Does your child frequently argue with adults, refuse to do what he’s told, lose his temper, throw fits, and bother other people on purpose? Is he also very easily irritated by other people, angry, resentful, spiteful, or vindictive? Does he frequently blame others for his own misbehavior? If so, your child may be suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a disruptive behavior disorder that is usually first diagnosed in childhood. It is sometimes first recognized in early adolescence when it gets bad enough to really cause some serious trouble for the child and/or his parents. It’s a little more common among male children, but it’s about equally common among male and female teens.
It has been my experience, in working with about 300 children a year, that Oppositional Defiant Disorder can begin in one of three major ways. The first is simply biological. That is, one or both parents, or perhaps someone in the extended family has that type of behavior pattern and it’s simply passed down genetically. The second is that the child himself started out generally fine, but some household condition caused a disruption in his behavior. Things that can sometimes cause this disorder include parental conflict or divorce, inconsistent parenting, permissive parenting, physical punishment, a family death, a significant change in living conditions or locations, or even the birth of a sibling. The third major way Oppositional Defiant Disorder can get a start is when a child gets what I call “a double-whammy,” of having both the genetic predisposition, inherited from a family member, and then also having one or more of the disruptive household conditions that make emergence of the disorder more likely.
If your child has Oppositional Defiant Disorder, what can you do? First, go consult a behavioral specialist – a psychologist or a counselor well-trained in working with children and childhood disorders. The professional can help you determine what type of problem it is, biological, environmental, or both. That person can help you recognize the aspects of your child’s behavior that you simply aren’t going to be able to change because they are so much a part of their biology. They will also be able to help you stop blaming yourself for those aspects. However, with regard to the environmental aspects, your psychologist or counselor can help you identify the areas in the child’s environment that you can change that will have a positive impact on his behavior. There is hope. Many parents can make a few simple changes and experience a fantastic improvement in their child’s behavior.