How to deal with oppositional defiant disorder

Updated February 21, 2017

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a conduct disorder in children and teens. The exact cause is unknown. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), biological and environmental factors may play a role. ODD is characterised by extreme defiance towards authority. Symptoms include anger, argumentative behaviour, defiance and disobedience, becoming easily annoyed, temper tantrums, unwarranted placement of blame on others and vengeful behaviour.

While it is normal for youth to display these behaviours some of the time, excessive displays that consistently affect home and school life are not normal. Some mood disorders and chemical imbalances share the same behavioural symptoms as ODD. Because of this, a diagnosis should only be made by a licensed medical professional, who can perform diagnostic tests and a psychiatric evaluation.

Doctors treat ODD with psychotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and family therapy. One aspect of family therapy is teaching parents ways to deal with their defiant child. Parents can help their child learn behavioural control through setting boundaries and by using calm and positive parenting techniques.

Make a list of family rules and consequences. Go over the list with your child and answer any questions that arise. Choose consequences for rules broken that make sense and are not too harsh, so that you can apply them when the need arises.

Choose your battles. An ODD child has difficulty following rules. You are trying to win the war, not each individual battle. Focus on enforcing big rules, and let the little ones slide, when necessary, to prevent a huge conflict.

Use positive reinforcement with your child. The basic rule of positive reinforcement is to praise your child for good behaviour instead of constantly pointing out bad behaviour.

Practice timeouts when your child is angry. Arguing with a defiant and unreasonable ODD child is almost always a sure road to failure. A timeout is when your child goes to a quiet place to allow angry behaviour to subside. A common timeout place is the child's bedroom. ODD children need time to gain control of their emotions. If your child refuses to take a timeout break and insists on arguing, maintain your composure and resist the urge to argue. Instead, walk away and say, "I will return to discuss the situation when you have calmed down."

Refrain from punishing your child until you are calm. Losing your temper and arguing will only set off your ODD child's anger. When you feel angry, walk away and regain your composure before speaking with your child and issuing punishments.

Have regular family talks to discuss behavioural issues. Family talk times should be an open forum for discussion, where there is no fear of punishment for voicing opinions or feelings. Family discussions allow the family to gain an understanding of one another. Family talk times only work when the family is not in the middle of a conflict. They are best done when everyone is in a good mood.

Support your spouse when dealing with your ODD child. Discuss parenting techniques away from the child, and agree upon methods of dealing with the defiant behaviour. Arguing in front of the child causes confusion and takes the focus off the child's defiant behaviour, preventing a solution to the problem.

Inform school teachers and school counsellors of your child's behaviour. Discuss how to handle problems that arise in the classroom setting. Maintain contact with school personnel to keep an eye on your child's behaviour and development.

Use the services of a psychologist or psychiatrist to help your child. Therapy is designed to give your child the tools to control undesired behaviour. Attend family meetings with the psychologist to gain assistance with problems in family dynamics.

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