Defining Oppositional and Defiance


Most children, adolescents and young adults have at least once argued with authority figures, refused to comply with a rule or request, or annoyed someone on purpose and blamed the other person for their behaviour. However, for these individuals, it is not their normal pattern of behaviour. These behaviours may be in response to overwhelming stresses in their lives or a developmental phase they are going through. Hence, this negative behaviour pattern is generally short-lived and tends to disappear as the individual adjusts to the new circumstance or matures. However, for some individuals with persistent oppositional and defiant behaviours or with a diagnosis Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) this is not the case.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5) [American Psychiatric Publishing (APA), 2013], is a handbook that is used by professionals around the world to diagnose Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The DSM–5 describes ODD as a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behaviours, or vindictiveness towards authority figures. The first symptoms of ODD usually appear during the preschool years and rarely later than early adolescence.


The exact cause is currently unknown, rather the interaction between the risk factors may contribute to its development. They include:

Genetic factors –A predisposition to ODD is inherited in families with a history of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), substance use disorders, or mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.

Physiological factors – Abnormal functioning of certain types of brain chemicals or neurotransmitters lead to abnormalities in brain functioning.

Temperamental factors – The child has a difficult temperament (e.g. poor frustration tolerance, intense and high reactive responding and difficulty being soothed).

Environmental factors –The influence of the family is a strong risk factor for many individuals with ODD. Some of the family level risk factors include:

  • Parental lack of supervision
  • Parental rejection and neglect
  • Parental discipline is too harsh or too relaxed or inconsistent
  • Parental inconsistent child rearing practices
  • Parental criminality
  • Parental disharmony
  • Lack of parental monitoring
  • Parents with a mental health problem
  • Parents with a substance abuse problems
  • Parents involved in criminal behaviour
  • Individual has been physically or sexually abused,
  • Individual lives in institutionalised care
  • Individual has frequent changes of caregivers
  • Individual is part of a large family

Associated Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties

The individual may exhibit some, or all of following:

  • Easily loses his or her temper.
  • Easily annoyed by others.
  • Angry and resentful.
  • Argues with adults.
  • Deliberately defies or refuses to comply with requests from adult’s requests or rules.
  • Deliberately annoys others.
  • Blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehaviour.
  • Is spiteful or vindictive.

To learn how to support individuals with persistent oppositional and defiance or with a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder please refer to: Bhargava, D. (2018). Positive Behaviour Support Strategies for Students with Oppositional and Defiant Behaviours : A Step by Step Guide to Assessing – Managing-Preventing Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. Perth, WA: Behaviour Zen Pty Ltd.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.