Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)


My oldest son has what I like to call a very ‘spirited’ personality.

He is a boy. He’s a rough and tough and expressive boy. He’ll soon turn 9 and will be coming to an age where I expect his independence will continue to grow and he’ll start to be more interested in his friends than his mother. He will be reaching the cusp of adolescence and hopefully a stage of his life where he will become more emotionally mature and better able to handle conflicts and frustrations. Especially his frustrations, or so I hope.

I generally accept that it’s normal to exhibit oppositional behavior at certain stages of a child’s development but sometimes it’s difficult to recognize the difference between a strong-willed or emotional child and one where something else is happening.

When he was in senior kindergarten I noticed we both struggled a lot with his behaviour. It was soon after his father and I separated and I was worried that something needed to be done, so I contacted a local family agency who arranged to have him tested through Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. The results of the tests showed that he has Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

So what makes oppositional behaviour into a disorder? From what I’ve been able to decipher, ODD includes emotional and behavioral symptoms that last at least six months and includes the following:

Angry and irritable mood:

  • Often and easily loses temper
  • Is frequently touchy and 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 or upsets 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

All of those listed emotions and behaviours are him in a big, big way.

When he was first diagnosed his father refused to participate or offer any support whatsoever, so the two of us went to weekly sessions to try to start chipping away at problem behaviors. I recognized and praised his positive behaviours, I learned to pick my battles and tried to avoid power struggles. I set limits and stuck by the consequences. We developed routines and spent time together. I thought it was going well, but it all seems to have reared it’s ugly head again and no matter what I do to try to work with him, nothing seems to change.

I’ve been struggling with the behaviours on and off for almost 4 years now. We’ll go through periods of relative calm and then, like a hurricane on a summer day, they’ll surface and end up knocking me on my ass. The last few months have been absolutely horrendous and it’s often more days than not. While the original diagnosis was mild, because it was mainly limited to our home, lately I fear the behaviours are escalating and the diagnosis is becoming more fitting.

I know he has some problems with learning. His reading is two grades below where he should be and he has a hard time decoding words. His spelling and writing is awful. We work at it every night (just for short periods of time, so he isn’t too overwhelmed), I’ve talked to his teacher and he has a tutor. I’m considering having him tested for a learning disability. I can wait for the school board to do it, or pay on my own. I’m slowing saving the $2000 that the testing will cost.

There’s no known clear cause of ODD but they believe contributing causes may be a combination of inherited and environmental factors, including genetics (a child’s natural disposition or temperament and possibly neurobiological differences in the way nerves and the brain function) and/or environment (problems with parenting that may involve a lack of supervision, inconsistent or harsh discipline, or abuse or neglect).

My mind constantly focuses on the parenting and firmly believes it’s all my fault and I’m doing something wrong.

A fear of mine has always been pigeonholing my children. I don’t want something about them or their personalities from when they are younger to follow and define them for the rest of their lives. I don’t share the diagnosis with many people because I think a part of me wants to believe that he will simply outgrow it.

I feel very alone in this battle. His father doesn’t see it. How could he? Spending limited time with him and only on weekends and at hockey when it’s time for fun would not give as much rise to the behaviour. Most days, I refuse to say anything to him because it results in blaming rather than asking what he can do to help. The latest comment I got was ‘well he needs a more stable male role model in his life’. Isn’t that what he’s supposed to do for his son?

It’s incredibly challenging and isolating to be the parent of a child with this type of  disorder. Other parents stare and judge when your child is having a meltdown over seemingly minor things. Most days you’re exhausted and just want to cry.

One recommendation is to attend counselling for yourself. I already do that, but this is just another mess to add to the pile of things to get through. I think I’m going to be in therapy for a long, long time.

8 thoughts on “Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

  1. I feel for you on this one. My best friend of 35 year’s has 4 kids. The third in line has ODD. She refuses to seek help with this because she see’s it as a reflection of her parenting. He is diagnosed ADHD but added to that should definitely be ODD. I can barely spend time over at her house because of him. He is awful and she can not control him let alone discipline him. She is a single mom which makes it twice as hard. This lack of parenting has come in between us because I can not stand for her to allow her self to be so disrespected. It breaks my heart to watch so I have basically removed myself. I do not understand why she will not reach out for help. The school had to push her to get him medicated for his ADHD. At some point it becomes neglect when you do not seek help. He is two grades behind and in my opinion, getting worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can absolutely see how your friend feels the way that she does. One of the first things that was scrutinized when I sought help was my parenting. They wanted to know my complete family history (births, deaths, marriages etc.), how my relationships were with my family (that was tough for me and thankfully they didn’t push the issue) as well as whether there was any conflict between my ex and I during or after the marriage. I had to fill in the parts for my ex as best as I could because he wouldn’t contribute (he was off doing his own things).

      I was terrified they would find me completely incompetent and take my kids away from me. I was, and still am sometimes, 100% convinced every single thing that was happening belonged to me. I also felt judged and angry–I was trying my best but it didn’t seem to be enough and it was really hard not to become defensive when the initial meetings were happening.

      I am also a single parent, so I can completely agree that it’s compounded by that fact. There just isn’t any downtime whatsoever nor another adult to tackle things with.

      I can understand your side of things too though. It’s awful the way they can act sometimes. I’ve often wondered why some of my friends still choose to be my friends when he is on one of his combative days. A lot of times we’ll just stay home because of it or only go to places where there is more space for him to be him (tobogganing, skating, the beach etc.).

      It’s a tough one, because when he has good days, they’re really, really good days and it’s fun and we can all have fun together. I try to hold on to those days as much as possible, but it’s really hard sometimes.The bad days….well…they’re absolutely awful sometimes.

      A big problem is that the wait lists for children with mental health issues are long, so you either wait and get lost in the system or go with private therapy. Since the sessions ended a while ago I’ve been trying to handle it on my own but it might be time to do something else again. I already have my own therapist, so I suppose I’m half way there already. It’s just really hard to talk about.

      I hope she can find some type of help with it all and that one day she realizes it’s not all her fault.


    • Thanks. His father and I aren’t even in the same book most of the time, so it makes things pretty difficult. I’m not a fighter and hate arguing but his main priority is to blame it all on me rather than step up and try to help resolve the issue. It takes all of my strength some days not to turn into a raging lunatic when it comes to that man.

      His father is, for lack of better words, completely and utterly incompetent as a human being.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: is it okay to let go of him? | This Takes Courage

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