What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Laura Markham's picture

Read More of Dr. Laura's Parenting Tips

ODD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, describes children who cannot control their tempers and who refuse to cooperate with the adults in their lives. While all children are defiant at times, ODD is diagnosed when kids are so angry and challenging that it interferes with their school, peer relations or family life.

Most diagnoses of ODD are made towards the end of elementary school, when kids have not been successful in school. While family may put up with temper tantrums, kids find the outside world less forgiving; they need to be able to control their tempers so they can relate well to their peers, teachers and the other adults in his life.

No one knows why a child develops ODD. My hunch is that these kids are often born with a more difficult, rigid personality that is quick to anger, which takes very skilled parenting to offset.

If the parent can build a great relationship with her child and sidestep the power struggles, the child can avoid becoming defiant and can learn to control his temper. If not, the defiance may worsen as the child grows older and cannot be controlled by force.

Sometimes ODD seems to be related to ADD or ADHD, learning disabilities, or a mood, affective or personality disorder. If a child has one of these other disorders, it is important to treat it, and the ODD may well vanish.

A child who is diagnosed with ODD needs help from his parents, his teachers, and a skilled therapist to turn his life around before the challenges of adolescence swamp him and his defiance worsens into assaultive behavior. A therapist skilled in treating kids with ODD should make a recommendation as to whether medication would be helpful.

Just as important, though, is coaching/counseling for the parents. Their way of handling an ODD child's challenging behavior is what ultimately makes the difference in whether their child improves or spirals downward.

Parenting a child with ODD does not mean crushing his defiance. By the time most kids are diagnosed, they are too big to intimidate or physically control. When children cooperate, it is because they love the parent and want to please her. No child with a great relationship with his mom will risk losing that relationship by flagrantly disobeying her.

That means that the ODD child's parents, and their relationship with him, are potentially his biggest asset in getting better. If the parent can learn the parenting skills to build a close relationship with their child -- at the same time that they set limits as necessary, and help him learn to manage his temper -- the ODD child's defiance will diminish and he will begin to learn to control his temper.

Over time, the combination of parental empathy, respect and limits can help the child move past the ODD diagnosis and into a normal adulthood.

Dr. Laura Markham
Aha! Parenting.com