As I write in my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, all kids display defiant behavior from time to time. And as any parent  knows, these bouts of escalated emotions, amidst conflict laden power struggles, can really feel maddening to manage. If you child's difficult behaviors seem to be more persistent,  it’s possible that your child has a condition called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

The term ODD, and what it represents, may understandably sound ominous to parents. But taking a step back, and looking at your child's problematic behaviors,  within the conceptual framework of ODD can help gain understanding of your child's underlying struggles.

The symptoms of ODD include:

  • Chronic anger 
  • Blaming others for mistakes 
  • Being touchy, or easily annoyed and vindictive.

To qualify for an ODD diagnosis, your child must do things like talk back, refuse to do chores, use bad language, and say things like “You can’t make me” or “You’re never fair” nearly every day for at least six months. In other words, kids with ODD have oppositional attitudes and behaviors that are more of a pattern than an exception to the rule. The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes this list of three subgrouped behavior clusters that a child diagnosed with ODD would exhibit:

Angry/Irritable Mood

  • Often loses his temper
  • Is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Is often angry and resentful

Argumentative/Defiant Behavior

  • Often argues with authority figures or, for children and adolescents, with adults
  • Often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or with rules
  • Often deliberately annoys others
  • Often blames others for her mistakes or misbehavior

Vindictiveness

  • Has been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past six months 

Children and teens are required to have four or more symptoms for at least six months to meet the diagnostic criteria for ODD. With children who have ODD, the behavior is beyond the norm for the child’s developmental age. In some cases, kids with ODD can also be diagnosed with conduct disorder (a more extreme form of ODD described in the introduction) as a coexisting condition. Other co-existing conditions can be anxiety, depression, and most commonly, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

It’s important to realize that even if your child displays only one or two behaviors on the list above, or these behaviors are not that frequent, you still need to learn how to keep the situation from getting worse. The expression “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” could not be more relevant than when parenting defiant children. 

As described in other posts, staying out of parenting power struggles is key to managing defiant children. Stay calm, firm, and noncontrolling and you will bypass your child's emotional overreactivity and difficult behaviors. The less you raise your voice, the less you will see defiant behavior in your child or teen. 

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