Defiance and tantrums are common in childhood. Parents will often tell us about the 30-minute tirade they faced because their child wanted a blue bowl, not a yellow one. Or the screaming and crying that ensued when the parent was brave enough to suggest that drawing should be reserved for paper, not walls.

How, then, do we know when these behaviours represent a more serious problem?

When considering a young person’s behaviour, psychologists will typically consider what is happening, how long the problem has existed, and the impact. When rebellion or anger becomes frequent enough to impact on the young person’s schooling and relationships with friends and family, a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder or ODD may be considered.

ODD can damage child’s future

ODD is a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behaviour directed towards authority figures. Children with ODD rebel, are stubborn, argue with adults, and refuse to obey. They have anger outbursts and a hard time controlling their temper. 

ODD can negatively impact a young person’s educational options as they struggle to adapt and conform to rule-based school structures. It can affect their home lives, as anger and defiance cause tension in their relationships. And, if unaddressed, it can damage their future employment prospects.

ODD is one of the most commonly encountered disorders in children and adolescents, seen in 1 to 16 per cent of the population, depending on the criteria and assessment methods used.

Rates of ODD appear to be higher in boys than girls. But some researchers argue that the criteria used to diagnose ODD unfairly favour boys.

ODD affects families from all backgrounds and can be difficult to predict, as there is no single cause. However, some factors make a person more vulnerable to developing ODD: a family history of behavioural difficulties or substance use, poverty, lack of structure, community violence, and inconsistent parenting.

ODD treatment can include CBT

Young people who seek treatment from an accredited professional who uses evidence-based treatments can have good outcomes. Treatments typically include support for parents and the school, combined with individual therapy, most often using cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to improve anger management skills and encourage alternative methods of communication.

These treatments should help you talk to your child with fewer escalating arguments. They should help your child manage their anger more effectively, and ensure that all parties are working together. While arguments and defiance may linger, there should be a notable reduction during and after treatment.

If defiance is a behaviour you struggle with at home, or your child has been diagnosed with ODD, there are several things that you can do as a parent.

– Jade Sheen & Jane McGillivray

Read more: More than just a tantrum: here’s what to do if your child has oppositional defiant disorder

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