Discipline for Kids With Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Upset son sitting next to his dad

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Parenting a child with oppositional defiant disorder can be a challenge. Kids with oppositional defiant disorder argue, refuse to follow directions, and find joy in irritating others.

If you're the parent of a child with the disorder, you'll need a slightly different approach to discipline. Kids with oppositional defiant disorder can be smart, creative, and caring. With the help of supportive parenting interventions, their behavior can improve over time.

Provide Positive Attention

If your child has oppositional defiant disorder, you might notice that their behavior tends to grate on people's nerves. Consequently, many of your child's interactions with adults might be negative. Kids with the disorder often receive more instructions, reprimands, and consequences than kids who don't have it.

Daily doses of positive attention can be key to preventing unwanted behavior.

Regardless of how your child has behaved on any given day, give them your undivided attention for at least 15 minutes. You can play games, get outside, or do a project together.

Giving your child positive attention will reduce their attempts to capture your attention through unwanted behaviors. Consider the quality time as an investment in improving your child's behavior in the long run.

Establish Clear Rules

Kids with oppositional defiant disorder love to argue about rules. They look for loopholes and express concern when things don't seem fair. You can reduce some arguments by establishing clear household rules. Post the rules on the refrigerator or another prominent location in your home.

Refer to the list as needed. When your child says, “I don’t want to do my homework right now,” you can point out, “The rules say homework time begins at 4:00.” Keep the rules simple and don’t make the list too long. Include basic rules about issues such as homework, chores, bedtime, and respect.

Create a Behavior Plan

Create a behavior plan to address your child’s specific behavioral issues. These may include aggression, talking back, refusing to do homework, or throwing temper tantrums. 

Identify the consequence your child will receive when they break the rules and explain the consequences ahead of time.

You also want to discuss the positive consequences to be gained when they exhibit appropriate behavior. Reward systems, especially token economy systems, can be effective tools for kids with oppositional defiant disorder.

Be Consistent With Consequences

Kids with oppositional defiant disorder need consistent negative consequences for unwanted behaviors. If you allow your child to get away with breaking the rules sometimes, their behavior won't improve.

If a child thinks there’s a one in a hundred chance that you’ll break down and give in when they argue, they'll probably decide it’s worth a shot. Over time, they will likely become more argumentative.

Avoid Power Struggles

Kids with oppositional defiant disorder are good at luring adults into lengthy debates. It's important to take steps to avoid power struggles, which aren’t helpful or productive.

If you tell your child to clean their room and they argue with you, resist arguing back. The longer they keep you in an argument, the longer they can delay cleaning their room. Instead, give your child clear instructions and provide a consequence if they choose not to follow through.

Don’t try to force your child to do something. You can’t make a child clean their room or force them to do homework. Arguing, nagging, and yelling isn’t effective.

You can, however, make it unpleasant for your child if they choose not to do what you’ve asked giving them consequences. If they do not do what you’ve told them to, give one warning that clearly outlines what will happen if they don't do what you've asked.

Keep in mind that understanding the reasons behind your child's behavior is much more important than making things unpleasant for them.

Once you can understand what is getting in the way of them doing a task or following through on a directive, you will be better able to connect with your child and help them improve their behavior.

Say, "Once you are off the computer and complete your homework assignment, then you can have electronics access again." Using positive language and emphasizing connection can truly change the parent-child dynamic.

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 can also be helpful. Raising a child with oppositional defiant disorder can be exhausting and talking to other parents who understand is important.

Educate yourself about oppositional defiant disorder. Understanding the disorder is key to helping a child learn new skills to manage and improve their behavior.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. ODD: A guide for families by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,

  2. Mount Sinai Health Library. Oppositional defiant disorder.

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Oppositional defiant disorder

  • Webster-Stratton C. The Incredible Years: Parents, Teachers, and Children's Training Series: Program Content, Methods, Research and Dissemination 1980-2011. Incredible Years.​

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.