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Parenting a Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Parenting a child with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is hard. Cut your own daily struggles and fights with these principles, practices, and tips.

Parenting a child with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is taxing and will challenge even the most patient and stoic of parents. A child or teenager with oppositional defiant disorder is angry, defiant, and vindictive. They want control, and they want to avoid being controlled.  Parenting a child with ODD is a Sisyphean challenge; in fact, the more parents try to change and help their child, the worse the defiance becomes. Don’t give up hope yet, though. Despite how it may seem, you do have some control.

You can regain your power because you are in charge of your own behavior. You have choices. You can’t control your child, but he also can’t control you. Your actions and responses are completely your choice. Guiding principles and practices help you make positive choices.

Principles for Parenting a Child with ODD

In all or most of your actions involving parenting a child with oppositional defiant disorder, you are likely facing daily fights, arguments, and clashes that exhaust and upset you. This may be because you are parenting ODD rather than a child. It’s hard to see beyond the disorder when the child willfully is the epitome of it—oppositional and defiant. When you give up the struggle against the disorder because your child cannot, will not change, you regain your own control and freedom.

You can parent, and your child will take what they want from it. These parenting principles and perspectives can help.  

  • Set reasonable limits and consequences, like a loss of a privilege or item, that you can easily enforce.
  • You get to choose the limits. Your child—and only your child—can choose if they learn lessons and what they take away from them.
  • Choose your battles wisely. Your ODD child will always start a battle, so decide what you’re willing to fight for and what you’re able to let go.
  • Avoid the blame game. It’s not helpful to blame your child or yourself for this disorder.
  • Use fresh starts. After a conflict is over, put it to rest and move on to the new present moment. Holding onto past conflicts is toxic for everyone.
  • Know your parenting goal: to prepare kids for adulthood. Let this be your priority, and you’ll think differently the next time your kid starts a battle (which will probably be soon).

These principles for parenting a child with ODD are effective, but how do you put them into practice?

Effective Parenting Practices for ODD

Because you can’t control your defiant child, threats, bribes, shaming, and guilt-tripping don’t work to get them to do what you want them to do. Other things do work.

You can and should set firm, clear expectations. Make sure your child knows what they are. Your child may hate them and resist, but that doesn’t matter. They know what the expectations are.

Give your kid the opportunity to meet your expectations. For example, if you value family dinners and have them ready at 6:00 each night, remind your child when it’s 5:45 that they have 15 more minutes before dinner. You have fulfilled your role. What your child chooses to do or not do is out of your control. Engaging in a power struggle to get them to the table will have no positive results, so it’s your right (even duty) as a parent to give the 5:45 reminder and then move on.

Set consequences, and communicate them to your child. Use them for your most important expectations. If having them at the table for dinner is of utmost importance, you might establish the consequence that when they are not at the table, the Internet is turned off for the night. (Make sure, though, that your consequences don’t inconvenience the rest of the family). Your child might ignore your expectations, and that’s fine. Rather than becoming upset, follow through with the consequence.

Tips and Guidelines for Parenting a Child with ODD

The principles and practices above might sound easier said than done. Use some or all these tips for dealing with your ODD child:

  • Abandon trying to control your child because it will never work.
  • Be unattached to the defiance and power struggles. You can because you’re not trying to win.
  • Stay calm with a neutral tone of voice to avoid escalating your child’s rage.
  • Model how to handle anger, calmly and without resorting to violence.
  • Walk away from your child when you need to. Breathe. Walk around the block.

These principles, practices, and guidelines aren’t easy, and they won’t end defiance.  But they change your behavior and make it more difficult for your child to fight with you. It’s hard to argue with someone when that person won’t argue. You can’t change a child with ODD, but you can increase your control over yourself and the situation.

See Also:

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, July 18). Parenting a Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/odd/parenting-a-child-with-oppositional-defiant-disorder-odd

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD