How to Tell if Your Child has Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Almost every child displays defiant behavior from time to time, but there are some children who display it more often and to a higher degree. It’s possible that these children have a condition called oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD for short.

How does typical defiant behavior differ from ODD? What do both look like so you know what you may be dealing with?

A young child who tiptoes downstairs in the middle of the night to raid their Halloween candy stash, even though they have been told they can ONLY eat 2 pieces of candy per day, is exhibiting normal defiant behavior. Have you tasted candy? It’s awesome!

A child with ODD would most likely act out as soon as they were told they could only have 2 pieces of candy. They might become enraged in the moment. And, because a vindictive streak is a symptom of ODD, they may lash out on the spot and try and “punish” their parents by breaking something, yelling, throwing a tantrum, or a combination of these behaviors.

And, this kind of behavior would happen more often than not, typically any time the child was told “no.”

Doctors typically diagnose children with ODD based on a few behavioral clusters:

Anger or Chronic Irritability

Children with ODD often lose their temper and can easily become annoyed by others. Some are perpetually angry (for no apparent reason) and can be quite resentful toward friends and family members.

Argumentative and Defiant Behavior

Children and young adults with ODD often argue with their parents and other authority figures. This can result in many trips to the principal’s office, parent teacher conferences, and even suspension.

Those with ODD may also intentionally annoy others, taking pleasure from it, and blame others for their mistakes and misbehavior.


Not only do children with ODD feel they are being intentionally wrong or annoyed by others, they, in return, can be quite spiteful and vindictive, seeking revenge against their supposed perpetrator.

If your child has shown this vindictive behavior at least twice in the past six months, they may have ODD.


As you can see from the list above, the ODD includes both emotional and behavioral symptoms. To be diagnosed with this condition, children and teens are required to exhibit four or more symptoms for at least six months to meet diagnostic criteria for ODD.

In certain cases, children with ODD can also be diagnosed with conduct disorder, a more extreme form of ODD, as a coexisting condition. They may also be diagnosed with other co-exiting conditions such as anxiety, depression, and most commonly, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

It’s important to mention that ODD does not develop overnight, but rather over a period of time. If your child displays ‘only’ one or two symptoms from the above list, and even if these behaviors are not that frequent, you will still need to learn how to keep the situation from escalating. When it comes to parenting defiant children, the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” could not be more relevant. A child or teen with any level of defiance can create big problems for him or herself, friends, and family.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.