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Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Symptoms and treatment can help manage this difficult disorder.

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Dealing with a difficult child can be a hard part of parenthood. As they grow, typical children go through many phases. Challenging a parent’s authority comes along with some of these phases. But sometimes defiance crosses the line from typical behavior into a diagnosable behavior problem.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior. The pattern must last for at least six months. And it must go beyond normal childhood misbehavior. Symptoms often first appear during the preschool years.

What are the symptoms?

According to MedlinePlus, symptoms of ODD include:1

  • Actively not following requests from adults.
  • Feeling angry and resentful of others.
  • Arguing with adults.
  • Blaming others for their own mistakes.
  • Having few or no friends, or having lost friends.
  • Getting in trouble constantly at school.
  • Losing their temper.
  • Acting spiteful or seeking revenge.
  • Being touchy or easily annoyed.

How is it diagnosed?

Other conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of ODD, therefore a careful assessment is needed in order to diagnose it. The assessment should look for earlier diagnoses. Related conditions include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), bipolar disorder, and depression. In many cases, children may have a combination of disorders.

How can I deal with oppositional behavior?

If you're having trouble disciplining your children, try these strategies:

  • Set reasonable consequences that you can reinforce consistently.
  • Use time-outs or breaks if the conflict with your child gets worse.
  • Support your child if he decides he needs a time-out or break from a conflict.
  • Use positive reinforcement and praise when your child shows cooperation and flexibility.

How is it treated?

Try the strategies listed above. If your child’s symptoms continue, you may want to get help from a professional. Treatment may include:

  • Individual therapy: Individual therapy can help to improve communication skills. It can also help with anger management, problem-solving skills, and impulse control.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy can help improve family interaction. Family members will work on communication skills. Parents can learn more effective parenting approaches. They can also get support and resources.
  • Group parental training courses: These courses teach parents how to improve family interactions. Parents can also get support and tips from other parents.
  • Medication: Medication is usually not recommended for ODD. However, it may help ODD symptoms when a child has a second diagnosis (for example, ADD or ADHD).

Dealing with ODD is hard work for a family, but many children with ODD will respond to positive parenting techniques. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your child's pediatrician.


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ADHD Assessment: Does my Child have ADHD? Understanding Depression Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Back to Knowledge Center

Oppositional defiant disorder, MedlinePlus, March 10, 2020,

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.

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