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3 Tips for Working with Oppositional Defiance in Teens

At first glance, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) may sound like your average teenager: defiant, argumentative and irritable. However, ODD becomes a classifiable disability when a child shows behaviors that are repeatedly and chronically disruptive or vindictive, and that interfere with their daily life. How should parents and teachers best address these behaviors, which can often escalate quickly? The following series of steps will help limit ODD episodes, which are ultimately about the child gaining control of a situation, and not necessarily acting out.

1. Discipline with Dignity

Author Brian Mendler, a self-proclaimed "difficult ADHD, ODD and dyslexic student," has gone on to train many educators about how to discipline with dignity. One of his key concepts is that teachers or parents need to address the child's inappropriate behavior, say their part respectfully and then walk away. If you address oppositional or defiant behavior in the hallway, they have the eyes of their peers trained squarely on their reaction. Knowing that they have an audience, and not wanting to give you any control, this is a situation that can potentially be explosive. Walk over calmly, discipline the child, end with a "thank you" and then walk away. Ignore what the child says under their breath or to their friends. Remember, they're trying to save face in front of their peers. Resist the urge to turn around and declare, "What did you say?" That confrontation will lead to an inevitable conflict that will escalate quickly.

2. Don't Keep a Running Tally of Offenses

Even though a child with ODD may commit several inappropriate behaviors within the span of a few hours, you need to begin each day fresh. Children deserve a chance to begin every day with a clean slate, instead of a parent or teacher constantly reminding them of the offenses committed the prior day. If a child feels that there is no hope for them to dig out of a hole, they feel that dreaded loss of control and their behaviors will escalate. As a classroom teacher, start each day with a smile and a genuine greeting upon entering your classroom. As a parent, begin each day with a positive affirmation and a gesture of genuine affection.


3. Find Fail-Proof Consequences

Children with ODD still need to have consequences for their inappropriate behavior, but as a parent or educator, you need to make sure that they are fail-proof. These struggling children do not react to consequences the same as other children, and will find ways to bend the rules and defy your consequence given the chance. Do you plan on taking away the child's phone? Don't just remove the phone from their possession, as odds are they will likely find it and use it anyway. A fail-proof solution is shutting off their phone service; this way the phone that is "theirs" is no longer in service. For teachers, this can mean having the child make up time with you after school, even if it means having their bus driver or parent bring them back if they escape school. Being in communication with the parent to ensure that the consequence is completed is crucial in maintaining consistency for ODD teens.


Kids who present ODD can be emotionally overwhelming for both parents and educators. However, by ensuring consistency and eliminating power struggles, you can guide your child toward a successful pathway in both school and life.

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