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Children with a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder are generally impatient, combative, and lose their temper easily. They appear to have little self-control and are defiant and combative toward adults. A child with ODD is prone to the following behavior:

  • A defiant or negative attitude
  • Frequent temper tantrums or angry outbursts
  • Irritable and easily annoyed; gets frustrated often
  • Regularly argues with adults, often over what should be simple commands
  • Refusing to follow rules or requests
  • Stubborn; refuses to cooperate with parents and/or peers
  • Deliberately doing things that annoy others or seeking to trigger them or goad them into an emotional response
  • Disruptive behavior in school
  • Failing to complete homework or turn it in on time
  • Has a hard time controlling their temper
  • Trouble separating from their primary caregiver
  • Struggles to maintain positive relationships with peers
  • Excessive drug and alcohol use
  • Aggressive, harsh, or unkind speech and behavior
  • Bullying behavior
  • Acting angry, resentful, spiteful or vindictive; they may seek revenge when someone upsets them or have a hard time getting over negative events
  • Frequently complains about the rules or views them as unreasonable
  • Blames others for their mistakes or misbehavior.


Boys and girls may each express oppositional defiant disorder in slightly different ways. Girls tend to be more emotionally aggressive, resorting to lies, put downs or harsh language, whereas boys are more prone to physical outbursts.

Examples of children with oppositional defiant disorder
So what does this look like in practice? Consider the following case study of a child with oppositional defiant disorder:

Jack is 7 years of age. His mother reported that he was “very difficult” and that he had “always” been like that. He would lose his temper over seemingly trivial matters, such as losing at a video game he played with his best friend: “he gets red in the face and starts huffing, shouts and cries.” Also he was often grumpy for no apparent reason. His mother described that when he did not want to do something “he simply wont.” He often refused to go to bed; “we have massive rows in the evenings because of this.” Jack sometimes got so angry that he broke his own toys or threw them around.

…His teacher said that Jack was argumentative and refused to do as he was asked in class and constantly annoyed the other children by throwing bits of paper at them and taking their pencils or toys. The other children in the class didn’t like to play with Jack and this made him angry. Recently, some of the older children had been mocking him and pushing him around on the playground. He often came home looking sad and grumpy.

Jack’s mother said that she was “at the end of her tether” and that “You can’t reason with him, you can’t shout at him, it just doesn’t help – no matter what I do it just doesn’t work.” (Quy & Stringaris, 2012, p. 8)

His mother describes Jack’s father as also being an “angry and aggressive man.” Jack hadn’t had any contact with him since he was a baby; he left when Jack was 6 months old. On the bright side, this child’s behavioral problem was successfully treated through parent management training, with his symptoms improving substantially just a few weeks into therapy.

Characteristics of children with oppositional defiant disorder

The 4 main characteristics of children with ODD are:

  1. Defiance
  2. Spitefulness
  3. Hostility & verbal aggression
  4. Negativity


Children with ODD often have low self-esteem, which may be part of what drives their combative behavior. “Getting a reaction out of others if the chief hobby of children with ODD,” states Benny Denise. “They like to see you get mad.” They seem to seek conflict and/or immerse themselves in a great deal of negativity, quite possibly because it serves their goals: They often end up the victor in these situations. The condition may develop as a crutch for anxiety or be driven by a strong need for control. It’s hard to discipline them because they frequently deny responsibility for their misbehavior.

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