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Oppositional Defiant Disorder

teen girl with horse on green grass in equine therapy

For most teenagers, the occasional argument with parents or teachers is a normal part of development. But when arguing is near constant, it might be Oppositional Defiant Disorder. ODD is a disorder that affects children and teens. It is marked by angry, hostile, defiant or disobedient toward parents and other adults. To be diagnosed with ODD, the symptoms must be persistent for six months or longer.

3 Important Facts

  • About 6 percent of American children and teens have Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
  • Some children with ODD go on to develop conduct disorder, a severe disorder characterized by lying, violence, cruelty, breaking rules and laws, or bullying.
  • Roughly one-third of children with ADHD also have ODD. Sometimes ODD is misdiagnosed as or co-occurs with ADHD, depression, or other mental/emotional disorders.

Signs to look for

  • A persistent pattern of negative, hostile, or defiant behavior lasting six months or longer
  • Argues with adults
  • Loses temper easily
  • Actively refuses to comply with adult's requests or rules
  • Blames others for their mistakes
  • Intentionally provokes or annoys others
  • Is often angry, resentful, and spiteful

Next steps

Oppositional Defiant Disorder usually requires treatment. If you think you might be dealing with this disorder, make an appointment with a mental health professional. The right treatment requires the right diagnosis. Usually treatment for ODD requires a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, parent training, and family therapy. Sometimes medication is necessary to reduce symptoms well enough to enable the person to respond to the therapy.

Because Oppositional Defiant Disorder can affect the whole family, not just an individual, parental involvement in the treatment process is critical. Family systems therapy, parent training, and parent-child interaction therapy are cornerstones to addressing the struggles of a defiant teen. Parental engagement in their child’s treatment, their own treatment and their family’s treatment greatly increases the likelihood of healing and growth for the defiant teen.

Common Q and A

What causes ODD?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is typically caused by a combination of familial, environmental, trauma-based, neurological and/or chemical factors.

What is the outlook for people with Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

With treatment, significant progress can be made within a year, although progress varies from person to person. Without treatment, people with ODD are at higher risk for developing conduct disorder or passive-aggressive behavior as adults.

How do I know it's not just teenage rebellion?

As they are forming their identities and questioning the world around them, most teens are defiant from time to time. But ODD is diagnosed when the symptoms are persistent and severe enough to disrupt home, school and other settings. If you feel your teen is too much to handle, speak with a mental health professional.

Are boys at higher risk for Oppositional Defiant Disorder than girls?

Boys are diagnosed with ODD more often than girls during childhood and preteen years. By adolescence, however, boys and girls are equally diagnosed.

What can I do to help my child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

You will want to get treatment for your child and be involved in the treatment process. Other things you can do include setting clear, age-appropriate limits and being consistent; seeking support from other adults (spouse, teachers, therapists, etc.); praising your child when they cooperate; managing your own stress by taking care of yourself (exercising, relaxing, doing things you enjoy, etc.); and remembering to choose your battles carefully.