Skip to main content

Article published 9th June 2008

Obsessional, aggressive, defiant the characteristics of a typical teenager, or cause for concern and alarm?

How do you spot the difference between a child who is 'pushing the boundaries' and one with genuine difficulties?

What should you look out for?

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

Oppositional defiant disorder is used to describe long-lasting, aggressive and defiant behaviour that is extreme and outside the normal range.

It is characterised by a persistent disobedience and opposition to authority figures (such as parents, teachers or other adults). Such behaviour is usually less severe than conduct disorders, but equally persistent. The basic rights of others are still respected and age-appropriate societal rules and behaviour are not violated.

ODD is characterised by aggressive, negative, hostile and defiant behaviour, which may be strongest in the home. Children with ODD will blame others rather than themselves and may seem angry and resentful, especially towards adults. Outwardly a child may appear irritable, with frequent temper outbursts, frustration and intolerance. Self-esteem is usually low though it’s likely the child will project an image of toughness. Additional symptoms of anxiety and depression are common.

Conduct disorders

Conduct disorders embrace behaviour that violates the social rules and rights of others and are typically present in the home, school and wider community.

Children and adolescents with conduct disorders tend to be physically aggressive. They may fight, bully, be cruel to people and animals, destroy other people’s property (possibly including arson) or steal.

Stealing ranges from ‘borrowing’ others’ possessions to shoplifting, forgery, car theft and burglary. Children with this disorder often lie, are truants, cheat at schoolwork and display callous behaviour. They may use or abuse tobacco, alcohol and other drugs at an unusually early age and be sexually precocious. Such behaviour must have persisted for six months or more for a conduct disorder diagnosis.

Schools employ a variety of strategies when working with youngsters with conduct disorders, including behaviour management, social skills (often through enhanced personal, social and health education (PSHE) input), strategies to improve self-esteem and self-control, and close liaison and involvement with parents or carers.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

This is a condition where the sufferer experiences recurrent thoughts or images which they recognise as senseless, but which nevertheless disturb them.

Obsessions are often accompanied by excessively repetitive acts (compulsions or rituals such as continually washing hands), carried out in order to reduce the anxiety resulting from an obsession. Sufferers try to avoid situations or activities that remind them of their obsession. A sufferer may worry about acting on unwanted or senseless urges or impulses, such as harming someone they are close to, or worry obsessively about terrible things happening to them, or repeatedly experience unpleasant thoughts or images. Symptoms may manifest as physical difficulties, fast heartbeat, trembling or panic attacks. OCD usually appears in adolescence or early childhood. Medication and counselling may be of help to some sufferers.

Related articles

  • Special Needs introduction

    Signs of special needs in school age children; how to get help; which type of school to choose; Education, Health and Care Plans ... Read more ... Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need.  Our SEN team helps…

  • Boarding schools explained - the right choice?

    The headmaster/mistress runs the school but boarding houses are usually the domain of either houseparents or, in smaller schools, the head of boarding. Whilst the housemaster/mistress oversee the house, the day-to-day running is usually under the supervision of a matron. (Article published 5th May 2008)

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. Subscribe for one month for £15 (£0.49 per day) Subscribe for three months for £36 (£0.41 per day) Subscribe for six months for £60 (£0.33 per day) Subscribe for one year for £105 (£0.29 per day) Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get an exam results overview of schools you are interested in. ☑ Find comprehensive advice on state and independent schools, tutors and special…

  • Where to find a state grammar school

    Identifying and locating grammar schools. Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Almost half of these are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools.

  • State boarding schools

    If you think your child would benefit from a boarding school education, but are put off by the high fees and consequent limited social mix of a typical independent boarding school, you may find that a state boarding school is the answer

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews, data and catchment:

Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools inc. year of entry.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of more than 1,100+ schools.
 Overall school performance by GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 School data comparison by A/B weighted, relative success and popularity.
 Compare schools by qualities and results.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription


Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

The Good Schools Guide: Boarding Schools. Our newest book, available now - boarding for the 21st century.