Maternal Depression, Paternal Reactivity and Childhood ODD

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is among the most common childhood problems and is marked by hostility and aggression. Some research has suggested that the presence of ADHD is a predictor of ODD in children, while other research has identified specific family experiences as playing key roles in the development of ODD. In a new study, Elizabeth A. Harvey of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, along with her colleagues from the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, examined 199 3-year-olds over four years to evaluate them for the development of ODD based on ADHD, family experience, socioeconomic status and other factors. “Early family functioning may be associated with later behavior problems because early difficult child characteristics both elicit early family dysfunction and lead directly to later behavioral difficulties,” said Harvey. “Numerous studies, including many with longitudinal designs, have demonstrated that children who experience early family dysfunction are more likely to show behavior problems.”

Harvey noted that the preschool years present a ripe time of development in which problematic behaviors can emerge, but nearly half of preschool children will outgrow them, suggesting that those who do not may be exposed to factors that are unique to their family settings or unique to the children. The researchers looked at the parenting practices, maternal depression, paternal reactivity and ADHD of the children once each year for four years and found that the family construct did not increase the development of ODD in any of the children, but the presence of maternal depression and paternal over-reactivity did. “These findings support parent training interventions that provide parents with positive alternatives to harsh parenting but also support previous efforts to target family functioning more broadly.” They added, “In particular, targeting maternal depression in addition to parenting skills may better prevent the development and maintenance of ODD in young children. This study also provides additional support for the importance of involving fathers in parent training.”


Harvey, E. A., Metcalfe, L. A., Herbert, S. D., & Fanton, J. H. (2011, September 26). The Role of Family Experiences and ADHD in the Early Development of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025672

Maternal Depression, Paternal Reactivity and Childhood ODD

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • helena


    October 15th, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    Its really hard for a child to be at the receiving end in a household where things are far from normal. And in addition to that there is very little chances that the child is able to overcome all that and turn out alright. Because that is how a young mind works-violent or harmful incidents make such an impression on these young minds that the effects remain even years later and can come to interfere in the child’s future adult life too.

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