Is your defiant child driving you crazy?

Children often go against what their parents say and ask of them, but when it starts to concern you — or affect your mood and family dynamics — how do you identify your child’s negative behaviors and what are the next steps?

Identify your child’s extreme behaviors

Children often go against what their parents say and ask of them, but when it starts to concern you — or affect your mood and family dynamics — how do you identify your child’s negative behaviors and what are the next steps?

When defiant behaviors are more than just a phase

Defiance and difficult behaviors are a natural part of adolescence, but there are signs and specific behaviors parents should pay attention to. Behavioral and disruptive disorders, like oppositional defiant disorder, are patterns of persistent negative behaviors with hostility and fall outside the normal range of adolescent development, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics’

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Behavioral and disruptive disorders

Characteristics of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) include consistent pattern of disobedience and disrespect towards parents and authoritative figures along with more than four of the following, and for a minimum of six months:

  • Consistent pattern of defiance, disobedience, belligerence and irritability
  • Easily loses temper
  • Frequently gets into arguments and fights
  • Annoys others intentionally
  • Blames others for mistakes or misconduct
  • Always seems angry or resentful
  • Often behaves vindictively or spitefully towards others

Oppositional defiant disorder can sometimes lead to more disruptive behavior, or conduct disorder, and without treatment it can present children with a less than ideal future. Signs of conduct disorder typically play out with verbal and physical aggression towards people and animals.

“The diagnosis is established when a child has committed three or more acts connected with this disorder within the past year, and one in the past six months.” —

The ADHD and defiant connection

If your child appears to be defiant through depression or irritability, he may have a coexisting dysthymic disorder if two or more of the following symptoms are present:

  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor conduct or difficulty making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness

“When ADHD is accompanied by oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and mood and anxiety disorders, these coexisting conditions can compound the behavioral challenges presented by children and adolescents with ADHD and can contribute to aggressive behaviors, poor tolerance for frustration, inflexibility, poor problem solving skills, heightened difficulty in complying with parents’ instructions and significant family conflict.” —

Defiance can also show through in the form of a mood disorder with or without ADHD present. “The mood disorders most likely to be experienced by children with ADHD include dysthymic disorder, major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder. While every child will occasionally experience discouragement and irritability, children with ADHD may exhibit these behaviors more than most.”

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How to get help and the diagnosis process started

If you have a question about your child’s defiant or disruptive behavior, contact your family doctor to talk further about your child and to get the proper referrals for further evaluations, if needed. Appointments for a formal or full developmental evaluation can take months before your child may be seen. If you are overwhelmed by your child’s behaviors while waiting for the evaluation process, talk to your child’s doctor or contact your local resource center for tips and ideas on how to effectively manage and deal with your child’s defiant behaviors and difficulties in the home.


Remember to take some time for yourself. Raising children can be a challenge as it is, but with a defiant child, you will need the breaks and time to regroup.


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