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mother points at child with ODD who is sitting on a lounge with an angry face

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) – support for managing ODD in children

All children behave in challenging and difficult ways. But if your child has persistent and frequent behaviours such as anger, arguing, defiance or vindictiveness towards you and other authority figures that impacts their daily functioning they may meet the criteria for oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

The good news is that if your child has ODD symptoms, help is available. ODD can be managed with support to build positive family interactions and improved ways of dealing with challenging behaviours.

What is oppositional defiant disorder?

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a childhood behavioural problem. Children with ODD are frequently disobedient and hostile towards their peers, family members and authority figures such as teachers. A child with ODD believes that what they are being asked to do is unreasonable, and therefore may get angry and aggressive when asked to do things.

For children with ODD, their behaviour impacts everyday life, such as their ability to participate at home and school and to make friends.

How common is ODD in children?

The exact number of children with ODD is unknown. However, according to the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel, approximately one in 10 children under the age of 12 years are thought to have ODD. Boys outnumber girls by two to one.

Other estimates suggest that between 2 and 16 percent of children and teens have ODD.  For younger children, ODD is more common in boys than girls. In older children, occurrence is equal in girls and boys.

Signs of ODD often begin in the pre-school years, and almost always by the age of eight.

Signs and symptoms of ODD

ODD symptoms are characterised by frequent anger and defiant behaviours that negatively impact daily life and relationships.

A child with ODD may:

  • argue with adults and other authority figures (such as teachers)
  • actively disobey rules and refuse to do what they’re asked
  • blame other people for their behaviour
  • deliberately annoy people and get easily annoyed by others
  • lose their temper and throw tantrums
  • be nasty, unkind or spiteful to others
  • swear or use offensive language
  • become easily frustrated.
mother sitting on a couch with child who is raising her hand in oppositional defiant behaviour
ODD symptoms include frequent arguing, blaming other people for behaviour and actively disobeying rules

Who can diagnose ODD in children?

A psychologist, psychiatrist or paediatrician who specialises in children’s behavioural problems can diagnose ODD.

When considering an ODD diagnosis, the health professional will talk to you and your child (if they’re old enough) and compare your child’s behaviour against a checklist for ODD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5). The health professional may also want to discuss difficulties with teachers and educators to further assess your child.

ODD symptoms can overlap those of other problems, such as ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), so it’s important to get the right diagnosis. To help distinguish between ODD and ADHD, for example, the professional will ask questions like when and where the behaviours occur, how often, and how they impact daily life.

They will also need to know about your child’s general health, your family situation, and any strategies that have been helpful for managing challenging behaviours.

If you suspect your child has ODD, seeing your GP is a good place to start. They can refer you to see a health professional who can diagnose ODD (eg a psychologist, psychiatrist or paediatrician). They can also give you a Mental Health Treatment Plan.

This can offset treatment costs by providing Medicare rebates for up to 10 sessions with a psychologist. You may also be able to use funding from an NDIS plan if you are eligible.

The psychologists at Growing Early Minds can diagnose children with ODD by assessing whether they meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Treatment strategies for ODD

Support is available for families of a child with ODD. Treatment for ODD revolves around training caregivers to better interact with their child and learn techniques to manage their behaviour. An important aspect is providing consistency of care and of responses to behavioural concerns.

To effectively manage ODD, your health professional will work with you to develop a behaviour management plan, also sometimes called a behaviour support plan.

A behaviour management plan helps you to:

  • understand the triggers and functions of your child’s behaviour
  • put strategies in place to manage your child’s challenging behaviours and reinforce positive ones
  • support your child to manage powerful emotions and understand how their behaviour affects others
  • help your child develop better communication and social skills
  • understand what causes your child’s behaviour
  • support your child to get along with others, and
  • build stronger family relationships.

At Growing Early Minds, both our psychologists and behaviour support practitioners can provide behaviour support plans and behaviour management strategies. They will work with you and your child to develop a plan that suits your family’s needs and put it into place.

mother with child working quietly together at a table
Health professionals can teach you to support your child with ODD and manage their behaviour

More ODD treatment strategies

Positive parenting training

This involves training parents to interact with their children in a way that builds close, supportive relationships that foster positive behaviour.

Values and skills training

This is about teaching children important life skills, such as empathy, problem-solving, expressing feelings appropriately and taking responsibility for their behaviour.

Boosting confidence

Caregivers of children with ODD may feel overwhelmed by the child’s behaviour and lack confidence in their skills to manage their child’s behaviour. They may need support to build confidence in their ability to manage their child’s behaviour and put effective strategies in place, such as setting clear rules and consequences.

Behaviour management strategies

This includes techniques such as establishing boundaries for appropriate behaviour, providing clear instructions, and using rewards and consequences to reinforce positive behaviours while reducing challenging ones. Children with ODD can have a strong need to control other people and their environment. It helps to keep house rules simple and framed positively, such as “We speak respectfully to each other”, rather than “Don’t be rude or mean”.

Ensuring good teamwork

Management of ODD will be most effective when everyone involved is on the same page, including caregivers, health professionals, teachers, and anyone else providing support. Good communication and consistency are key to success.

Self-care for caregivers

Supporting a child with ODD is often stressful and exhausting. However, children are usually calmer and more responsive to discipline when their caregivers are also calm. Caregivers may require support for their own physical or mental health to enable them to best support their child.

Other at-home tips and advice for managing ODD behaviour

1. Stay calm when dealing with your child’s behaviour

While your first instinct might be to fight back, this is exactly the response a child with ODD is looking for! Instead of engaging in a heated battle of wills, try to respond to your child’s behaviour in a cool, controlled manner. Use a calm voice and few words to explain your position or request, then stop the discussion.

2. Be consistent with house rules

Children with ODD often feel like they are victims, so ensure you apply house rules and consequences to everyone – yourself included! Be a good role model by admitting when you’ve broken the rules and being prepared to apologise.

Create a positive environment

Children who are physically and mentally well are better able to regulate their emotions and manage stressful situations. Good nutrition and adequate sleep and physical activity will support your child’s physical and emotional health, and their behaviour.

Celebrate success

Every small win is a step towards the goal of more positive behaviour. Celebrate each success, such as longer periods without angry outbursts or signs your child is better managing their emotions. A great way to do this is spending time together doing something your child enjoys, such as a bike ride or trip to the beach or park. That way, you’ll be reinforcing positive behaviour as well as connecting with your child.

To find out more about how our psychologists and behaviour support practitioners can help your child with ODD or other behavioural concerns, get in touch with Growing Early Minds on 02 9622 8500 or contact us here 

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Hi. I work in a small school in vic. We attract kids with extra needs. I have several diagnosed ODD students and several who tick lots of boxes but parents are not helpful. I realise u r a commercial business that needs to pay bills but I wonder if u have any (inexpensive) advice for teachers. Either way, great article and one that I will share.

    1. Hi Geri,

      Thanks so much for your message about our ODD blog post. We’re so pleased you have found this useful. Here are some strategies we recommend you could try in your classroom.

      • Communicate clearly to the child what’s expected of them – this could be visuals or verbal.
      • One-step instructions at a time – do not give multiple instructions as this might be overwhelming.
      • When one step is completed move on to the next.
      • Consider rewards for each step. Rewards can be tangibles (e.g. stickers, toys), Token reward system (working towards a privilege), Social reinforcement (e.g. high-fives, praise), Activities/privileges (e.g. screen time, going to the park).
      • Use the ‘first-then’ (e.g. first complete the writing then you can play with a toy).
      • Planned ignoring – Understand whether a child is displaying a certain behaviour to get a reaction from others. In this instance ignoring the behaviour may be helpful as it will over time decrease when the child does not get a reaction.
      • If you promise a reward or talk about a consequence make sure you follow through.
      • If a child is emotionally dysregulated give them space to calm down.
      • Have a ‘calming corner’ and encourage them to engage in de-escalation strategies -e.g. deep breathing, having some sensory toys, colouring.

      We hope this helps.
      Growing Early Minds

  2. Hi there,
    I found the information about ODD very helpful as I am an early childhood teacher working in an OOSH with an ODD child who also has ADHD. His frustration sometimes leads to physical aggression. Can you give any advice on how to facilitate positive peer relationships. This is difficult as other children are scared to interact. I’ve also heard of social stories, are these helpful? Thankyou

    1. Hi Cath,

      Thanks so much for your comment and question. Here are some strategies we would recommend to teachers:

      • Social stories are great! Make sure that you tailor the social story to the child’s needs and read it out to the class or a few kids so that the child does not feel targeted. Make sure you ask questions as you read the story to ensure that the child consolidates the information.
      • Read the social story as often as necessary. Also consider putting it up on the wall where everyone can see.
      • Have printed/laminated rules e.g. hands to self, indoor voice etc. on the wall.
      • Use a reward chart for appropriate behaviours displayed.
      • Use rewards when you see the child engaging in appropriate behaviours.
      • If you see child being aggressive towards another child intervene immediately. Allow some time for child to calm down. Once calmer, remind child of OOSH rules which are on the wall.
      • Organise small, structured play with 1-2 peers initially and ensure that a teacher is present at all times.
      • Start from a short amount of time of play and gradually increase duration and number of peers in the group.
      • Give corrective feedback immediately when you see inappropriate behaviours and remind of the appropriate behaviour.
      • Demonstrate to child the appropriate behaviour.
      • Try to identify what triggers aggressive behaviours e.g. too much noise, other children taking toys etc. when child is playing. Once when triggers are identified put some preventative measures in place – e.g. if noise is a difficulty having a quiet corner where the child can go into if feeling overwhelmed.

      We hope this helps.
      Growing Early Minds

  3. This is a very informative article about ODD and the treatments used. As a Provisional Psychologist who works with children who have ODD I found it very enlightening. Thank you.

  4. Hi. My 10 year old son has been living with his father and recently I have been asked to take him full time. He has been diagnosed with adhd and odd and I’m just trying to look for a school that would be suited to his needs. If anyone knows of anythat would be great thankyou so much

  5. Hi,

    This reading is amazing, Do you have any tips for a family setting (what mum and dad could do/try) with a YP displaying similiar traits to the previous people above?

    1. Hi Shawn,

      Thank you for your comment. Here are some of our top tips you might like to try:

      1. Encourage open communication: Communication is key when dealing with a teenager with ODD. Create an environment where your child feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. Ask open-ended questions, validate their emotions, and avoid judgment. This helps build trust and fosters a positive relationship. Example: “I noticed that you seem upset about something. Can you tell me more about what’s bothering you?”

      2. Active listening: Active listening is a powerful tool for improving communication with your teenager. It involves paying full attention, asking questions, reflecting back what is said, empathising, and minimising distractions. By using active listening, you can better understand your teenager’s perspective and build a stronger relationship.

      3. Understanding root causes: Understanding the underlying reasons for your teenager’s behaviour is crucial. This could be due to a traumatic experience, mental health concerns, or environmental factors. Understanding these root causes can help you develop a more targeted and effective approach to support your teenager. Example: “I understand that you’re feeling frustrated and angry. Can you tell me more about what’s happening and how I can help?”

      4. Foster a positive environment: Create a supportive and nurturing environment at home. This can include positive reinforcement, physical affection, and opportunities for your teenager to engage in activities they enjoy. Try to avoid conflict and instead, focus on finding common ground and working together. Example: “I appreciate the effort you’re putting into your schoolwork. Would you like to do something fun together this weekend to celebrate?”

      5. Take part in a program: There are several evidence-based programs that can provide additional support and guidance for parents of teenagers with ODD. Some examples include the Circle of Security Parenting Program, the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P), and Empathy in Action. These programs offer practical strategies for managing behaviour, fostering healthy relationships, and promoting resilience in children.

      6. Seek further support: It is important to remember that every teenager with ODD is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It’s important to approach the situation with empathy and a willingness to learn and adapt. If you are struggling to manage your teenager’s behaviour, seeking support from a mental health professional may be necessary. A professional can provide a more personalised and in-depth approach to supporting your teenager.

      7. Reading and support groups: Reading books like “The Oppositional Defiant Disorder Survival Guide: How to Reclaim Your Life While Raising a Teen With ODD” by Robert J. MacKenzie or “Surviving Your Adolescent with ODD: A Guide for Parents” by Douglas Riley can also provide in-depth information and guidance. Additionally, connecting with other parents through Facebook groups can provide a valuable support network and a sense of community.

      We hope this helps you in your home and family setting. Keep us posted.
      Growing Early Minds

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