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Difficult Teenagers and Children: What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Abstract: Description of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

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Difficult Teenagers and Children: What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

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Written by: Hanna Molander, psychology student at Linköping University.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 01 Aug 2008.

Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder seen in children below seven years of age and teenagers?


According to ICD-10 this type of conduct disorder is characteristically seen in children below the age of 9 or 10 years. All children are oppositional from time to time. They may argue, talk back, disobey and defy parents, teachers and other adults. This is a natural part of growing up. Children tend to be particularly oppositional when they are hungry, tired, stressed or upset. There are also times in a child's development when oppositional behaviour is more common: between the age of 2-3 years old and teenagers. These are developmental stages when it is important that children can try their own will and they need to learn how to handle new and conflicting emotions.

What we can do for our children, when they go through these developmental stages, is to be good role models. We need to show our kids that there are ways to control your impulses. Show your child you understand his/her problem. Try to engage him/her into problem-solving, where you can express what you want and then try to find solutions which you both can accept. In time your child will grow up to be compassionate person in charge of his/her own emotions.

Because oppositional behaviour is very common in pre-school children and teenagers one should be very cautious about making the diagnosis of ODD during these periods.

However, a child's uncooperativeness and hostile behaviour becomes a serious concern when it is so frequent and so consistent that it stands out when compared to other children of the same age and developmental level and when it affects the child's social, family, and academic life.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM-IV) Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ODD, is described as a pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviour toward authority figures that persists for at least six months and is characterized by the frequent occurrence of at least four of the following:

  • losing temper
  • arguing with adults,
  • actively defying or refusing to comply with the requests or rules of adults
  • deliberately doing things that will annoy other people
  • blaming others for his or her own mistakes or misbehaviour
  • being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • being angry and resentful
  • being spiteful or vindictive.
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