If your child has oppositional defiant disorder, they might be frequently irritable or angry, argumentative, defiant and oppositional – and this pattern of behavior has been persistent over time. With therapy and medication, your child can overcome this disorder and start on a happier, healthier path.
It’s normal for your child to sometimes not follow directions, have tantrums or argue. Oppositional defiant disorder is different because it’s a consistent pattern of mood and behavior that lasts for a long period of time (more than six months) and is intense (happens a few times a week). Your child might get in trouble at school, fight with their peers and argue with their coaches, teachers and family members. They also might be easily annoyed, lose their temper, refuse to comply with directions and blame others for their problems.
Oppositional defiant disorder is more common in boys than girls. Your child might be experiencing oppositional defiant disorder if they:
A diagnosis is made after an interview with a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a clinical therapist. They will ask you about the symptoms you’ve noticed in your child and how long they’ve lasted. The purpose of this interview is to understand your child, see if they’re suffering from a mental health issue and pinpoint which one it might be.
Oppositional defiant disorder can be caused by many different factors, including a child’s temperament and factors in their environment. Children who have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect may also be at higher risk. Parenting styles may positively or negatively affect the child’s symptoms.
Medications can help with aggression, depression, impulsivity and ADHD. However, the most effective treatment is behavioral therapy. A therapist can meet with you to help you learn how to set consistent limits and use positive reinforcement for behaviors you want to see. Meanwhile, the therapist will work one-on-one with your child to improve their self-esteem, develop coping skills and find ways to be motivated to behave better.
Children can be triggered by limits and not getting what they want. “No” is a word that can trigger your child into misbehavior. They may also be easily triggered by peer conflicts or situations that they perceive as unfair.
Stay neutral, set limits and have consistent consequences. For example, if your child is arguing about bedtime, they need to know they’ll lose certain privileges if they’re not in bed by a certain time. Stick to the bedtime you’ve decided, avoid engaging in the argument and don’t cave to their demands.
Many children with oppositional defiant disorder improve by the time they are adults. But watch out for worsening symptoms, like if your child runs away from home, skips school or is cruel to people or animals. That's an indication of something more serious going on, and that you should talk to your pediatrician. Children with oppositional defiant disorder are also at higher risk for developing depression.