ODD Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Even the most well-behaved children can be exhibit challenging behavior at times. However, if your child has persistent patterns of tantrums, arguing, and violent or disruptive behavior toward parents and other authority figures they may have a mental health condition known oppositional defiant disorder.

Understanding ODD

Learn about ODD

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a childhood behavioral disorder that is characterized by negative, defiant, disobedient, often hostile behaviors typically directed at adults and people in authority that last for a period of six months or longer. Defiant behaviors are often expressed as persistent stubbornness, refusal to follow directions, and unwillingness to seek common ground, compromise, or negotiate with others. A child who has ODD may constantly test the limits by ignoring directions, arguing, or failing to accept blame for their own behaviors.

While all children push the boundaries at times, children with oppositional defiant disorder will display these behaviors much more often than other children. Eventually, these challenging behaviors will compromise their ability to function to their potential at school and at home.

While having a child with ODD can be extremely frustrating for parents, with the proper treatment your child’s ODD can be managed over time. In order to overcome this disorder, children must be made to understand that their behavior is inappropriate and must make a conscious effort to change that behavior. A therapist can help your child learn new ways of handling his or her negative emotions and help him or her learn more appropriate behaviors.


ODD statistics

Oppositional defiant disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions that exists in childhood. It is estimated that between 1% and 6% of children in the United States meet the criteria for ODD.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ODD

Oppositional defiant disorder is thought to be caused by a number of different factors that occur together. The combination of genetic, physical, social, and psychological factors related to the condition may include:

Genetic: Children who are born to parents who had ODD as a child are at a greater risk for developing the disorder themselves. Additionally, children who have parents who have a history of ADHD, substance abuse, depressive disorders, or bipolar disorder are at a higher risk for developing ODD.

Environmental: Many environmental factors can increase the risk that a child develops ODD, such as lack of parental structure or supervision, inconsistent discipline, or an absence of parenting. Additionally, being exposed to violence or abuse can increase the risk.

Psychological: Children who have ADHD or are extremely aggressive are at an increased risk for developing ODD.

Risk factors:

  • Developmental delays in ability to process feelings and thoughts
  • Financial problems or lack of stability in the family
  • Moving multiple times
  • Changing childcare providers frequently
  • Having parents with a troubled marriage

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ODD

It can be very hard for parents to recognize the difference between a child who is simply being challenging and one who has ODD. While it is normal for a child to show some defiant behaviors in certain stages of development, there is a difference between normal, independence-seeking behaviors and the behaviors of children who have ODD.

The symptoms of ODD usually appear before the age of 8, but some children won’t show symptoms until they are in their early teens. Those with ODD will display a wide range of symptoms, some of the most common include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Questioning rules
  • Always arguing with adults
  • Refusal to comply with adult requests
  • Blaming others for their own mistakes or defiant behaviors
  • Disobedience
  • Easily annoyed by others
  • Revenge-seeking behaviors

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Spiteful attitude
  • Low self-esteem
  • Negativity
  • Social impairment
  • Anger
  • Trouble keeping friendships
  • Resentment


Effects of ODD

Untreated oppositional defiant disorder can greatly affect a child and cause the parents a great deal of frustration and stress. It is important for parents to seek help for their child as soon as possible so that his other problems don’t become so severe that they cause complications in the child’s life. Some of the long-term effects of ODD include:

  • Problems with school
  • Poor communication skills
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Substance abuse
  • Lack of friends
  • Delinquency
  • Conduct disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Co-Occurring Disorders

ODD and co-occurring disorders

There are some disorders that can frequently occur with oppositional defiant disorder that can make it even more challenging for those children diagnosed with the disorder. Some of these co-occurring disorders include:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Learning disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Communication disorders
  • Substance use disorders

It was devastating watching our little girl battle her issues and not knowing how to help her. We were referred to Longleaf and it’s truly amazing the difference we’ve seen in just a short time.

– Anonymous Patient
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