Could Oppositional Defiant Disorder Be the Cause of Your Child’s Bad Behaviour?

Parents expect their kids to act out every once in a while.

But if your child is consistently defiant then he or she may have oppositional defiant disorder. This behavioural disorder affects around 2% to 16% of Australian children.

If your child is acting out repeatedly, you are probably at your wit’s end. And understandably so. According to psychologist and Talk Less, Listen More author, Michael Hawton, one in five parents admit to having trouble with behaviour in one of their children at any given time. But if your child is repeatedly aggressive and purposely bothering or irritating others, there could be more at play. Such as oppositional defiant disorder.

So before you send your child to the naughty corner (for infinity), have a look at the signs of oppositional defiant disorder and what you can do to help your child if he or she is displaying similar actions.

What is oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)?

Oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD, is characterised by a repeating pattern of defiant, disobedient, hostile and negative behaviour towards authority figures. While all children will showcase some of these signs, especially after a bad day or a fight with mum or dad, children with ODD will display these characteristic behaviours for six months or longer.

“ODD represents a cluster of symptoms that usually become apparent after a long lead-in of a pattern of behaviour that has built-up over time,” Michael tells Mum Central.

“It might start off as naughty then it gets to being rude then to defiant over time. This behaviour develops into habit that might get a diagnosis of ODD.”

Most children are diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder between the ages of five and 12.

Could my child have ODD? 

A child with oppositional defiant disorder may:

  • Argue persistently
  • Actively defy, ignore or refuse to comply with directives, requests and rules
  • Cause disturbances in school and at home
  • Be easily annoyed by others
  • Often blame others for his or her misbehaviour or mistakes
  • Be angry, resentful, spiteful and vindictive
  • Claim to not care about consequences or refuses to accept them
  • Lose his or her temper
  • Claim to not care about losing privileges as a consequence to negative behaviour
  • Not accept responsibility for actions
  • Test limits
  • Be unwilling to compromise, give in, or negotiate with adults or peers

These symptoms do not suggest your child has oppositional defiant disorder, but, if they are displaying four or more of the above AND they are impacting your child’s daily life, then it might be a good idea to speak to your GP.

What can I do if my child is acting like this? 

Even if your child doesn’t have oppositional defiant disorder, he or she may still act like this sometimes. But there are ways you can help.

angry-boy, oppositional defiant disorder

1. Don’t blame yourself. 

There is no single factor that has been identified as causing oppositional defiant disorder. It may have something to do with the child’s environment or temperament. Usually it’s a combination of a number of things.

2. Get a parenting plan in place

Include routine, structure, limits and punishments. “Kids need to know their limits. Set limits early,” Michael suggest.”Get concerned when they won’t do anything you ask.”

Consider a parenting course for strategies for dealing with the challenging behaviour of children.

3. Lead by example

And when you really can’t control your emotions, walk away. Take a time out. Hide in the pantry and swear into a box of crackers. Return to the conflict when you can handle it appropriately so your child learns the ‘right’ way to deal with problems.

4. Change your way of thinking

A child is a child. And no child likes to hear they are ‘bad’. Refrain from using negative words around them. When you’re about ready to run away or lock them in their room forever, remind yourself of the good things – their loving nature, that adorable giggle, the sweet smile. Keep these positives in the back of your mind all the time, especially when you’re knee deep in an argument.

5. Accept the challenge

Yes. Sometimes we’re faced with parenting challenges, ones that we do not expect. We have two choices. We can cower, make excuses and give up. Or we can accept the challenge, embrace the extra work it involves and go at it with guns ‘a blazing.

Your child may be an expert at pushing your buttons. But you’re an expert on your child. You’ve got this, mumma!

What to do if you’re worried your child may have ODD

It can be heartbreaking to see your little one acting out, especially when there seems to be intentional malice behind his or her actions.

If you feel like something is wrong or believe your child could have oppositional defiant disorder, then contact your GP. You know your child best. Your doctor will then refer you to someone who can make an appropriate diagnosis and suggest treatment. 

If your kid has trouble sitting still, take a look at our previous article about how to help a constant fidgeter.

Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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