What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 8, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Laura Angers, NCC, LPC

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is clinically described as "a condition in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of an angry or irritable mood, defiant or argumentative behavior, and vindictiveness toward people in authority." One can easily mistake ODD as mere rebellion or a child's attempt to garner attention. However, there are notable differences between a young person with oppositional defiant disorder and one who simply chooses to act out for his her ulterior motives. ODD is a condition which has come to light over the past few years. Various specialists have investigated oppositional defiant disorder for quite some time with the hopes of learning more information.

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, seeing as home life and school life are two of the most critical parts of a child's development. Recent studies into oppositional defiant disorder have moreover shown that this ailment is also tied to the following behavioral issues: anxiety, attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, depression, and learning disabilities.

Symptoms Of ODD

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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 who live with this disorder are furthermore likelier to experience habitual frustration, low self-esteem and engage in the use of drugs and alcohol.

What Causes ODD?

Further reports from WebMD list a variety of factors which can prompt or contribute to oppositional defiant disorder. Environments, genetics, and biology can singularly or collectively contribute to the development of ODD. Young children are innately most vulnerable due to their overall inability to shield themselves from exposure to things which are dangerous. This is largely why the quality of a child's environment largely contributes to whether or not they incurs oppositional defiant disorder.

The most toxic, environmental aspects which share ties to ODD are irregular, parental discipline, familial dysfunction, and exposure to the mentally ill individual. It goes without that many children have undergone exposure to the aspects above without developing oppositional defiant disorder. However, not everyone has been so lucky.At the end of the day, parents and guardians are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that their children are in safe, healthy, and constructive environments. In doing so, parents and guardians must also keep their kids away from volatile or damaging influences.

Similarly to the environment, 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 disorder's hereditary ties are well documented; many children who experience oppositional defiant disorder also have relatives with personal, anxiety, and mood disorders. Unlike environmental aspects, the genetic inheritance of oppositional defiant disorder is not something which parents or guardians can control.

Last but not least comes biology. Believe it or not, various types of trauma or injuries to a child's brain can engender ODD. Brain trauma is always dangerous; however, the impacts are especially devastating for young people, seeing as their brains are still growing and developing. In a nutshell, biological causes behind oppositional defiant disorder can be traced back to poor communication between the brain's nerve cells. When the cells above are unable to communicate with one another effectively, ODD can be a tragic result. In other biological 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 dark and draining illness, both for afflicted children and the people who are closest to them. Therefore, questions about whether or not oppositional defiant disorder can be prevented before its inception have come forth. Unfortunately, Mayo Clinic states that there is no one, specific solution to halting this type of disorder; although there is still some light at the end of the tunnel.

The publication goes on to state that parents and guardians can take certain steps to counteract and possibly prevent the inception of ODD in their children. However, it's important for adults 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 listed as some of the main factors which can help children and work against ODD.

Advice For Parents

It goes without saying: the parents and guardians of children with oppositional defiant disorder will definitely experience some tough times. Thankfully, AACAP provides helpful information and advice to the adults who will need it the most. First and foremost, parents and guardians need to understand that oppositional defiant disorder is a very 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 one's child ongoing 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, adults will likely be provided with tips on how to effectively parent. If the child has other mental health issues, the doctor may or may not be able to prescribe treatments which could partially counteract the existence of oppositional defiant disorder.

No two children are exactly alike. No two cases of ODD are the same. There are countless factors which 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 8. Professionals have been known to advise afflicted children to engage in both one-on-one therapy and family therapy.

Proactive and strategic parenting styles are some of the best ways to manage a child who has 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 setting priorities when necessary.

Modeling Good Behavior

Parents and guardians should always model good behavior. However, this becomes especially paramount for children who exhibit oppositional defiant disorder. This means handling emotionally in a constructive manner, using appropriate language, etc. Children tend to observe and subsequently to emulate the behavior which they are exposed to most frequently. Because children with ODD are already inclined to act out and engage in problematic conduct, the importance of them witnessing positive and healthy behaviors is more important than ever.

Modeling good behavior is not something which merely limited to parental habits and behaviors. Adults are furthermore tasked with the obligation to control and filter the media which their children are exposed to. This can be somewhat 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 is sure to have a lasting impact.


Are Unwanted Thoughts And Behaviors Negatively Affecting You?

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 quite challenging, especially on certain days. The process of tweaking parenting styles, filtering out negative influences, and working with professionals can engender burnout if adults forget to take breaks.

Having outside interests, hobbies, and a strong support network can make a great difference in the lives of parents. Engaging in healthy lifestyle choices such as exercise, getting the proper amount of rest, eating nutritiously, etc. are all little things which 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 gets diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder. Such a revelation often takes time for adults to process. The lifestyle changes which come along with 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 wonderful difference in the lives of parents who are looking to cope or simply seek advice on what to do next.

Here at BetterHelp, the top priority of our counselors and therapists is to provide help and guidance to each person who contacts us. Whether you have a child with ODD or are going through other difficulties, you should not be alone. Guidance and assistance will always be available to those who ask for it.

You can contact BetterHelp at any time by clicking here.

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