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Oppositionality - Oppositionality And Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Causal Factors, Epidemiology, Treatment, Family's Response To Oppositionality

development children defiance noncompliance tantrums


Children learn to resist and, if necessary, oppose the will of others as part of their normal development. The refusal to conform to the ordinary requirements of authority and a willful contrariness is called oppositionality, and manifests itself during childhood with behaviors such as stubbornness, argumentativeness, tantrums, noncompliance, and defiance.

Children's prosocial impulses become apparent in the first year of life through cooperative interactions and sharing. Learning how to tolerate frustration is an important aspect of the socialization process, but a degree of defiance and noncompliance is normal during the preschool years (e.g., the terrible twos). After the age of three children start to learn that they do not always need to be "good." Defiance and noncompliance, particularly in boys, may increase at that time. Oppositionality may accentuate again during adolescence when teenagers try to break away from the influence of their parents and develop their own identity. It shows in adolescents wanting to do "their own thing," in the way they dress or cut their hair and in their propensity to challenge authority. Most parents know this and allow young people some room to manifest their individuality, and usually it does not cause major problems. Occasionally, this drive becomes so intense that it creates difficulties at home and school.

It is not clear what happens to oppositional children when they grow up. The majority are likely to become well-functioning adults, some may develop antisocial behavior, and others may continue showing difficulties in their interpersonal relationships, mostly by showing passive resistance and covert hostility (Fergusson 1998). Some of the characteristics of these children, such as stubbornness, single-minded determination, and nonacceptance of social rules or expectations, can be harnessed constructively and may result in considerable individual achievement.

These developmental changes have been observed in all cultures, although their manifestations and intensity vary. Behaviors such as temper tantrums and disobedience are reported to have similar prevalence in most countries (Crijnen, Achenbach, and Verhulst 1999).


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