What Does My Child’s Defiant Behavior Mean?


From time to time, kids and teens will act up and rebel against their parents. Some children express disobedient behavior more often, and others may have oppositional defiant behavior. How do you know if your child has this behavior? We’ll explain the signs of oppositional defiant behavior and what it really means…

You may be wondering, what is oppositional defiant behavior? It is clinically defined as a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness lasting at least 6 months. This behavior is expressed during interactions with others (other than close family members, like siblings) and is indicated by at least four symptoms from the following:

Angry/Irritable Mood

1. Often loses temper.

2. Is often touchy or easily annoyed.

3. Is often angry and resentful.

Argumentative/Defiant Behavior

4. Often argues with authority figures or, for children and adolescents, with adults.

5. Often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or with rules.

6. Often deliberately annoys others.

7. Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior.


8. Has been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past 6 months.

It is important to note that for children younger than 5 years, the behavior occurs on most days for a period of at least 6 months. For children 5 years or older and teens, the behavior occurs at least once per week for at least 6 months.

So, how does this behavior develop? The reasons are different from one child to the next, and the development is influenced by a variety of factors.  The following are just some of the common reasons for why children develop oppositional defiant behavior:

1. Disruptions in Parenting
A disruption in parenting are defined as “ineffective, inconsistent, indiscriminant, and lax or event timid management methods.” Sometimes, parents give less attention or affection to their child in these situations. Power struggles may occur often between the parent and child, and this way of dealing with disagreements may become the “new normal.”

2. Child Characteristics
Can a child be predisposed to oppositional defiant behavior? Yes, certain characteristics can lend themselves to this behavior. A child who is easily annoyed or frustrated, who becomes easily hostile (temperament), or who has a “tendency to be headstrong” may be more likely to oppose his or her parents. In addition, other common characteristics found in children with oppositional defiant behavior include children who have ADHD or a mood disorder (psychological traits) or who tend to be non-compliant (personal characteristics).

3. Parent Characteristics
Some parents are more likely to engage in disruptive parenting practices, and have more defiant children as a result. A parent’s psychiatric disorder, mood disorder, or negative temperament may strongly affect their parenting style, leading to frequent parent-child conflict and possibly child opposition or defiance.

First, it is important to tell the difference between a child occasionally acting up and a child who expresses oppositional defiant behavior. If you think your child has symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder or their behavior is frequently disrupting school, home, or their (or your) social activities, please contact a mental health professional for support. Seeking this support can give you more understanding about your relationship with your child. Take the first step to get the tools and guidance you need to encourage more positive and cooperative behavior from your child.


(Source: Defiant Children by Russell A.Barkley, PhD, ABPP, ABCN and Diagnosis from DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association)