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Caring for a child with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

4-minute read

What is ODD?

If your child frequently won’t do what you ask and gets angry and aggressive when you ask them to do things, it could mean they have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Knowing the facts, and how to get help and support, can help you care for your child more effectively.

All children don’t do as they’re told and get grumpy sometimes. This is especially true if they’re tired, hungry, upset or frustrated. But a child with ODD behaves like this a lot of the time.

ODD is more than just ‘bad behaviour.’ It can be so severe that your child has trouble doing ordinary things.

What are the symptoms of ODD?

Children with oppositional defiant disorder may:

  • have a short temper
  • argue with adults
  • refuse to follow rules or requests from adults
  • annoy other people on purpose
  • blame others for their own mistakes
  • be mean and unkind to others

Children with ODD are often argumentative and angry.

What causes ODD?

No one knows exactly what causes ODD. It tends to run in families, so genetics might be involved. Environmental factors, such as stress, are also likely to play a part.

ODD usually starts between 8 years of age and adolescence, but it can start earlier.

Some children with ODD have attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

Children with ODD may also have other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression and autism spectrum disorder.

When should my child see a doctor?

Ask your GP for advice if you think your child might have ODD.

They might refer you to a:

  • paediatrician (specialist in child health)
  • child psychiatrist or psychologist (experts in mental health assessment and treatment)

These specialists are experts in diagnosing ODD.

What to do if your child is diagnosed with ODD

A child with ODD can have a big impact on you, other children, and the rest of your family. If your child is diagnosed with ODD, you will be given a behaviour management plan to help you manage your daily life.

What is the treatment for ODD?

Treatment with a psychologist or psychiatrist is usually the main treatment for ODD. They will talk with your child about their behaviour and may help address any issues with your relationship with your child.

Seeking help as early as possible is important so that you can access therapy tailored to your child.

Occasionally, medicines may be prescribed if other treatments are not effective.

It's best to start treatment for ODD early.

Early intervention, which offers therapy tailored to your child, means you can help your child:

  • keep friends
  • have better relationships with the family
  • do better at school
  • be happier

It could also help them avoid a more dangerous condition called conduct disorder. This includes physical aggression and bullying.

How to care for your child with ODD

It's important that your child knows you are there for them. You might also want to use some strategies to help change your child’s behaviour. You could try:

  • using praise to encourage positive behaviour
  • creating a reward chart
  • giving clear instructions
  • maintain boundaries for health and safety
  • find hobbies and activities that you both like doing to connect with your child and help you have a positive relationship

Your child’s psychologist or therapist should give you specific strategies for managing your child’s behaviour and supporting them, such as a behaviour plan.

A positive parenting program may help.

What other help is available?

Don’t forget to look after yourself so that you can continue to care for your child.

Learn more about disability and parenting support.

More information

Raising Children Network has more information about children and ODD.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


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