ODD: Handling School Defiance

An angry young boy glaring at the camera

Handling school defiance can be extremely difficult. Most professional teachers get very little mental health training. And if you’ve been teaching for any length of time it will be obvious to you that you didn’t have anywhere near enough.

Is there a child in your class who is openly defiant and disruptive? Nothing seems to help his behavior. It may help to read this article on oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and learn how to handle a child with this condition. Here is just a small fraction of what you need to know in order to keep control and assist children with oppositional defiant disorder.

oppositional defiant disorder is a mental health disorder that describes children who resist authority. They often act as if they don’t have a conscience, deliberately causing arguments and manipulating others. This affects their ability to form successful relationships.

Only a professional can make a diagnosis of ODD, but it is important that teachers and other youth workers understand the condition.

oppositional defiant disorder is similar to conduct disorder. However, ODD is much less severe. A diagnosis of ODD is much more hopeful, as many children improve greatly and many don’t meet the diagnostic criteria after treatment or simply grow out of it. With conduct disorder, however, there is less chance of improvement.

Another important point is that it is very hard to diagnose ODD. ODD is rarely a problem in and of itself. It is often accompanied by ADHD or ADD and a variety of other behavioral disorders.

Oppositional defiant disorder is mainly found in boys. Typical behaviors include disrupting class, defying orders and hurting and insulting others. In older children truancy and problematic and illegal behavior can be a problem.

Diagnostic criteria include:

  • Loses temper easily
  • Argues with adults
  • Actively defies of refuses the requests of adults
  • Deliberately does things to frustrate people
  • Blames others for his or her own mistakes
  • Touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Angry or resentful
  • Spiteful or vindictive
  • Swears

Medication is rarely used for ODD unless it is accompanied by ADHD or depression. Treatments mainly focus on defiant behavior modification. The earlier a child is diagnosed and treated the better the chances of success.

The Teacher’s Role in dealing with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Because teachers are accepted authority figures, they suffer the consequences of defiant behavior. Teachers, as well as parents, are often surprised how the child acts as good as gold when around strangers.

Good weekly or even better daily communication between teacher and parent will ensure consistency in discipline and allow the adults to better work in improving the child’s behavior.

Treating ODD is really the parents’ job. But in some areas a teacher can help a child with ODD:

  1. anger management – teaching them to control their actions and speech
  2. Teaching them to see what effect their behavior has on others. This will help them build a conscience
  3. relationship skills – building successful relationships with authority figures and peers.

There are many simple ODD techniques that can be effective. These can be proactive before the behavior occurs or reactive immediately afterward.

  • Use cool off time.
  • Behavior contracts for serious and persistent behaviors.
  • Ignore minor misbehavior to avoid escalating the situation into a more serious confrontation.
  • Praise good behavior as much as possible.
  • Play games that allow the child to release anger and frustration in a safe and productive way.
  • Communication skills, specifically, getting them to talk about problems as a way of relieving anxiety and stress.

When your child is misbehaving, challenge his conscience by asking him to think about his behavior from the victim’s point of view.

Saying things like, “Would you trust someone who… ” or, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” These questions are likely to cause an uncomfortable reaction.

This article just gives just a tiny fraction of the information you’ll need to deal with the defiant behavior of a child with ODD. In order to better help you cope and change your child’s behavior and help them succeed in their classroom framework, it is important to read extensively, update your skills and attend extra training courses.


Anthony Kane, MD is a physician, an international lecturer, and director of special education. He is the author of a book, numerous articles, and a number of online programs dealing with ADHD treatment, ODD, child behavior issues, and education. You may visit his website, ADD ADHD Advances, and sign up for the ADD ADHD Advances online journal.

Anthony Kane, MD has been helping parents of ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder children online since 2003. Join over three thousand parents and get help for your Oppositional Defiant Disorder child, help with defiant out of control teens and ADHD treatment and ADHD information.

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