Parental training to help parents better manage behavior and interactions with the child, especially rewarding positive behaviors and discouraging undesired behaviors
  • Functional Family Therapy to teach all family members to communicate and solve problems effectively
  • Consistency of care requires all caretakers (parents, grandparents, teachers, child care workers, teachers, etc) to be consistent in the way they manage the child.
  • Medication may be used to manage coexisting issues (ex. anxiety, problems concentrating), but there is no medication approved specifically for ODD

If you suspect your child has ODD, please contact the BFDC at 2869 1962 or