Mother and Baby

Toddler Health A-Z: Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Temper tantrums are all too common in most toddlers and while they’re normally just part of your child’s development, there is a chance they could mean something more

The Terrible Twos. Yep, that means temper tantrums, tears, and saying ‘no’ to mum and dad – a lot. Most toddlers go through *that* stage, but for some children frequent outbursts of anger and showing hostility towards authority figures (aka you!) can be a sign of something more than just a phase she’ll grow out of.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a childhood behavioural disorder that affects around 16 per cent of the population, and commonly exists alongside Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

What is it?

ODD is a persistent pattern of angry and/or irritable moods, argumentative defiant behaviour towards authority and tendencies to be vindictive and spiteful. The disorder often affects both emotions and behaviour.

Tantrums and naughty behaviour can be quite common in young children, especially once they learn to say ‘no!’ You shouldn’t worry about your toddler having ODD if she’s prone to a hissy fit from time to time.

You shouldn’t worry about your toddler having ODD if she’s prone to a hissy fit from time to time

‘Even the best behaved children can be uncooperative and hostile at times,’ says Dr Margaret Bullock, director of Lightbulb Psychology Ltd.

‘But an ODD diagnosis would only be made if your child’s irritable moods and bad behaviour were intense, vindictive and frequent.’

Children with ODD often deliberately annoy others, regularly lose their temper and actively refuse to comply with requests or rules as well as being easily annoyed by others.

‘ODD would be diagnosed by a specialist child and adolescent psychiatrist after an assessment of your child’s behaviour over a period of time,’ says Margaret. 

How is it treated?

ODD is usually treated with a behavioural approach in the UK. This involves family therapy, parental training and support, which might be one-to-one or in a group with other families. This will help you as a parent deal with your child’s behaviour in the best way and helps them to feel supported as well as learning specific parenting techniques.

‘Treatment programmes can work most effectively when there is collaboration with key parties like school or nursery staff,’ says Margaret. ‘This helps to provide consistent messages for your child and ensure your confidence across all aspects of their childhood.’

It is not commonly treated with any medication unless it occurs alongside ADHD in which case any prescribed medication for ADHD can alleviate some of the symptoms of ODD. 

Advice and support available

If you think that you your toddler is showing signs of having ODD, make sure you speak to your GP and you can ask to be referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

A child with ODD shows extreme levels of opposition and hostility and it affects their ability to make and maintain relationships and friendships, which can make it difficult when starting nursery or school. If you are concerned about this, speak to your child’s teacher. ‘It’s important to collaborate with the school,’ says Margaret.

‘They also often have access to educational psychologists and other specialist behaviour support staff that can offer you help and advice.’

There are also organisations and charities that can give you more information and guidance.


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