How to Tell if Your Child’s Behavior is a Concern

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Definition of Oppositional Defiant Disorder as outlined in DSM IV: A recurrent pattern of negativistic, disobedient, and hostile behavior towards authority figures that persists for at least six months and is characterized by the frequent occurrence of at least four of the following behaviors:

✅  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 behavior or mistakes
✅  being touchy or easily annoyed by others
✅  being angry or resentful
✅  being spiteful or vindictive.

The behavior must occur more frequently than is typically occurring in children of comparable age and developmental level and must lead to significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning. Most typically the negativistic and defiant behavior is present in the child’s home but is not always present in school or with other social settings. There is often a vicious cycle in which the parent and child persistently provoke each other. It is more common in families in which there has been inconsistent childcare or harsh or neglectful child rearing practices.

Normal Developmental Behaviors

Periods of oppositional, defiant behavior are very common around ages 2-5 and again in early adolescence. Boys typically show more behavior problems before puberty. But after puberty, the ratio of boys to girls with oppositional behavior appears about equal.

Many children who are oppositional, hostile or defiant may be suffering from a temporary adverse situation in their environment, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, or some other difficulty such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Referral to a therapist familiar with childhood disorders is advisable if:

  1. The oppositional behavior has begun to affect the child’s school performance.
  2. The child’s behavior seriously disrupts the family milieu to the point siblings are also impacted or parental schedules are routinely ineffective.
  3. The child’s behavior changes from oppositional to aggressive.
  4. The child becomes isolated from family and friends.
  5. Parents are feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable or fearful of their own interaction with the child.

Ways to Help Your Child Improve

✅  Try to understand the feeling behind the behavior.
✅  Pay attention to your child’s interests and play.
✅  Use praise and positive attention to promote compliance.
✅  Offer rewards for good behavior.
✅  Use discipline that is a direct consequence of the misbehavior.
✅  Use time outs to promote emotional control.
✅  Plan ahead for public activities and events your child may find uncomfortable.
✅  Work with your child’s school to encourage understanding.
✅  Get support for yourself. Parents need to work together. If you are a single parent, find a friend or other relative to give you outlets.
✅  Take time to set your own priorities and goals.

Always try to use positive statements when relating to your child rather than negative. Use Power Talk to communicate using ”I” statements rather than blaming “You statements.”

Power Talk Formula:

I feel: When you:_______________________________



If you must approach your child with a negative criticism, try the “Sandwich” approach by first making a positive statement about your child; then state the negative, and follow with another positive statement.

Example: “John, that was very generous of you to share your computer time with your brother. I’ve noticed that your homework has not gotten much attention lately, though. I am sure that from now on you are going to be more conscientious of making your homework a priority.”

Remember, flexibility within a structure is also important There are no universal tried and true parenting rules other than love and understanding. Being a good parent is hard work so praise yourself for trying and acknowledge your successes. Learn to laugh at your imperfections and get lots of hugs!

For additional information or to make an appointment, contact your nearest American Behavioral Clinics location.

Mary Ann Grochowski


Gordon, Thomas PET Parent Effectiveness Training NY Plume/Penguin 1975

Faber, Adele and Mazlish, Elaine Siblings Without Rivalry NY Avon Books, 1998

Greene, Ross The Explosive Child NY Harper Collins 1998

Barkley, Russell Your Defiant Child NY Guilford 1998