The children who develop oppositional defiant disorder have often, even from a very young age, been demanding, prone to screaming, and difficult to console. Many have a temperament that temperament researchers would refer to as “difficult to manage”. When adults in a child’s environment lack the energy to deal with that child’s demanding behaviour, there is a risk that the adult will simply give up whatever demands they have given the child just to get some peace and quiet, which results in the child subconsciously learning that objecting allows him/her to avoid demands. The risk of developing this kind of vicious cycle is especially great if the parents or child’s preschool teachers and teachers themselves are having difficulties coping with the pressures of their own everyday lives.
“Coercion theory”, a theory on coercive interactions, describes how such vicious cycles occur and serves an important role in counselling parents and teachers regarding children exhibiting oppositional/defiant behaviour. It provides the basis for several parent training programmes such as “De otroliga åren”, COPE and Komet.
As stated above, many children who grow up with adults lacking the energy to deal with their demanding behaviour, may develop oppositional/defiant behaviours, but, that being said, the risk of such a development occurring is a great deal higher for children who have ADHD. Around half of children with ADHD, especially if they exhibit obvious features of impulsivity and overactivity, develop oppositional defiant disorder. The impulsivity makes them find it difficult to hold in their reactions upon facing demands, and leads them to quickly react by objecting and distancing themselves. If, in addition, the child has developmental disorders concerning language, intellect or motor control, the strain increases and makes it possible for negative patterns to develop in the interaction between parents and children. This is amplified by the fact that these are children who often fail and perceive themselves as misunderstood, and therefore are angry and disappointed at their unsympathetic environment.