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Helpful Tips to Reverse Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a persistent pattern of anger, irritability, arguing, and defiance toward authority figures (usually parents but it can also include other adults in the child/teen's life). Treatment for ODD involves meeting with a psychologist trained to treat the disorder and it involves teaching parents to better manage the very challenging behaviors. I'd like to pass along a few helpful tips:

ODD behavior thrives on negativity. Emotions are at the center of the child/teen's behavior, and they control him over logical thinking. This usually means that the child/teen will lose perspective and even spit him/herself to win any control battle with the parent. ODD children will sabotage a situation to spoil the parent's hopes that things will turn out positively.

Successful treatment of ODD involves the teen to experience failure, whether that be making bad choices, or even failing school. Many parents are not comfortable with this, and try to rescue their child so this does not happen. However, natural consequences will fall into place (e.g., failing school means more pressure from the school administration rather than the parents). Parents then feel that they need to give more consequences, which the teen resents and rebels against even more. Parents should accept short-term failure to diffuse the spoiling tactics of the ODD teenager in the long-run. It is important to keep in perspective that most ODD teens turn out just fine in adulthood.

It is impossible to resolve clinical levels of ODD without detaching emotionally and remaining detached while the the teen is in pain. (This is particularly difficult for mothers.) In essence, during this period, you can’t show him that you love him and this is hard (but temporary!)


Remain neutral, set firm expectations of what is expected (and this should be just the minimum for now) and outline in advance what consequences will be imposed if the teen does not follow them. Then, disengage and do not show your emotions, take personal timeouts when needed. You stay true to these rules, even if your teen does not follow the rules. Testing your limits and patience is to be expected. Do not use aggression (verbal or physical) to address your teen’s behavior or get him to comply. If you do, you just added to the ODD fire and the negative cycle continues. It sounds too basic to have an impact, but parents must change the dynamic of interactions so that it shifts from telling him what to do, what he hasn’t done, what he should do, to more neutral times when you are trying to connect with your child. (This is very tough to do and it will try your patience immensely. A great opportunity to try this is when you are in the car). Neutral interactions should not be topics related to school, family problems or conflicts, or getting him to express his emotions. They should be trying to relate by asking him about his preferred interests (e.g., show interest in learning about video games, movies, music, etc. your teen likes) or small talk conversations about upcoming events (in general, not related to him). These interactions are so important to creating an invisible shift in the ODD teen. Parents should strive for 8 positive or neutral comments/interactions for every 1 directive comment getting him to do something. This will not be easy. The ODD teen is fully driven by his emotional brain, not his rational brain. The emotional brain is stubborn overrides the teen’s rational brain. This is why it is important to recognize the two dichotomies in the teen, and try your best to speak to your child from the emotional brain. This does not mean try to get him to speak about how he is feeling, this means to empathize that he’d love a world where he could do as he pleases, wants no boundaries, and/or thinks adults don’t know anything.

These solutions are by no means easy to implement. If you have an ODD child/teen and want things to reverse course and improve, contact our office for an appointment with one of our psychologists-we will start to guide you on your way to improved family functioning so you can start to enjoy your child again.

At Katy Psychological Services, PLLC we specialize in treatment of ODD. It involves both the individual teen but also includes parents in the process.

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