What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Updated March 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a condition in which a child is uncooperative, defiant, and hostile toward peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Children with this condition are more troubling to others than they are to themselves. It’s easy to mistake ODD as mere rebellion or a child's attempt to garner attention, but there are notable differences between a young person with oppositional defiant disorder and one who simply chooses to act out for ulterior motives. ODD is a condition that has come to light over the past few years. Various specialists have investigated oppositional defiant disorder to learn more about it.

An Overview Of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Unlike regular acting out, oppositional defiant disorder tends to create conflict within children's day-to-day activities. ODD can complicate family and academic performance; the effects of this condition are particularly problematic, as home life and school life are two of the most critical parts of a child's development. ODD is also tied to anxiety, attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, depression, and learning disabilities.

Symptoms Of ODD

Do You Have A Child With Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Like most disorders, there are a variety of symptoms and warning signs which indicate the existence of oppositional defiant disorder. Ongoing temper tantrums, disputes with authority figures, refusal to obey orders, the purposeful annoyance of others, scapegoating, angry outbursts, spite, mean-spirited statements, and unclean language are all indicative of ODD. Children with this disorder are likelier to experience habitual frustration and low self-esteem and use drugs and alcohol.

What Causes ODD?

There is no known cause for ODD. Environments, genetics, and biology can singularly or grouply contribute to the development of ODD. Young children are innately most vulnerable, which is largely why the quality of a child's environment largely contributes to whether or not they develop oppositional defiant disorder.

The most toxic environmental factors associated with ODD are lack of supervision, abuse, neglect, or harsh or inconsistent discipline.  Many children have undergone exposure to the factors above without developing oppositional defiant disorder. However, not everyone has been so lucky. Ultimately, parents and guardians are tasked with ensuring that their children are in safe, healthy, and constructive environments. In doing so, parents and guardians must defend their kids from volatile or damaging influences.

A child's genetic makeup can largely determine or contribute to the development of oppositional defiant disorder. Unfortunately, young people with relatives who have mental illness may be more vulnerable to contracting ODD. The heritability of ODD is about 50%; many children with it also have relatives with personal, anxiety, and mood disorders. Unlike environmental aspects, the genetic inheritance of oppositional defiant disorder is not something parents or guardians can control.

Believe it or not, various trauma or injuries to a child's brain can cause ODD. Brain trauma is always dangerous; however, the impacts are especially devastating for young people as their brains are still growing and developing. The causes behind ODD due to brain injury go back to poor communication between the brain's nerve cells. When the cells cannot communicate with one another effectively, ODD can be a tragic result. In other cases, oppositional defiant disorder can be an offshoot of more deep-seated mental illnesses, such as depression, ADHD, or learning disorders.

Preventing Oppositional Defiant Disorder

ODD is a particularly draining mental illness, both for afflicted children and the people who are closest to them. Therefore, questions about whether or not you can prevent oppositional defiant disorder. Unfortunately, according to the Mayo Clinic, there is no specific solution to preventing this type of disorder, although there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. 

Parents and guardians can take steps to counteract and attempt to prevent the inception of ODD in their children, but adults need to understand that there are no guarantees. They can do everything as they should and still have children who develop oppositional defiant disorder. Healthy relationships, constructive parenting, and positive environments are some main factors that can help children and work against ODD.

Advice For Parents

The parents and guardians of children with oppositional defiant disorder will experience some tough times. Thankfully, AACAP provides helpful information and advice to the adults needing it the most. First and foremost, parents and guardians must understand that oppositional defiant disorder is a real mental illness. Mistaking the disorder as mere acting out can be very damaging and prompt even worse behavior.

For these reasons and more, adults who believe their children are going through ODD should seek out the services of a doctor as soon as possible. Generally, if the child exhibits multiple symptoms associated with oppositional defiant disorder, parents should know that the time has come to consult a professional.

Once a child has been officially and professionally diagnosed with ODD, the doctor will likely provide adults with tips on how to parent effectively. If the child has other mental health issues, the doctor may or may not prescribe treatments that could partially counteract oppositional defiant disorder.

No two children are exactly alike. No two cases of ODD are the same. Countless factors come into play and ultimately affect the extent of the disorder and its longevity. Some children outgrow ODD, while others do not. Generally, oppositional defiant disorder begins to manifest around age eight.

Proactive and strategic parenting styles are some of the best ways to manage a child with ODD. This could mean praising and rewarding positive behavior. Strategic parenting furthermore involves appropriately discouraging negative behavior. AACAP advises parents to implement time-outs and set priorities when necessary.

Modeling Good Behavior

Parents and guardians should always model good behavior. However, this becomes paramount for children who exhibit oppositional defiant disorder. Parents must remain calm and handle things in a constructive manner, using appropriate language. Children tend to observe and subsequently emulate the behavior they are exposed to most frequently. Because children with ODD are already inclined to act out and engage in problematic conduct, witnessing positive and healthy behaviors is more critical than ever.

Modeling good behavior is not limited to parental habits and behaviors. Adults are also tasked with the obligation to control and filter the media to which their children are exposed. This can be challenging, especially in current times. However, exposure to constructive media can be maintained, particularly in the children's younger years. As young people get closer to adulthood, parents will have to accept that controlling their children's media exposure will become more and more challenging. Even so, positive and constructive exposure during one's formative years will have a lasting impact.


Do You Have A Child With Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Even the best of parents require breaks from time to time. This is especially true for parents of children with oppositional defiant disorder. The daily grind can be challenging; some days are more intense than others. Tweaking parenting styles, filtering out negative influences, and working with professionals can prevent burnout if adults forget to take breaks.

Outside interests, hobbies, and a strong support network can significantly impact parents' lives. Engaging in healthy lifestyle choices such as exercise, getting the proper amount of rest, eating nutritiously, etc., are all little things that amount to big differences over time.

Working With A Counselor Or Therapist

It can be very difficult for parents or guardians to learn that their child was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder. Such a revelation often takes time for adults to process. The lifestyle changes in accommodating children with ODD can also be draining. For this reason, adults in this position are strongly urged to work with a counselor or therapist. Doing so can make a remarkable difference in the lives of parents looking to cope or simply seek advice on what to do next.

If you’re a busy parent, online therapy has many benefits that can help make treatment more convenient and accessible. You don’t have to worry about calling around to different local therapists or being on a waiting list. With online therapy, you’re matched with an available counselor so you can start treatment right away, and because you attend sessions from the comfort of your own home or anywhere you have an internet connection, it’s easy to fit into your busy schedule.

Online therapy is effective, too. One review found that online cognitive behavioral therapy significantly decreased the effects of chronic fatigue and stress and improved symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and other mental health conditions by 50%. If you’re ready to start online therapy, take the next steps with BetterHelp.


Oppositional defiant disorder is more than childhood rebellion. If your child shows symptoms of this condition, reach out to their doctor for an evaluation. Parenting a child with ODD has unique challenges. If you need help coping, online therapy can help.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started