I believe my child is showing signs of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) – How can I get them the help they need?

Note: NAMI volunteers are not medical or mental health professionals, and we cannot offer medical or mental health advice.  The material outlined below is informational and we hope that it helps provide guidance toward getting support.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a behavior disorder found in children. Children who live with ODD display defiant and hostile behavior towards authority figures such as parents, teachers, and older siblings. 
Signs of ODD usually present themselves before a child is eight years old and typically begin when a child is two to three years of age. While symptoms of ODD in children start earlier in childhood, the symptoms can continue well into the child’s teenage years. Generally, boys are more likely to receive an ODD diagnosis than girls. 


While children tend to fight, argue, and disobey their parents, children with ODD will display this behavior repeatedly. 
Symptoms of ODD include: 
  • Arguing with authority figures.
  • Purposefully disobeying authority figures.
  • Frequent anger and irritability. 
  • Losing their temper easily. 
  • Acting retaliatory and hurtful.
  • Blaming others for their behavior.


While researchers are unsure of what causes ODD, there are two main theories that are accepted. 
The first theory, the Developmental theory, posits that a child that is overly attached to their parents or a child that is having difficulties with being independent from their parents, may start to develop symptoms of ODD. 
The Learning theory states that toddlers learn behaviors related to ODD from observing their parents and others in positions of power. In addition, the Learning theory postulates that children can begin to show symptoms of ODD due to negative reinforcement from parents. 


If a child is displaying signs of ODD, a mental health care professional or child psychiatrist can make a diagnosis of ODD. They will observe the child’s behavior and speak with the child’s parents and teachers to learn more about the situation. A mental health professional will look to see if the behavior impacts negatively on the child’s education and social life, and if the behavior is not related to drug use or an unrelated mental health condition. 
To be diagnosed with ODD, a child must exhibit: 
  • Repeated anger and irritability.
  • Repeated argumentative and defiant behavior.
  • Symptoms lasting a minimum of six months.


Therapy is the most used form of treatment for ODD, with certain medications occasionally being prescribed to help with treatment. 
Different forms of therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, parent-child interaction therapy, and family therapy can help children with ODD. Most therapy is aimed at mending the relationship between parent and child. 
Although there is not a medication strictly for ODD, medications can be used for children who display both symptoms of ODD and ADHD, depression, anxiety, and other related conditions.

Related Symptoms

Children who live with mood or anxiety disorders are more likely to have ODD. In addition, children with ADHD and conduct disorders are more likely to receive a diagnosis. 
The following, additional resources may be of help
NAMI Basics OnDemand is an education program for parents, caregivers and other family who provide care for youth (ages 22 and younger) who are experiencing mental health symptoms. This program is free to participants, self-paced and available 24/7. Register online today. 
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (ODD Resource Center) provides information and resources for families and youth on ODD. Also provides a child and adolescent psychiatrist finder. 
Child Mind Institute (section on ODD) offers info about children’s mental health issues for parents and educators, including a symptom checker for a wide range of disorders. You can contact Child Mind Institute at (212) 308-3118. 
VeryWell Mind has a website that contains an informative section on ODD, providing information and links to resources on the condition, treatment options, what to do after diagnosis, preparing your child for school, disciplining an ODD child, strategies for living with an ODD child and links to websites that offer ideas for parents who have a child with ODD.
• Oppositional Defiant Disorder Online Support Group is a website operated by DailyStrength, a division of Sharecare that serves as a social network where users provide one another with emotional support. The site contains 500+ online communities that deal with different medical conditions or life challenges, and includes a group specific to ODD that can be accessed at: www.dailystrength.org/group/oppositional-defiant-disorder-odd

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