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Understanding Childhood Anger

Identifying angry, defiant behaviors (ODD)

The first step in addressing anger in children is a careful history of the child that is helped by evaluating the degree of active and passive-aggressive anger, the degree of selfishness and the number of ODD behaviors.

Please identify the symptoms of ODD in your child by identifying the behaviors listed in the DSM IV-TR for this diagnosis:

  • Often losing temper
  • Often arguing with adults
  • Often actively defying or refusing to comply with adults’ requests or rules
  • Often deliberately annoying people
  • Often blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehaviors
  • Being often touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Being often angry and resentful
  • Being often spiteful or vindictive.

The child must demonstrate at least four of these symptoms for at least 6 months to establish the ODD diagnosis. In our view a number of these behaviors are an indication of selfishness in the child. These include:

  • Often actively defying or refusing to comply with requests or rules from adults
  • Often deliberately annoying people
  • Regularly blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehaviors
  • Regularly becoming touchy or easily annoyed by others.

Based on over 35 years of clinical experience I believe that the following symptoms of the covert (sneaky) or passive-aggressive expression of anger should be added to the description of ODD symptoms.

Identifying Covert/Passive-Aggressive Angry Behaviors

  • Failure to respond when addressed
  • Refusal to cooperate with teachers at school
  • Refusal to do home work
  • Deliberate lateness
  • Refusal to keep order in the home or in bedroom
  • Provocation of siblings
  • Unwillingness to be sensitive to others.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is the most common psychiatric disorder seen in children. Epidemiological data have indicated that by the age of sixteen 23% of children will meet the criteria for a behavior disorder, most frequently oppositional defiant disorder, 11.3% (Costello EJ, et al., 2003.)

As every parent knows, acts and words of defiance in direct or covert ways can begin at an early age. Unfortunately this anger often is not properly identified, understood and addressed by busy parents, family members, educators and mental health professionals. The failure to identify and address this anger has serious consequences for the child, the parents and family, schools and society.

Oppositional behaviors occupy a central position in the development of emotional and mental illnesses.  ODD can lead to the development of a conduct disorder in which children manifest intensely angry and even violent behaviors. This disorder in turn can lead to the development of a sociopathic or criminal personality disorder. Also, there is a substantial overall between ODD and ADHD. 

The wide range of association of ODD with other disorders is also reflected in the finding that it is one of the most common precursors for most psychiatric disorders in adolescence and young adulthood (Kim-Cohen, J. 2003 and Nock, MK, 2007.)

A major study estimated that children with ODD were 17 times more likely to have a depressive or anxiety disorder than children without ODD (Boylan, K, et al, 2007.)

Our professional experience indicates that if defiant and angry behaviors are dealt with effectively in young children the emotional and mental health of the child and the family can be protected and strengthened. The serious problems that develop if children do not learn how to control their angry impulses can be prevented.

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