How to Discipline a Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Knowing how to discipline a child with oppositional defiant disorder is crucial. Learn positive approaches and consequences to discipline a child with ODD, on HealthyPlace.

Many parents seek information about how to discipline a child with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Children who have ODD have extreme behavior problems. They are manipulative and defiant toward authority figures, including their parents. Because they have difficulty managing their emotions, they frequently have severe tantrums. Confrontational, disobedient, and disrespectful, kids with ODD require a special approach to discipline. It’s the nature of the disorder rather than an inherently bad child that causes these intense problems; nonetheless, it’s the child who must be disciplined. Let’s explore how to discipline a child with oppositional defiant disorder.

How to Discipline a Child with ODD—It Starts with Parents

Teaching children with oppositional defiant disorder to behave better and function at home, in school, and elsewhere involves the kids, and includes parents, too. Parent management training teaches specific parenting skills for managing the behavior of children with ODD. In such trainings, parents learn how to effectively respond to their child’s positive and negative behaviors.

Parent management training equips parents with knowledge of how to discipline a defiant child. Reinforcing cooperative and other positive behaviors as well as correctly giving consequences for disobedience are key strategies. In addition, parent trainings often include therapy. The sessions involve parents and child so they can solve specific problems with the help of the therapist.

Disciplining a Child with ODD Can Involve Consequences if Done with Caution

Kids with ODD don’t respond well to discipline methods like warnings, counting to three, or punishments. If they’re used correctly, giving kids with ODD consequences can be effective in helping reduce negative behavior.

A consequence is a logical response to a negative behavior. Kids with ODD respond best when they already know the rules and expectations and what the consequences will be for breaking them. Having rules and consequences posted where kids can access them helps kids with ODD internalize what they are. Further, rules and consequences must be simple and predictable, and never arbitrary or created on the spot.

Knowing what to avoid when disciplining with consequences will help you avoid the power struggles that so often ensue when disciplining a child with ODD. Consider these tips:

  • Don’t use empty threats.
  • Never make a rule that you don’t intend to follow up on.
  • If you mention a consequence, follow through with it so your kids will take you seriously in the future.
  • Don’t lecture
  • Explain the consequence succinctly and clearly, then don’t allow more discussion
  • Avoid yelling
  • Don’t negotiate before assigning a consequence
  • Avoid making everything into a restriction or confrontation. Let your child be a kid—and be themselves.

These tips work when using consequences with kids with ODD. No matter how well done, though, consequences for an ODD child are ineffective by themselves. Discipline needs a holistic approach that uses positive elements.

To Discipline a Child with ODD, Use Positive Behavior Management

Positive behavior management, or positive behavior support, is a successful approach to disciplining a child with oppositional defiant disorder. Parents learn strategies for this method in parent training, discovering how to respond to behaviors and speaking to their child during discipline.

The idea here is that kids and teens with ODD are more likely to comply with expectations when they can earn something, like a privilege, than when they’re being threatened with the loss of something important to them. This gives kids some power and control and teaches them to make positive choices in the face of anger and frustration.

Key elements of positive behavior support for children with ODD include:

  • Establishing clear, simple, and limited expectations/rules and communicating them to your child
  • Following through with rules consistently
  • Creating privileges for following the rules and communicating them to your child
  • Letting your kids have input into what their privileges will be
  • Catching your child behaving well
  • Being clear and specific when praising and giving privileges
  • Acknowledging and celebrating when your child uses strategies to cool down, avoid a tantrum, positively transitions from one activity to the next

In all interactions with your child, have empathy and understanding. Oppositional defiant disorder makes it easy to become irritated or even angry, but remaining focused on your child, your goals for their behavior, and the relationship you want to build (you probably don’t want your child to fear you) will help keep you and your child more positive.

When planning how to discipline your child with oppositional defiant disorder, use the information here as a guide. Above all, though, you are the expert in your own child. While ODD has common features, each child living with it is a unique individual. Know your child’s temperament. Determine their patterns and triggers, and learn what specific discipline approaches work for them. Use guidelines you read and learn about, and tailor them to your own child.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2022, January 11). How to Discipline a Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: January 16, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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