angry child and family

Normal Tantrums or Something More?

by | May 7, 2021 | Blog

Temper tantrums, “talking back” and other forms of acting out are a normal part of a child’s development. When a youngster is feeling, tired, stressed, upset or out of sorts for any reason, these behaviors aren’t uncommon. Ask any parent!

But when a child’s words and actions cause serious problems at home, school or with peers, they may be diagnosed with a condition known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD, a condition that takes a huge toll on family relationships.

“It’s not unusual for children to express their frustrations by losing their tempers or testing your limits by disobeying rules,” says Dr. Sue Cohen, Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. “But when it becomes a pattern of being uncooperative and hostile toward you, their siblings and peers, and other authority figures in such a way that it impacts their daily functioning, it may require professional intervention.”

A diagnosis of ODD is made when behaviors are extreme and go on for at least six months. 

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology, symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder may include:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Excessive arguing with adults
  • Often questioning rules
  • Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
  • Blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Frequent anger and resentment
  • Mean and hateful talking when upset
  • Spiteful attitude and revenge seeking

Signs of ODD typical arise during preschool year, though it can develop later (though usually before early adolescence). Experts aren’t sure what causes ODD, but say that biological, psychological and social issues may play a role. While extreme forms of parenting—too lax or too harsh— may contribute to ODD, that isn’t always the case.

“Parents may feel guilty when their child has ODD, but there are so many unknowns,” says Cohen. “Often one child in the same family has ODD, while other siblings may not. What’s important is getting help, especially since other issues such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety disorders may be present.”

Treatment for ODD can include a variety of therapeutic methods, such as teaching the child anger management and communication techniques, impulse control and problem-solving skills. Including the family in the treatment plan is important, as parents need to develop skills to manage their child’s behavior. 

Also, medications may be appropriate, which can be determined in a review with a psychiatrist or other psychiatric professional.

To learn if your child may have ODD, or to get help with other issues that are negatively impacting the life of your child, teen or family, contact the Guidance Center at (516) 626-1971.

How Parents Can Help Children With ODD:

Some helpful tips from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology

  • Always build on the positives, give the child praise and positive reinforcement when s/he shows flexibility or cooperation.
  • Take a time-out or break if you are about to make the conflict with your child worse, not better. This is good modeling for your child. Support your child if s/he decides to take a time-out to prevent overreacting.
  • Pick your battles. Since the child with ODD has trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the things you want your child to do. If you give your child a time-out in his room for misbehavior, don’t add time for arguing. Say “your time will start when you go to your room.”
  • Set reasonable, age-appropriate limits with consequences that can be enforced consistently.
  • Maintain interests other than your child with ODD, so that managing your child doesn’t take all your time and energy. Try to work with and obtain support from the other adults (teachers, coaches, and spouse) dealing with your child.
  • Manage your own stress with healthy life choices such as exercise and relaxation. Use respite care and other breaks as needed.


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