Oppositional behavior in your toddler or preschooler, you say? Why, that’s just one of his typical albeit annoying moods during the course of a day, you respond. It’s perfectly normal to deal with oppositional behavior from age 2 through early adolescence — sorry to say occasional defiance doesn’t end with the terrible twos! If, however, your young child is constantly talking back, has frequent angry outbursts and is disobedient for six months or longer, he may have a behavioral condition called oppositional defiant disorder or ODD.
Oppositional defiant disorder typically rear its ugly head before age 8, reports Mayo Clinic. The difference between an emotional or independent and strong-willed toddler or preschooler and one with ODD is not always crystal clear. One major difference is that with ODD, defiance gradually worsens over time. Preschool boys are more likely to show signs of ODD than little girls. In girls, the disorder becomes more noticeable in the teen years.
To add insult to injury, it’s fairly common for children with ODD to be dealing concurrently with other behavioral problems like learning disabilities, anxiety disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. ODD can resemble ADHD, especially when your little one is hyperactive or impulsive. But they are nevertheless separate disorders with separate diagnoses and treatments, explains HealthyChildren.org.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) defines oppositional defiant disorder as including ongoing symptoms of “negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behaviors toward authority figures.” A young child with ODD is frequently argumentative, has a short fuse, refuses to follow or questions rules, annoys others on purpose, lays blame for his mistakes or misbehavior on others, and is generally resentful and angry. Additional unpleasant symptoms of ODD can include cruel and hateful talking when upset, seeking revenge and harboring a spiteful attitude, notes the AACAP.
Treatment for ODD centers on teaching your young child better ways to control his anger, explains FamilyDoctor.org, a website published by the American Academy of Family Physicians. In a type of counseling called cognitive behavior therapy, you and your child learn problem-solving skills and ways to develop a more positive attitude. Praising your child when she doesn’t act out may encourage her to think twice the next time her temper begins to flare.
Your child may also learn helpful behavioral techniques from a behavioral therapist or other mental health professional that will help her stop and think before acting out. Coping strategies to prevent an angry outburst may include taking several slow deep breaths to help regain self-control. Counting to 10 before acting out may also help prevent tantrums.
You can help improve your home atmosphere along with professional intervention for your little one with ODD. For starters, practice what you preach by behaving the way you’d like your child to act. If you overreact and become angry when your 3-year-old spills grape juice on your white rug, you are not modeling the behaviors that you want your toddler or preschooler to follow.
Set up age-appropriate limits with reasonable consequences that you can consistently enforce. If your child misbehaves by flinging his paint brush on the wall after dipping it in flaming red, have him help you wash the wall, then give him a time-out in his room or take away a favorite toy for a couple of hours. Make sure you are consistent and follow through with the rules you establish. Spend as much positive, quality time with your child as you can.