Oppositional Defiant Disorder

The ADHD-ODD Link in Children

“[Kids with ADHD] misbehave not because they’re intentionally oppositional, but because they can’t control their impulses.” Grasping the link between ADHD and ODD will help you understand, and treat, your child’s behavioral problems.

Child with oppositional defiant disorder

Symptoms of ODD

  • Chronic aggression
  • Frequent outbursts
  • A tendency to argue
  • A tendency to ignore requests
  • A tendency to engage in intentionally annoying behavior

Children with ODD

  • About half of all preschoolers diagnosed with ODD outgrow the problem by age 8.
  • If left untreated, oppositional behavior can evolve into conduct disorder and more serious behavioral problems.

Learn more about Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Adults here.

The ADHD and ODD Link

40 percent of children with ADHD also develop oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

  • Some experts suggest that ODD may be tied to ADHD-related impulsivity. “Many kids with ADHD who are diagnosed with ODD are showing oppositional characteristics by default,” says Houston-based child psychologist Carol Brady, Ph.D. “They misbehave not because they’re intentionally oppositional, but because they can’t control their impulses.”
  • Other experts suggest that ODD is a way for kids to cope with the frustration and emotional pain associated with having ADHD.

Treating ADHD and ODD

Step One: Make sure your child’s ADHD is under control. Typically, a doctor will put a child on a regimen of ADHD medication, which, in some cases, can also reduce ODD symptoms.


Enough is Enough! Parenting Your Defiant Child


Step Two: Employ behavior modification techniques to help manage the condition.

Step Three: In severe cases, a child may need to see a family therapist trained in childhood behavior problems. It’s a good idea for the therapist to also screen your child for anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, all of which can cause ODD.

How Parents Can Help

Parent management training — in which parents learn to change the way they react to their child’s behavior— is often highly effective in treating ODD. Between weekly sessions, the parents practice what they’ve learned from the therapist and report back on their progress.

Keep the following in mind when starting a parent management training program:

1) Accentuate the Positive

Positive reinforcement is the heart and soul of parent management training.

  • Don’t yell at or spank a child for bad behavior.
  • Instead, teach through good example and positive feedback.

2) Enthusiasm Counts

Parents should be enthusiastic when praising their child with ODD.

  • Specify the praiseworthy behavior.
  • Include some non-verbal gesture in your enthusiastic praise. For example, you might say, “It was wonderful the way you played so quietly while I was on the phone!” and then give your child a kiss.
  • Tailor rewards and punishments to your child’s specific abilities and needs…
  • But remember that consistency in the way you treat your child — the way you set rules and convey expectations — is the key to cleaning up a child’s act.

A Helpful Book About ODD

The Defiant Child: A Parent’s Guide to Oppositional Defiant Disorder
by Douglas Riley, Ph.D.

“These children are most comfortable when they’re in the middle of a conflict. As soon as you begin arguing with them, you’re on their turf. They keep throwing out the bait, and their parents keep taking it—until the parents end up with the kid in family therapy, wondering where they’ve gone wrong.”

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