How to deal with Oppositional Behavior in Children and Teens

oppositional defiant disorderAll children are oppositional at one time or another, often because they are stressed, hungry or tired. This is especially true when they are two to three and in their early teens.  However, if oppositional and defiant behavior towards authority is interfering with daily functioning it may be a sign of a more serious problem.  

Signs that a youth may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD):

  • frequent temper tantrums
  • active defiance towards rules or requests
  • deliberate attempts to upset people
  • being easily annoyed or “touchy”
  • blaming others for behavior or mistakes. 

If a parent or caregiver believes a child may have ODD it is important that they seek a mental health assessment for the child and professional help. 

What happens when a child has Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

  •  ODD children see interactions with authority as win/lose situations and desperately feel they need to win. 
  • ODD children are trying to grow up too fast and take on adult like emotional responsibilities. In other words, they are trying to take the adult role in the family hierarchy.
  • ODD children are trying to control the timing, content and mood of interaction and it is not as much about the outcome of the interaction as it is about creating the conflict.  When an ODD child pushes buttons and an adult loses control of their emotions, the child may feel that they have taken the parents authority.
  • ODD children have a difficult time soothing themselves and don’t like to be soothed by adults, as this puts them back in the role of the child.

Looking carefully at a family’s structure can be a part of figuring out what is going on.  Are the rules inconsistent, lenient or too strict?

Tips for Parents: How to Deal with Oppositional Behavior

  1. Take back the control of the timing and content of interaction by knowing when you are going to get emotional or when your buttons are being pushed. In other words, don’t have the discussion until you know you can remain calm.  Conventional wisdom about parenting says that it is important to give consequences right after the behavior but for oppositional kids it is better to delay this discussion until both parties are cooled down.
  2. Have a plan to take a time out and always allow your child to take a time out to cool down.  Remember this is how teenagers sometimes “save face” in an argument. 
  3. Check the number of positive vs. negative interactions you are having with your child and try to increase the positive. Often if the relationship is stressed there will be a lot of daily negative interaction. Do something fun together and make a connection. The goal is to have many more positive interactions than negative.
  4. Remind your oppositional child you love them in many different ways.  Though your child may know you love them they may feel less loved if there is ongoing conflict.   Remember soothing your child is part of a strategy that will take them from an adult role and put them back into the role of a protected child.
  5. Last but certainly not least – take care of yourself so you can take care of your child.  Seek the support you need.  Try to maintain your own life and interests.  Breathe.

This is another great resource for more information about ODD in children and teens

What tips would you share about dealing with ODD?


About agnesrobl

I have worked as a case manager for Youth Services for two and a half years. I facilitate an anger management group, a girl’s empowerment and support group and a life skills group that focuses on drug recovery. I also help individual clients work on personal goals.
This entry was posted in Communication Tips, Family Counseling, Parenting Tips, SLCO, Teen Counseling and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How to deal with Oppositional Behavior in Children and Teens

  1. Pingback: Dealing with ODD – we can help! | Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy

  2. Jonathan says:

    Help! I do a social skills group at school with teens who are labeled emotionally disabled. I have tried to do various team building activities and present group topics, however I am constantly met with opposition and refusal to participate. I was hoping that you would know of some really good curriculum that are out there for groups with teens that focuses on interpersonal functioning.

    • Tammy Champo says:

      Jonathan – I will follow up and see what kind of curriculum our case managers and therapists suggest. Thanks for reading. Good luck!

    • Tammy Champo says:

      Jonathon – here is the response from our clinical director. So far no recommendations of online curriculum. Let me know if I can offer more assistance. Thanks!

      “My thought is that it may not be the content, but the process of the groups that needs an adjustment. Sometimes bringing a group of oppositional youth together is a recipe for more group opposition. Breaking up the group into smaller components may be helpful, or determine the negative leaders and pull them out for individual work may take away the audience. I also would look at the motivation of the group participants to come to group. Do they want to complete the group successfully? What if they don’t? We all respond to incentives.” Steve Titensor, Youth Services Clinical Director

  3. agnesrobl says:

    I agree with Steve, it sounds like more of a group dynamic issue than a curriculum one. You can have a really great curriculum and with that dynamic it will still be a total failure. One thing we do here is use peer mentors, kids that have leadership qualities that can model good participation and group buy in. It is important to never take it personally and explore the resistance as part of the process. I would look into some Motivational Interviewing techniques, they work pretty good with teenagers. If you want to be more specific about the group and what usually happens I may be able to help more….

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