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“Just a stage?” Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children, and Defiant Disorder Treatment

As every parent knows, kids love to use the word “no.”  It gives them a sense of power and it allows them to perceive they have some control over their endlessly rule laden lives.  While unpleasant, this is a normal part of child maturation and testing boundaries, and it is a normal part of parenthood to continue to be the boundary enforcer. But what happens when a child surpasses normal non-compliance efforts, and their unruliness becomes so severe and so consistent that the parent is unable to regain authoritative control? It may be the child’s behavior is a diagnosable condition.

So how do you know when those refusals to comply have become more than just a little stage?  There is a little known but increasingly diagnosed disorder called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).  If your child is exhibiting the signs below it may be a signal that something more serious is going on and it’s time to contact a mental health professional about a possible ODD diagnosis.

The essential feature of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in childeren is a repeated pattern of negative behavior that is “deliberate, spiteful, and argumentative.”  This is not the preschooler who tells mom “no” to bath time or the school age kid who doesn’t want to do his homework.  This is a child or teen who, over a six month period or longer, repeatedly refuses to follow rules, argues with adults, and is easily angered.

The result is often serious disruptions at school or other social settings. ODD is usually recognized by about age 8 and can be diagnosed by early adolescence.  If not addressed, symptoms may become more confrontational and more persistent as the child enters middle school and high school. Treatments include impulse control therapy, cognitive behavioral therapies, and behavioral therapies.

So the next time your child exercises his “no” muscle, have no fear.  It is a normal part of growth and helps him mature, develop decision making skills, and become independent.  If, however, your child’s “no” has become constant, results in discipline problems at school, or appears overly intentional or directed at adults, check with your school or community counselor for a referral.  There are defiant disorder treatment options, and licensed family and parenting counselors will be able to help.

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