Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a term that is used to describe children who engage in a consistent pattern of angry, argumentative, defiant behavior for a period greater than six months. Every child has his or her moments of defiance and opposition, a simple rite of passage for all youth, and something that all parents expect to deal with in some degree. Distinguishing between what is to be expected and what might be a mental health problem is a tough call to make, but it can be made easier with Ottawa Youth Counselling. Consider these 5 indicators of ODD, and use them to determine if you ought to be seeking the help of mental health professionals to help your oppositional child.
1) Consistently Oppositional Behaviour
Every child is going to have some degree of oppositional behavior. Maybe they resist authority figures, maybe they oppose their siblings. What separates statistically average behavior from that of a child with ODD is a matter of consistency. If they are in the habit of defying others to the extent that they clearly do so more than is typical of their peers, this is a strong red flag for a possible ODD Diagnosis.
Keep in mind that, in order to responsibly diagnose ODD, a mental health professional will go through the process of ruling out other possible explanations. Puberty also leads youth to engage in a pattern of behavior and establish an attitude very similar to that of ODD. Additionally, other mental health disorders like depression and bipolar can manifest ODD-like symptoms.
2) Angry, Irritable Moods
Every child is going to have mood swings, temporary periods of anger and irritability are a simple part of being a human being. What makes a child with ODD different is the frequency and consistency with which they enter into a mental state of anger and irritation. Those without ODD have a considerably lower threshold for what it takes to ‘set them off’ into intense anger and irritation.
For example, when a child has their hand up in class, and is not selected to ask a question; most are capable of processing that healthily. Their hand goes back down, and their day goes on. For some children, not being selected serves to irritate them to such an extent that they may fly into a minor rage, disrupting class until everyone is aware of the injustice they perceive has been done onto them.
3) Argumentative, Defiant Behavior
Most children defy rules out of momentary ignorance, or the perception that they won’t get caught. Perhaps one steals a toy because their desire for it momentarily overrides their awareness of the rules, or sneaks a popsicle from the freezer because they believe they won’t be caught.
Children with ODD engage in the active defiance of adult rules or requests, deliberately seeking to ‘get a rise’ out of them. The intentions behind this behavior vary from child to child, some seeking to establish a feeling of power over the figures that dominate their life, others using defiance as a strategy to garner attention.
Does your child often argue with adults or authority figures? Do they actively seek to defy rules and requests? Do they deliberately try to annoy others? When you discipline your child for these behaviors, do they attempt to pass off blame for their actions onto others? All of these are strong indicators of ODD.
Children with ODD exhibit feelings and attitudes of spite and vindictiveness beyond what is typical of their peers. When they perceive that they have disrespected in some way, they will respond with a powerful need to ‘get even’ or seek revenge.
It important to emphasize that it is the perception of disrespect, not actual disrespect, that will cause an ODD child to engage in vindictive thinking and behavior. Something as trivial as handing one child a candy before an ODD child can be perceived as disrespect, and lead to an ODD child seeking retribution. Children are inherently egotistical, so it’s important when assessing vindictiveness to think from the perspective of your child, keeping in mind that what it takes to percieve something as disrespectful to an ODD child is very different from a well-rounded adult.
5) Contextual Expression of Symptoms
A fundamental characteristic of ODD, separating it from run-of-the-mill defiance, is that it requires specific environmental context to be expressed in a defiant behavior. They determine this qualifer depending on the context within which ODD behavior generally take place. Sometimes, an child with ODD will typically only express oppositional attitude and behavior in a particular context. Sometimes they are intensely defiant towards parents at home, but not at school. Sometimes, they are disrespectful towards parents and teachers, but not coaches and extra-curricular instructors.
When a child is diagnosed with ODD, a mental health professional will qualify their symptoms as mild, moderate, or severe. This judgement is made as a result of analyzing the environments in which a child has an inclination towards oppositional, defiant, and vindictive behavior.
Mild ODD is diagnosed when a child is generally only oppositional in a single context. For example, a child that behaves typically at home and soccer practice, but a-typically oppositional at school.
Moderate ODD is diagnosed when a child expresses ODD behavior in at least two settings, but no more.
Severe ODD is when a child manifests ODD behavior and attitude in 3 or more social contexts.
Ottawa Youth Counselling
ODD, like ADD before it, is a term that has become very popular amongst parents, teachers, and those who work regularly around children. It’s prevalence in our talk and discussion as parents and caregivers can lead many to believe themselves knowledgeable enough to make a formal diagnosis. While ODD offers the convenience of putting a name and understanding to the behavior of troublesome children, misattributing the cause of a child’s behavior is a critically dangerous error that can have lasting repercussions on the life of a child.
Many other mental health problems can manifest behaviors similar to that of ODD. Perhaps a child is expressing defiant behavior as a result of intense stress and anxiety caused by dyslexia. To a parent, teacher, or caregiver struggling with this childs propensity to act out and be disruptive, the belief this he or she has ODD offers relief.
Not only does ODD provide a convincing explanation of the child’s behavior, but it offers a path for a caregiver to cope with their disruptive behavior. The danger is that not only does this belief lead the only people capable of helping a child to invest time and energy into addressing a problem that doesn’t exist, but it leads them away from addressing the problem that does.
The only way to know with certainty that a child has ODD is through mental health professionals. If you feel that a child you know exhibits some of the 5 red flags above, it’s important not to jump to the conclusion that they have ODD. Instead, we recommend you get in touch with us, so that we can initiate the formal diagnostic process.