What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

In today’s modern world, we are understanding more and more about the human brain and body with learning and behaviour disorders being identified and diagnosed at earlier ages. There are many different learning disorders that affect children. The one we will be shedding some light on is called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, also known as ODD. Although it is typical for young children to be oppositional and defiant some of the time, when does it go beyond ‘just a phase?’

Research has shown that children diagnosed with ODD have a well-established pattern that goes beyond typical temper tantrums.

Some of the associated behaviours and symptoms may include:

  • Easily being annoyed by others
  • Questioning and refusing to follow rules
  • Blaming others for mistakes
  • Having the tendency to argue with authority figures
  • Often losing their temper
  • Quickly feeling irritated
  • Deliberately annoying others
  • Being vindictive or unkind
  • Doing things to upset others

If you are a parent, you will recognise that all children tend to have these symptoms from time to time. However, what differentiates ODD from typical defiant behaviour is the severity, how long it has been going on for and how it affects relationships. If children only behave a certain way in one environment such as only at home, then their behaviour is caused by an external trigger. If the child is engaging in inappropriate behaviours consistently across all settings (school and home for example), and not able to enjoy a typical functioning life, then it would be recommended to see a qualified mental health expert. ODD is also tough on family members, so having some family rules and parenting strategies in place is a great way to start to help manage quality of life for all.

There are several strategies that can be adopted by parents to help support their child at home such as:

Setting clear expectations and consequences

It’s best to set clear expectations of the house rules and routine by writing them down and displaying them in a space for everyone to see (example, kitchen fridge). Underneath the expectations, the consequences can also be posted up so that it is fair and consistent for everyone to follow. For example, if the child’s actions break a rule then a fair consequence could be losing TV or device privileges that day. Staying consistent with expectations and consequences ensure that the child understands that everyone is held accountable for their actions.

Setting boundaries

If a child is refusing to cooperate in helping with house tasks or chores, it’s important to offer choices as to set boundaries and reshape their behaviour, for example, rather than saying, “You need to clean your room,” replace this with, “Would you like to pick up your clothes or make your bed first?”

Using praise and rewards

There can be a negative stigma towards children with ODD. However, it’s vitally important to use praise and rewards when the child engages in appropriate or desired behaviour (such as completing a task/chore, helping a friend, finishing homework etc.). Parents should always acknowledge positive behaviour, letting their child know they did a great job and offering rewards (extra play time, choosing family activity, etc.) Staying consistent with consequences and rewards further demonstrates to the child that their choices can either create a positive or negative experience.

Validating their feelings

It’s important to understand that children with ODD are easily frustrated and often display temper tantrums as they are struggling to regulate their feelings. While parents may also feel discouraged in that moment, it’s best to ask, “How are you feeling right now?” rather than “What should you be doing right now?” And validate their feeling by sharing that you understand that emotion and feel that way too sometimes. Follow through by linking their feelings to the behaviour, for example by saying, “It’s ok for you to feel angry, but it’s not ok for you to shout at me. Before I ask you to follow my directions again, lets deal with your anger together by practicing our breathing exercises.” By validating their feelings and then calmly addressing them, you can help deescalate the child’s anger before it escalates while still explaining to them that their behaviour was unacceptable.

These parent management strategies should be discussed with teachers and/or therapists to ensure that everyone is using the same strategies consistently. At the Integrated International School, we provide a collaborative learning environment suitable for special needs education that benefits individual students as teachers, support specialists and parents work closely together to achieve their academic and social potential.

Take a look at our helpful infographic to better understand this behaviour, you can download it here.

Find out more about our dedicated Support Services by clicking here.

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