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Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are not simply hard to parent — their hostility, revenge-seeking and blame-shifting goes well beyond what's typical. Olivia talks to the mom of a child with ODD and explores what this disorder is really like.

Anger, temper tantrums defiance, and challenging authority figures are all normal parts of growing up. So, perhaps, are feeling the need to seek revenge and the temptation to purposely do things that make others angry. But when these behaviors go well beyond what's normal, a child may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Living With ODD: An Overview Of Symptoms

“I knew something was 'off' very early on with my youngest son. He was angry all the time, had a hard time complying with anyone or anything, and would freak out completely if something unexpected showed up on the family schedule.

He had trouble at school too, but he went to a village school without many resources and simply got labeled as a difficult kid. When I got divorced, they blamed that for my son's behavior. I sought help from social services several times but was never taken seriously.”

This is the start of Ellie's story. Ellie has three children, who are all teenagers now. The son she describes has now formally been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The description above doesn't sound so bad, does it? It's actual examples of his behavior that make you realize the true extent of ODD symptoms. He has hit his mom while she was driving, sold illegal fireworks, and started trying to hurt his younger sister by throwing objects at her when he was only a year old — he's never stopped since. 

Over the course of his childhood, nothing about parenting him was easy. Now 16, he was recently temporarily placed in an institution.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a childhood disorder that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM, describes as a pattern of anger-guided disobedience, hostility, and defiant behavior toward authority figures that goes beyond the normal bounds of childhood behavior. Ellie stresses that her child lacks empathy and does not seem to comprehend that his actions have consequences.

Excessive, frequent anger and tempter tantrums are common in kids with ODD. Children who have the disorder purposely provoke hostility in others, while always shifting the blame onto others. They are disrupted easily and prefer revenge or hostility over communication as a “problem-solving approach”.

The diagnostic criteria listed by the DSM-IV must exist for a minimum of six months and considered to be beyond normal childhood behavior. Four of these eight signs must be present for an ODD diagnosis to occur:

  • The child actively refuses to comply with requests and rules, even those supported by a majority or agreed upon through consensus.

  • The child purposely annoys others through his actions.

  • Frequent anger and resentment of others.

  • Frequently gets into arguments.

  • Blames other people for his mistakes or wrongdoings.

  • Frequently loses his temper.

  • Is spiteful and favors revenge.

  • Easily annoyed — a “short fuse”.

It is not currently clear what causes ODD, but Ellie is very sure there is a strong genetic component — both her husband and his father displayed similar symptoms. Mental health professionals agree with her, but also list possible environmental risk factors. They include alcoholic parents, abuse or neglect, a delayed cognitive development (Ellie's son has an IQ score of 80), and inconsistent parental supervision or discipline.

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