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How Should I Discipline My Child Who Has Oppositional Defiant Disorder?


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Question: How Should I Discipline My Child Who Has Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

My 12-year-old child has been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder by a professional counselor. He doesn’t listen to me and refuses to do what I tell him. In fact, he seems to do the opposite of what I tell him just to get a rise out of me. He argues constantly with lots of adults, including his teachers. He’s refusing to do his homework so his grades are slipping. What can I do to get my child to behave?


Parenting a child with oppositional defiant disorder can certainly be a challenge. However, the best treatment for oppositional defiant disorder is a parent’s intervention. Creating a structured environment with consistent discipline can lessen your child’s symptoms.

Provide Positive Attention

Kids with oppositional defiant disorder can grate on the nerves of the most patient of souls. Therefore, they tend to have a lot of negative interactions with adults. They tend to receive more commands and more consequences than other kids.

Give your child a daily dose of positive attention. It can help improve your relationship and reduce behavior problems. Make it a priority to spend 15 minutes each day talking, playing or doing an activity together. Commit to doing so, even on the days where your child’s behaviors are not good because over the long-term it can greatly reduce behavioral problems.

Establish Clear Rules

Kids with oppositional defiant disorder love to argue about rules and fairness. They often look for loopholes and try to get away with whatever they can. Establishing clear household rules can be a good first step in reducing arguments.

Post the rules on the refrigerator or another prominent location in the house. That way you can refer to them as necessary. When your child says, “I don’t want to do my homework right now,” point out, “The rules say homework time begins at 4:00.”

Keep the rules simple and don’t make the list too long. Instead, include rules about issues such as homework, chores, bedtime and respect. Also, include rules about any specific behavioral issues you want to target.

Read More: Sample List of Household Rules

Create a Behavior Plan

Create a behavior plan to address your child’s behaviors. Since you mentioned he is having problems at school, work with his teachers. Develop a plan that will help you and the school to work as a team in helping your son to manage his behaviors.

Communication between you and the school is imperative. Discuss how you can find out about his assignments and what work is missing. Perhaps a daily or weekly email from his teacher could be helpful if his school doesn’t have a web-based program that allows you to check his grades daily.

Create a plan to help him get his homework done. After school homework clubs can be helpful to some kids. At other times, kids benefit from having to stay after school each day until their work is complete. If these aren’t options, implement some at-home consequences around homework to ensure he gets it done.

Avoid Power Struggles

Kids with oppositional defiant disorder are good at luring adults into power struggles. However, it’s important to take steps to avoid power struggles, because they aren’t helpful or productive. In fact, just like you pointed out, kids with oppositional defiant disorder often love to get a reaction out of adults.

If you tell your son to clean his room and he argues with you, resist arguing back. The longer he keeps you in an argument, the longer he delays cleaning his room. Instead, give him clear instructions and provide a consequence if he chooses not to follow through.

Don’t try to force your child to do anything. You can’t make him clean his room. You can’t force him to do his homework. Arguing, nagging, and yelling aren’t effective.

You can however, make it unpleasant for him if he chooses not to do what you’ve said by giving him consequences. If he doesn’t do what you’ve told him, give him one warning that clearly outlines what the consequence will be if he chooses not to follow through. Say, “If you don’t get off the computer right now, you’ll lose your electronics privileges for the next 24 hours.” Then, if he doesn’t comply after a few seconds, follow through with the consequence.

Read More: How to Give Warnings by Using If…Then Statements

Be Consistent with Consequences

Kids with oppositional defiant disorder need consistent negative consequences for misbehavior. If you allow your child to get away with breaking the rules sometimes, he won’t learn. It’s likely that if he thinks there’s a one in a hundred chance that you’ll break down and give in when he argues, he’ll decide it’s worth a shot.

Consequences should be tailored to your child’s temperament. Consider making his privileges contingent on him doing what he’s supposed to. Don’t allow him to use any electronics until his homework is done. If he chooses not to do his homework, don’t argue with him. Just don’t let him have his electronics privileges.

Take away privileges for other misbehavior. For example, don’t allow him to spend time with friends if doesn’t do his chores. You can also allow him to earn extra incentives by using a token economy system to motivate him to behave.

Get Support

If your child isn’t receiving professional help on an ongoing basis, you may want to consider it. Parent training is often a big part of treatment and a professional counselor can assist you with behavior modification techniques at home.

Support groups are often helpful for parents as well as raising a child with oppositional defiant disorder can be exhausting. Also, learn as much as you can about oppositional defiant disorder. Understanding it can be key to helping a child learn new skills to manage his behavior.

Read More: 10 Ways to Deal with a Child’s Defiance and Non-Compliance


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