ODD: Feeling Like You’re on the Debate Team with Your Child

By Priscilla Wright, M.Ed, LPC,NCC

Angry Boy photo by Philippe Putt copy

Do you feel like you on the debate team with your child? Do any of the following seem familiar to you?

  • Your child argues with you or any adult in authority.
  • Trivial matters easily annoy him or her.
  • He or she deliberately annoys others almost appearing to push their “hot buttons.”
  • Refuses to take responsibility for his or her own actions or may blame his/her behavior on someone else. Insisting it was their fault.
  • Your child seems angry, resentful, or even vindictive at times.
  • Refuse to comply with directions given by you or other adults.

If any or all of these symptoms sound familiar then your child may be experiencing symptoms associated with ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. ODD is a disorder that is diagnosed in childhood. A mental health professional may consider a diagnosis of ODD if the child displays at least four of the aforementioned behaviors. These behaviors would also have to be present for at least six months. There are other disorders that resemble these criteria to include ADHD. These disorders must be ruled out before rendering a diagnosis of ODD.

What Parents Can Do

Maintain clear and consistent rules. Make sure your child understands the rules of the home. Post them in a place where all members of the family can see them. When you begin to set limits, the behavior may tend to get worse before it gets better. This is known as an extinction burst. Remember the child is responding to the new change.

Avoid power struggles. When your child yells or screams do not engage in a battle of words. Refrain from responding with anger. A hallmark symptom of ODD is challenging authority. Once you engage in a power struggle, you have reinforced the idea that challenging authority is acceptable.

Do reward positive behavior but do not bribe. You maybe struggling with doing your best to manage this behavior. Bribes are reinforcing to the extent that it underscores the belief that, “This behavior gets me what I want.” Change will occur once it is no longer associated with a positive outcome.
Manage your stress. Take time for yourself. We have little pockets and slithers of time dispersed throughout our day. Take the opportunity to do something enjoyable for yourself. If you have ever been on an airplane, I am sure you can recall the flight attendant instructing you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. If you are not managing your stress well your child will notice.


Priscilla WrightPriscilla Wright is a licensed professional counselor practicing at Commonwealth Behavioral Health Inc. located in Midlothian, Virginia. Ms. Wright holds a master’s degree in Counselor Education and is currently completing a doctorate in Counseling Psychology.  Ms. Wright is also a National Certified Counselor. At Commonwealth Behavioral Health Inc., Ms. Wright works with children, adolescents, and adults on issues to include stress management, co-parenting, as well as anxiety and mood disorders. Ms. Wright believes in a holistic (looking at the person as a whole) approach to practice. Ms. Wright’s research interest includes topics on intellectual disabilities, stress management, and topics regarding family systems.

Feature Image by Philipe Put via Flickr