“I want that toy! That’s the best yoyo! I need it!” Zahava closed her eyes as her son started screaming. She just wished she would open them again and Chaim would be calmly walking down the aisle like the other kids in the supermarket. She knew she shouldn’t have brought him with her to do her Shabbos shopping. But, Chaim was home from school again because he had an argument with his teacher. Well, argument was a little bit of an understatement. Chaim was constantly acting out and Zahava was simply at her wits’ end.
All of her friends were telling her that Chaim was just stubborn and gave her millions of suggestions of how to “nip it in the bud.” But, Zahava wasn’t sure. Every kid acts out once in a while or is stubborn about certain issues, but she thought it was possible that there was something more to Chaim’s behavior.
Is He Just Stubborn?
When I met Chaim a few weeks later, through tests and assessments, we were able to determine that Chaim was suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). But, parents often ask me about the difference between stubborn children and those with ODD. First, stubbornness is a personality attribute, while ODD is a diagnosis.
Douglas Riley, author of The Defiant Child, discusses how the diagnosis should be “oppositional defiant spectrum” not “disorder.” He says: “Every child and teenager displays oppositional defiant behavior at some point. Some display it to a degree that is more reasonably termed an occasional irritation than a disorder. Others, however, display it with such frequency and intensity that it keeps them in constant trouble with parents, teachers, and legal authorities.”
So, are children with ODD stubborn? Yes, they are. But do all stubborn children have ODD? Most definitely not. Stubborn children know when they have lost the fight and it makes sense to give up. If they realize that there are going to be serious consequences for their stubborn actions, they don’t continue with their stubborn behavior. Those with ODD cannot recognize those serious consequences and will continue regardless of the costs.
Whereas a stubborn child might fixate on the toy or bedtime ritual, a child with ODD has a different focus. Riley writes, “It becomes important to understand what represents a ‘normal’ amount of oppositional behavior and where the boundary of ‘normal’ ends. In general, oppositional children have a drive to defeat adults that assumes absurd proportions. They are as relentless as gravity in their pursuit of proving adults to be wrong, stupid, or both. The dominant thoughts of the oppositional child revolve around defeating anyone’s attempt to exercise authority over him.” Therefore, ODD is a relentless struggle to maintain autonomy and defeat those around them. The goal of the toy or prize is simply the vehicle for defeat.
What Exactly Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
Because there are so many symptoms of ODD that many “normal” children have, it is more about the intensity and frequency of the symptoms. Walter Mathys and John E. Lochman, the authors of Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder in Children,list the symptoms of ODD. They also explain that ODD and Conduct Disorder (CD) manifest themselves similarly, but ODD is the label for younger children, while CD is used with teenagers and adults. If a child displays two or more of the following symptoms on a weekly basis, consider talking to a health or educational specialist:
- The child is three or older
- The child has unpredictable outbursts
- The outbursts are set off by the smallest things
- The child attempts to harm self or others
- The child causes extensive property damage to house or items
- The child is unusually active, cannot sustain attention, or is impulsive
- The child’s teachers have voiced concerns about his/her behavior