Oppositional Behavior

When “No!” Is Your Child’s First Impulse: ODD Parenting Advice

Oppositional defiant disorder causes children to refuse requests, defy parents, and torment siblings. How can parents anticipate and respond to explosive situations without jeopardizing anyone’s mental or physical health? Here are some ideas.

Exhausted young Caucasian parents sot on sofa at home annoyed by ill-behaved small kids play have fun. Unhappy upset mom and dad distressed tired by naughty active children. Upbringing concept. fizkes/Getty Images
fizkes/Getty Images

From picking fights to disrespecting and disobeying authority figures to exploding over mundane requests — a child with ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) may unleash behaviors that frustrate and exhaust even the most patient, nurturing parent.

ODD is characterized by persistent hostility, aggression, and defiance. What’s more, it often co-occurs with ADHD. So, how can parents manage their kids’ ODD symptoms and not exacerbate negative behaviors?

Here, ADDitude readers share their tips for managing oppositional defiance. Read about their experiences below and share yours in the Comments section below.

“My son’s ODD tends to flare when he becomes frustrated by seeing something as ‘wrong.’ The infraction could be serious, or something as small as a different pronunciation of a word. He becomes so disturbed and obsessed with that ‘wrong’ that he tries to right it whatever the cost. But, often, his solution becomes a much bigger ‘wrong’ than the original issue. It could mean interrupting an event, shaming someone, or just discouraging them. It can really hurt others he cares about. My main strategy for dealing with this opposition and negativity is a light-hearted, humorous distraction. When I’m feeling patient and light-hearted, it’s easier to do. And when my rapport with my son is pretty good, it’s easier for him to receive it.” — Nathan

“My 10-year-old son with ADHD exhibits ODD symptoms only at home. He questions everything he is told to do, argues for the sake of argument, and responds aggressively if told to do something he doesn’t like. We try to give him room to share his feelings with us, good or bad, but we often intervene when the aggression is aimed at his younger sister, who is neurotypical. We send him to his room, not as a traditional timeout, but as a physical pause button to stop the aggression. We usually talk through the scenario after he calms down, and we have sought outside counseling to help our family deal with the conflict.” — Anonymous

[Get This Free Download: Why Is My Child So Defiant?]

My son exhibits characteristics of ODD, however, it is more prevalent when he deals with adults who are inflexible in their own thinking.” — Anonymous

“Both of my teens have ADHD, which manifests in different ways. The defiance increases with parental demands to pick up dirty dishes or do homework, etc. This is not only frustrating for me as a parent, but it causes my overwhelmed ADHD brain to fixate on them completing the task. My daughter ignores the request, and my son burrows into his blanket or becomes overwhelmed and yells at me to leave him alone.” — Anonymous

I’ve learned not to push them. It only results in a battle of wills, which I know I won’t win. Instead, I try to lead them to make good decisions. I give them options or offer information to get them thinking on the right track.” — Dee

“A very aggressive ‘No!’ is my daughter’s first response to most requests. I calmly repeat whatever it is I expect her to do or stop doing and then walk away to give her the space to calm down and digest what she needs to do.” — Anonymous

[Read This: Why Is My Child So Angry and Defiant? An Overview of ODD]

“I see ODD in my 7-year-old son when he’s unmedicated. If I ask him to do something, the answer is immediately ‘No!’ or ‘Never!’ It seems like an automatic reaction. I just wait and give him a chance to think about what he’s said. He then toddles off to do what he’s told (with all the usual distractions along the way). He’s not like that when he’s medicated. It took me a long time to work out that he can’t help it, and I need to deal with it calmly.” — Nikki

“I never tell them directly what to do, except in an emergency. I make them think that it’s their idea, give choices, or I even tell them to do the opposite. I don’t react if they do something odd. I just raise an eyebrow and carry on. I am never angry with tantrums or oppositional verbal naysaying. It’s best to laugh it off as it’s often funny. Most of these things take the sting out.” — Paul

“Mine are still young (6-year-old twins). One twin has ADHD and ODD, and I’m sure they feed off each other. I make corrections using redirection. We are trying behavioral charts with short-term and long-term rewards.” — LC

“My son has both ADHD and ODD. The ODD is only directed at home to us. Other authority figures like teachers or doctors are questioned but not defied. We are constantly re-establishing order in the house. It’s exhausting to plan for him to defy a new boundary. We are consistent and very careful with our words. We maintain control by repeating and disengaging. It’s isn’t pretty, but we are doing our best.” — Anonymous

“My teenage son has ADHD with ODD with symptoms of CD (conduct disorder). Anybody with authority is treated with disdain. It makes it difficult for him to get an education, keep a job, hold on to his driver’s license, the list goes on. In between bouts of lawlessness, he is a fantastic kid. We all have professional support; it helps us more than him. He will be 18 soon, and we worry about his future.” — Chris

“There is nothing we can ask our 10-year-old to do that is not met with some level of resistance. Initially he gets angry. Then he complains. Often, he cries. Depending on how tired or overwhelmed he is, he may go into full meltdown mode. We are finally learning to pick our battles, but it’s never easy when so much of his behavior requires correction. He figured out that reading calms him and hugs help (once he’s over his meltdown). I know he doesn’t want to make our lives difficult on purpose and he wishes he could be different. It inspires me to show empathy and continue to educate myself about ADHD and ODD to do better for him.” — Anonymous

ODD Parenting Advice: Next Steps

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.