Sometimes it's difficult to recognize the difference between a strong-willed or emotional child and one with oppositional defiant disorder. It's normal to exhibit oppositional behavior at certain stages of a child's development.

Signs of ODD generally begin during preschool years. Sometimes ODD may develop later, but almost always before the early teen years. These behaviors cause significant impairment with family, social activities, school and work.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists criteria for diagnosing ODD. This manual is used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.

DSM-5 criteria for diagnosis of ODD show a pattern of behavior that:

  • Includes at least four symptoms from any of these categories — angry and irritable mood; argumentative and defiant behavior; or vindictiveness
  • Occurs with at least one individual who is not a sibling
  • Causes significant problems at work, school or home
  • Occurs on its own, rather than as part of the course of another mental health problem, such as a substance use disorder, depression or bipolar disorder
  • Lasts at least six months

DSM-5 criteria for diagnosis of ODD include both emotional and behavioral symptoms.

Angry and irritable mood:

  • Often loses temper
  • Is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Is often angry and resentful

Argumentative and defiant behavior:

  • Often argues with adults or people in authority
  • Often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules
  • Often deliberately annoys people
  • Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior


  • Is often spiteful or vindictive
  • Has shown spiteful or vindictive behavior at least twice in the past six months

These behaviors must be displayed more often than is typical for your child's peers. For children younger than 5 years, the behavior must occur on most days for a period of at least six months. For individuals 5 years or older, the behavior must occur at least once a week for at least six months.

ODD can vary in severity:

  • Mild. Symptoms occur only in one setting, such as only at home, school, work or with peers.
  • Moderate. Some symptoms occur in at least two settings.
  • Severe. Some symptoms occur in three or more settings.

For some children, symptoms may first be seen only at home, but with time extend to other settings, such as school and with friends.

When to see a doctor

Your child isn't likely to see his or her behavior as a problem. Instead, your child will probably believe that unreasonable demands are being placed on him or her. But if your child has signs and symptoms common to ODD that are more frequent than is typical for his or her peers, make an appointment with your child's doctor.

If you're concerned about your child's behavior or your own ability to parent a challenging child, seek help from your doctor, a child psychologist or a child behavioral expert. Your primary care doctor or your child's pediatrician can refer you to the appropriate professional.

Feb. 06, 2015