All children act out from time to time – the “terrible twos” can be a time fraught with tension, as can adolescence. But if your child or teenager is consistently angry and irritable, always defying you, or engaging in arguments all the time, it is possible that they have oppositional defiant disorder.

Oppositional defiant disorder is a behavioral disorder that lasts for longer than six months. When a child has oppositional defiant disorder, their irritable mood and argumentative actions likely impact them at school, at home, and at play. They may act out against you, the parent, authority figures such as teachers and coaches, and their friends and classmates.

Symptoms

Some of the common symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder include:

  • Frequent and excessive anger (noticeably more than their peers)
  • Being quick to argue and frequent arguing, especially with adults and authority figures
  • Refusal to comply with and questioning of rules
  • Purposefully annoying others
  • Using mean or unkind language, especially when angry or upset
  • Frequently throwing “temper tantrums” or losing their temper
  • Blaming others for mistakes, slip-ups, or bad behavior
  • Using foul language and swearing
  • Engaging in vengeful, spiteful behavior 
  • Is easily annoyed

Some children with oppositional defiant disorder may also experience other, co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression, ADHD, anxiety, and others. Treating the co-occurring condition may help improve symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

There is no one distinct cause of oppositional defiant disorder. Some of the risk factors correlated with developing oppositional defiant disorder include:

  • Genetics may play a role in developing oppositional defiant disorder, such as having a parent with a mental health condition
  • Parenting style and home environment, such as inconsistent discipline and lack of parental supervision
  • Experiencing abuse or neglect as a child
  • Having a highly emotional or overly reactive demeanor or temperament

Treatment

Talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned that your child may have oppositional defiant disorder. You can work together to determine the risk factors that are in your control, and to develop an effective treatment plan. 

Parent Involvement: Treatment for oppositional defiant disorder usually involves the parent as well as the child. Parents may benefit from learning about positive and consistent parenting skills, and engaging in therapy with their child.

Therapy: A therapist can help your child work on their communication skills and learn to address anger issues before they turn into outbursts or tantrums. Find the right care option for your child. 

Education: Learning more about mental health conditions can help you recognize them and their triggers in your child. Visit the Knowledge Center to learn more about mental health conditions.

Support: Parenting a child with oppositional defiant disorder is not always easy. Get the support that you need as your child’s caregiver; locate a support group at Sheppard Pratt. 

Medication: Medication can help control some of your child’s symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder. It can also be helpful in addressing any co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety or ADHD.