For Families > Keeping Kids Healthy > Home and Family Life

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder and What Does it Mean for You?

by Christina Di Bartolo, LMSW



What is ODD?

ODD stands for Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The last word - "disorder" - is crucial. The behaviors that characterize ODD (angry/irritable mood, argumentativeness, and vindictiveness) are behaviors that are well within the range of the typical human experience. It is only when enough of these behaviors occur with sufficient frequency and are accompanied by impairment that a child would be diagnosed appropriately as having ODD. 

Why it's Important

Children with ODD are more likely to grow up to have conduct or emotional problems later in life than children without. Not learning to follow rules or requirements from authority figures creates issues in school, the workforce, the law, and with interpersonal relationships. Every person is allowed his or her own opinion, but there are still rules we must follow whether we like it or not. 

Some parents are concerned that if they teach their child how to be obedient, their child will somehow not be able to express him or herself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Countless studies have shown that people (including kids!) are more creative when they have boundaries and constraints. 

By encouraging compliant behaviors in your child, you're raising your child to be a good citizen who will lead a happy, healthy, full life. 

How to Best Parent a Child with ODD

Parents of children with ODD see the best from their kids when the parents interact with them in specific ways:


  • provide clear, consistent, enforced rules. Children learn based on what happens after they do something. If they are oppositional and get their way, children learn that being oppositional is an "OK" behavior. They will be more oppositional in the future. 
  • provide opportunities for their children to make age-appropriate decisions. Helpful: Allowing the child to choose a breakfast cereal from the three kinds the parent has already purchased. NOT helpful: Walking into the grocery store and saying to the child, "Pick what you want."

When Your Child is Being Oppositional

  • Remain calm. Breathe in and out slowly at least once before responding to your child. Later, you can vent to an adult about your frustrations.
  • Actively listen. Hear your child out completely, and let your child know you understand exactly what he or she is saying. E.g., "I know you want to stay at Grandma's house."
  • State the situation. After you've heard your child completely and have shown you understand, state the reality. E.g., "It's time to go."
  • Move on. Do not negotiate. Do not discuss the issue at hand further. You've already heard your child. There is nothing else to discuss! You're the parent, so what you say goes.

If you aren't sure if your child has ODD, or if you'd like help being the best parent you can be to your child with ODD, The Child Study Center can help. Contact our intake specialists at 212-263-6622 to find out more. 


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.