Developmentally Typical Behavior or Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

By Patricia Williams, Family Peer Support Referral Specialist

All children can be defiant at times. Parents that have survived the “terrible twos” go on to survive the “terrible teens” and then with any luck their peaceful child returns and life goes on, right? Not always. What happens if challenging behaviors linger, or even get worse? Your child may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). If treatment is not received, the conflict in your household could escalate, and problematic behaviors could continue into adulthood, causing relationship issues and even legal trouble. It is important to seek treatment if you think your child may have ODD.

Symptoms of ODD include:

  • Having frequent temper tantrums
  • Arguing a lot with adults
  • Refusing to do what an adult asks
  • Always questioning rules and refusing to follow rules
  • Doing things to annoy or upset others, including adults
  • Blaming others for the child’s own misbehaviors or mistakes
  • Being easily annoyed by others
  • Often having an angry attitude
  • Speaking harshly or unkindly
  • Seeking revenge or being vindictive

Some of the above symptoms can mimic other behavioral health conditions, or co-occur with other conditions. Particularly, children diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders, conduct disorder, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at a much higher risk of ODD. Boys are also much more likely to exhibit symptoms. It is important to note that all children can exhibit the above behaviors from time to time and it is normal as part of a child’s development, particularly in the toddler and teen years. If your child exhibits high rates of these behaviors, however, or if they appear to linger or worsen, it may be time to seek help.

If your child has been diagnosed with ODD it is important to understand that there is no quick fix. ODD is not normally treated with medication. Often providers will focus on individual, family and group therapy as part of a treatment plan. Also, there are things that you can do to help your child as they are being treated:

  • Take part in family therapy as needed.
  • Regularly communicate with your child’s care team.
    You know your child best. Your child may get care from a team that could include counselors, therapists, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Your child’s care team will depend on his or her needs.
  • Work with your child’s school to develop a plan for your child to be successful.
    Your child may be eligible for specialized services and accommodations at school because of their disorder.
  • Reach out for support.
    Being in touch with other parents who have a child with ODD may be helpful. If you don’t already have a family peer support specialist, reach out to MCF to connect with one at 410-730-8267 or [email protected], or check out our website for support groups in your area.

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