Oppositional Defiant Disorder Causes, Symptoms & Signs

Children frequently act out within different contexts. Given they don’t have advanced language abilities to express their emotions, they can become frustrated until the only way they can communicate their difficulties is through externalizing behavior. Children are also likely to act out when they are stressed, upset, tired or hungry or for some children, when their routine is upset. They may quarrel, talk back, and become disobedient or defiant. To some extent these behaviors are normal at early developmental stages especially when children are gaining a fuller sense of individuality and separating from parents. However, when these behaviors become a regular occurrence and/or reach a point of aggressiveness or even violence, which lasts longer and is notably more severe that these normative individuation actions, this is an indication that a larger problem may exist.

While oppositional behavior may be a normal part of development for children through even early adolescence frequent or extreme behaviors of this type may be part of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. This can be differentiated from normal behavior and becomes a serious worry when the occurrences of acting out become so frequent and consistent that they are significantly different in duration and severity when compared with other children of the same age and developmental level. As opposed to normal behavior when the opposition behavior occurs as part of the disorder it affects the child’s interpersonal, family and school life.

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In children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there is a continuing pattern of obstinate, disobedient, and aggressive behavior toward figure in authority that severely interferes with the child’s ability to function in day to day life. As a parent, you don’t have to go it alone in trying to control your child’s behaviors. At Riverview we have the trained and compassionate staff to help your child with ODD.


Prevalence rates of ODD have been estimated between 1% and 11%. The reason for this disparity is as stated a certain amount of oppositional behavior in childhood is normal so differentiating between normal yet troublesome behavior and behavior that meets criteria for ODD can be difficult. The mean estimate has been stated to be 3.3%. The rates of the disorder also differ based on age and gender of the child. In childhood the disorder is more prevalent in males with a gender ratio of males to female approximated at 1.4:1. This gender difference disappears in adolescence and the rates in males and females become about equal.


There are several disorders which co-occur with ODD. The most common is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

  • ADHD
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance Use Disorders


Genetic – Oppositional types of behaviors have been shown to run in families. Individuals with a first degree relative who has a history of conduct disorder, attention deficit disorder, antisocial personality disorder, intermittent explosive disorder or other disorder involving negative or problematic behavior are more likely to develop the disorder.

Biological – Research suggest that injuries to the areas of the brain that are responsible for impulse control functions can lead to the development of ODD. Additionally, when levels of certain chemicals in the brain responsible for communication fluctuate abnormally this can also contribute to ODD behavior.

Modeling – When children grow up in a family with older siblings who display ODD behavior and parents are unable to discipline they may learn that they can get their way with similar behavior. Often when this occurs and parents end up with more than one oppositional child on their hands they become overwhelmed and give up trying to address the behavior.

Environmental – There are certain environmental factors that have been shown to contribute to the development of ODD including dysfunctional family interactions, mental illness within family members, a family history of substance abuse and inconsistent or lack of parental discipline.

If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Signs and Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms of ODD that can affect all areas of a child’s life. These include

  • Negativity and pessimism
  • Defiant behavior
  • Disobedience
  • Hostility toward authority figures
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Constantly arguing with adults
  • Refusal to comply with requests and rules
  • Purposely trying to annoy or upset others, or being easily annoyed
  • Blaming mistakes on others
  • Frequent anger outbursts and resentment
  • Spitefulness
  • Revenge seeking
  • Swearing or using obscene language
  • Being hateful and mean when upset
  • Mood swings
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Low self-esteem
  • Frequent disregard of adults’ commands
  • Deliberate attempts to provoke others
  • Easily irritated or angered by others


Effects of ODD include:

  • Peer rejection
  • School problems
  • Lost school time due to school refusal, time out from the classroom and expulsions
  • Legal action
  • Cheating to stay up with class due to time lost
  • Bullying or being bullied
  • Joining a negative peer group
  • Becoming a class clown for attention
  • Running away from home due to family conflict
  • Self-harm due to inability to tolerate negative emotions

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get confidential help now: (870) 455-6690 Email Us