Just a Naughty Child? Or, Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

When parents start looking up behaviour problems on the internet, one phrase tends to jump out: ‘Oppositional Defiant Disorder’. It’s easy to see why: Often, when parents bring their children to me at the clinics for bad behaviour problems, they often say “I’m sure my little Johnny has ODD he is SOOOOO badly behaved and is showing all the signs and symptoms!”  It is a very aptly named disorder as the children ARE oppositional and they are certainly defiant.  I always ask the parent – what do the teachers at nursery or school say? And if they say: “Oh no he or she is beautifully behaved at school.” Then we start looking at the behaviour at home because with ODD the child WILL be badly behaved with his teachers, and anyone in authority, as well as his parents.

Whether your child has oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or not, it’s always good and very important for the parents to learn about the disorder and how to deal with their child.

What Actually is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

All children go through phases of tantrums and bad behaviour, especially after learning the word “NO”!  It can affect children from around three years old usually up to adolescence. The main symptoms are:

  • Angry and irritable behaviour
  • Losing temper frequently
  • Easily annoyed
  • Arguing constantly
  • Deliberately annoying peers
  • Refusing to do what he’s told
  • Being nasty
  • Blaming everyone else for their mistakes

All children can have these symptoms from time to time. What distinguishes ODD from normal oppositional behaviour is how severe it is, and how long it has been going on for. A child with ODD will have had extreme behaviour issues for at least six months.

The parents will intuitively know that the child is not normally behaving like this, so if it goes on for longer than six months, then the child should be getting help from a psychiatrist.

Pushing Parents to the Limit!

Children with ODD will push their parents to the limits in every way possible. They push the parents o become permissive which is not good parenting. Naturally, parents don’t intend to reinforce unacceptable behaviour, but quite often we don’t realise we are doing it as we are so wrapped up in this cycle of trying to get our child to behave.

Look at these scenarios:

  1. You ask your child nicely to stop playing on the Xbox and start to get ready for bed. He totally ignores you – twice – so that by the next time you ask – you get cross and shout at him.
  2. You ask your child to stop playing on Xbox and get ready for bed. He throws a wobbly (has a meltdown) because he wants to finish his game. You obviously don’t want him to be so upset just at bed-time so you back down and give him a further ten minutes.

In the first example, your child will learn that shouting is an acceptable way to behave. Also, he could be learning that he can go on ignoring those first couple of requests to do something — when you finally scream at him that’s when he knows you are serious.

In the second examples, your child will learn that throwing a tantrum might give him something that he wants, so he’ll be more likely to do it again in the future.

Both of these examples can set mums and dads up for future conflicts, and the more they are repeated the harder it is to change!  Your child doesn’t have to have ODD for these instances to happen, but repeated negative interactions like these make diagnosing a behaviour disorder much more likely.

The parents are not to blame. However, neither is the child – because he is only going by what he has learned! Children with ODD will play the parents up more at home because it’s their known environment. Once they are comfortable at school, they will more than likely start to play the teacher up to. They tend to behave more badly with people who are in authority than their peers.


Many parents, when they bring their child to my clinic, say “ My son’s been diagnosed with ADHD but he is so defiant and so badly behaved that I really can’t handle him any more – please help!”

There is quite a big overlap in children who have ADHD or ADD who are also diagnosed with ODD. Statistics say that the overlap could be 30 – 50%.

So, what do I do to help a child like this? Well to be honest I have to help both the child AND the parent/s. There is no point in me giving little Johnny some coping strategies and techniques to stay calm and be well behaved if the parents are not on board!  Therefore, I offer a programme that will help the whole family. It has also been stated that that kids who have suffered trauma and stress during their early years are more likely to develop ODD. Imagine a child who has had a bad start to life: birth mother addicted to drugs or alcohol, so the first few months of the child’s life are very traumatic with a lot of neglect. Then the child is fostered at six months old. Then adopted at two years old.  Adoptive parents are loving and caring but have no REAL idea what that child has been through emotionally. It’s a tough call isn’t it.

Why therapy is so important

It’s very important to get therapy to improve the child and parent relationship, which is crucial to the happiness of the whole family.  Some children will grow out of oppositional defiant disorder, but others will continue to have behaviour issues, which could lead to them being rejected by their friends and difficulty forming healthy relationships, not to mention continued family disharmony.

The child will also probably not reach his potential. If something doesn’t go their way, they might blame everyone else except themselves!  

A small percentage of kids with ODD go on to develop Conduct Disorder which is a more severe behaviour disorder that might include criminal acts like stealing, setting fires and getting into fights. Getting therapy sooner rather than later might just be the difference between having a normal well- behaved teenager or a youngster who is likely to end up in prison.

When I see a child with ODD I first of all have a session with the mother to explain what I intend to do, to establish how she sees discipline, and to find out what little Johnny does to push her buttons!

We then have a session together with parent/s and child to establish boundaries and house rules. Once they are all in agreement I then work with the child on any anxiety, fears and worries that he may have. We also look at diet – a diet to high in additives and sugar is never going to help a child with ODD. Social skills training is also important to ensure the child understands what behaviour is acceptable outside the home and with peers.

But please don’t despair if you think your child may have ODD.

Children with this disorder are usually deep down, loving and kind little human beings – they just need to be “managed” properly.  They are also sometimes very intelligent (hence the ability to manipulate!)


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


  1. Kathy on December 26, 2020 at 9:36 pm

    Could you recommend anyone Merseyside/Wirral based who offer a similar service, I am struggling with daughters behaviour

  2. elaine hodgins on April 2, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    Hi Kathy I am so sorry i have only just seen your query.
    No, I’m sorry, there are very few children’s hypnotherapists in the uk. I have personally trained the few that there are but they are all down south. I do most of my work with children on line though so perhaps I can help. What’s the main issue?


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