What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)?

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder? Many of us have probably never even heard of it.

As defined by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD, is an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster’s day to day functioning. Most children will occasionally display some sort of defiance towards parents, teachers, or other adults. This may occur when the child is tired, hungry, stressed, or upset. Oppositional behavior is a common part of development for children at age 2 and 3 and again at early adolescence but it can become a serious concern if it hinders the child’s social, family, and academic life.

The disorder is more common in boys than in girls and is thought to begin around age 8 but can start as early as the preschool years. This disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors (source).


  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Argues with adults
  • Often questions rules
  • Deliberate attempts to upset or annoy people
  • Blames others for his or her mistakes or behavior
  • Frequent anger or resentment
  • Spiteful attitude and seeks revenge
  • Often touchy, or easily annoyed by others
  • Is in constant trouble at school
  • Has few or no friends, or has lost friends

Although the cause of ODD is not yet known it is thought that biological, psychological and social factors may have a role. Children with these symptoms which must persist for over 6 months and must be markedly different from other children of the same age, can be evaluated by a psychiatrist or psychologist. ODD is often linked with other conditions such as Anxiety disorder, ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, learning disorders, or substance abuse disorders.

Treatment for a child with ODD can be child therapy, family therapy, parent management training to help the parents manage the anger, anger management for the child to help control the anger, and at times medication. Some children respond well to treatment while others do not. For those that therapy does not work, it can lead to conduct disorder as a teenager or adult and/or antisocial personality disorder.

Some studies show that ODD affects up to 20% of children but it is thought to affect closer to 16% of children. This means, that as teachers, we will most likely have a student with ODD at some point in our teaching career. As it was mentioned above, ODD is usually accompanied by some sort of other conditions such as ADHD or bipolar disorder. This means that the child may be diagnosed with one, but not the other. We can have a student with ADHD in our class but who has not been diagnosed with ODD. Although the diagnosis of ODD may not be crucial it is important for a teacher to recognize these symptoms and address them.

To address the issues a teacher should contact the parents as well as other administrators and teachers. First it should be identified if this behavior is isolated to one class or if it is consistent throughout all other classes. If a child is believed to have ODD there are steps parents, and teachers can take to lessen the behavior. It is important for a teacher to focus on the positive. Most children with ODD respond well to positive parenting techniques.

Teachers should show positive reinforcement and praise the child for cooperation or a demonstration of flexibility. Teachers should avoid power struggles and have clearly defined rules, procedures, and consequences. This is where classroom management can become very important. It is important for teachers to cooperate and communicate with parents about the students progress and behavior.

To address positive parenting techniques through age, please click here.

Looking back, I think that one of my students may have been developing ODD. He was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was very defiant at home. I had seen the parent interaction between the mother and student and the mother was very harsh. At times the student would have to stand in a corner while the family ate dinner without him, which they would then go eat ice cream and he was forced to watch and would not get ice cream. It was a punishment but I think that would be very frustrating for the child and would not help the situation.

How could this child be more successfully dealt with? The mother did not seem to demonstrate positive parenting techniques and was very strict. How would be the best way to educate parents about their students delicate development? How can the issue of ODD or other behavioral problems be addressed in a more delicate manner?


Further readings






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