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How to Teach Oppositionally Defiant Children

By Holly McGurgan ; Updated June 13, 2017

Teaching children with oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD, can test your classroom management skills. Children who have ODD exhibit a pattern of defiant, uncooperative and hostile behavior toward authority figures and may argue with adults, defy rules, deliberately annoy others and refuse adult requests, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Preventing ODD children from bothering other students and limiting angry or emotional outbursts takes some detailed planning, but it can be done if you use your knowledge of ODD to devise strategies to promote cooperation.

  1. Post daily and weekly schedules so that ODD children understand when transitions will occur, whether they are changes in subject matter or special assemblies. ODD children can become frustrated if expected to begin a new activity without sufficient warning that the previous activity will end. The ConnectEd website suggests writing down the activities you will be doing in class in sequential order at the beginning of the class and listing the approximate time it will take to complete each activity.

  2. Set up a quiet corner in your room for the ODD child to visit if she feels frustrated or overwhelmed. Provide soft pillows that the child can punch or soft balls to squeeze to help calm herself before returning to her desk.

  3. Write a list of the child’s problem behaviors and choose the worst two or three behaviors to improve. Trying to improve all of the child’s problems will overwhelm both you and the child. Explain to the child the consequences if he does not follow rules related to the behaviors.

  4. Make a behavior chart and award the child stickers or tokens if she meets her behavioral goal. The Kelly Bear website suggests trading stickers or tokens for special privileges that the child enjoys, such as extra computer time, additional free time or helping a favorite teacher.

  5. Praise the child for good behavior. Low self-esteem can be a problem for ODD children because they are frequently criticized due to their behaviors. Look for ways to encourage the child, whether commenting on homework or positive behavior toward classmates.

  6. Give verbal or written instructions in an easy-to-follow format to avoid confusing or frustrating the ODD child. The ConnectEd website recommends avoiding giving too many directions at once and using a step-by-step format, rather than a paragraph format

  7. Tip recommends including the child when making a plan to change behavior. Failure to do so can worsen the child’s behavior in your classroom.


    Don’t raise your voice or lecture ODD children when they behave inappropriately. A child with ODD may consider arguing, threatening or lecturing as a reward rather than punishment, according to the Kelly Bear website. Discuss the child’s behavior and the consequences calmly and avoid being drawn into an argument.

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