Working Through “Oppositional Defiant” Behaviors in Students

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Even the best-behaved students occasionally can be difficult. But kids and teens who display a continual pattern of tantrums, arguing, and angry or disruptive behavior toward teachers, parents, or other authority figures may have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

Students with ODD can be so uncooperative and combative that their behavior affects their ability to learn and get along with classmates and teachers. It can lead to poor school performance, anti-social behaviors, and poor impulse control.

ODD is more common in boys than girls. Signs of ODD generally develop during preschool years and are almost always present before early teens.

It may be called a disorder but here is nothing that can’t be fixed with the right choices, consistency, and proven methods to turn the lives of these children to help them with this issue.

Most children will, at times, argue and test limits. Yet some kids are defiant and hostile to a degree that interferes with their daily lives—behavior that’s sometimes diagnosed as Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Students with ODD disrupt their own lives and often the lives of everyone nearby they push the limits of defiance far beyond reason. Their problem behavior is much more extreme than that of their peers, and it happens much more often. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, kids with ODD exhibit an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the child’s day-to-day functioning, for six months or more. Six or eight, even a month is enough for a person to develop the habit and it can get much worse with time if left unattended.

Symptoms like frequent temper tantrums, excessive arguing with adults, and mean and hateful speech when upset, are usually seen across multiple settings, but especially at home or school. While a direct cause remains unclear, biological, psychological, and social factors may have a role. Up to 16 percent of children may have the disorder, and children with ADHD are especially prone. Though a teacher’s first reaction to ODD might be to react defensively, this can backfire and create a power struggle with the student, say experts. Instead, teachers who’ve worked with students with ODD recommend a set of strategies that will address challenging behavior, and help you start building relationships with hard-to-reach students.

We all have the capacity to learn, change, and grow, writes special education teacher Nina Parrish. When given the right tools and environment, students with problematic behavior can learn more productive strategies that will help them have positive and effective interactions with others.

Alright, picking up from where we left off, According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition), ODD is characterized by “a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness lasting at least six months”. It also includes arguing with authority figures, such as teachers, and refusing to comply with school rules.

ODD is reported to affect between two and 16 per cent of children and adolescents in the general population and is more common in boys. Studies show that at least 40 per cent of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have co-existing ODD, according to the UK’s Learning Assessment and Neurocare Centre. In fact, in their own studies the figure was as high as 50 per cent for co-existence with ADHD.

Children can develop ODD at any time, and if left untreated, the condition can lead to more serious issues such as drug misuse, crime, and serious mental illness. This is not a simple case of a child learning how to be independent – rather, ODD is a serious disorder that requires medical intervention.

The cause of ODD is thought to be environmental, genetic and/or biological/medical in nature. Often, children are from dysfunctional families, have little support, or sometimes have demanding parents who micromanage their children’s learning. Additionally, there is often a history of mental illness in other family members. Genetically, there may be defects in certain areas of the brain. No definitive cause has been determined, however.

There is no known cure for ODD, although there are several treatments for the disorder once it has been diagnosed, including medication, behavior modification, psychotherapy, parent management training, family therapy, and skills training.

Seasoned teachers who have experience of teaching multiple levels have often developed strategies that works best for them, they might not even follow a set guide to navigate these surprise issues in their classrooms. The new teachers find it hard to deal with these issues and can be over whelming if it is your first year on the job as a teacher. However, like I said, anything can be fixed, you just need the right skill and tools to fix this issue as well.

The goal of every teacher is to keep students engaged in their own learning. The reality, however, is that defiance is inevitable to some degree.

As teachers invest time into building rapport, teaching their content, and assigning tasks, some students won’t comply as easily as others. All teachers will face defiant students who test the limits of their patience.

Most teachers try to manage a classroom sprinkled with students of various ability levels and backgrounds. Within that mix are students with ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which is often undiagnosed.

The struggle is real. So, how can teachers do their job while handling students who defy the rules and exhibit hostile behavior in the classroom?

Effective communication is the key.

Let us discuss 7 techniques that you as a new teacher can use to deal with Defiant students.

Preparation is everything

There is no stronger classroom management technique than preparation. Without it, you are surrendering to the will of the students.

Students crave structure. And this is especially important for students with attention or behavioral issues. Establishing routines for how students enter the room, ask questions, turn in their work, and communicate in the classroom is the first step to effective teaching. Without these norms in place, even your most creative lesson will fail.

Taking extra time to prepare lessons and making sure you fill the entire class period with instruction, activities, and group work may seem like a lot of work. But that extra effort upfront will make teaching and maintaining discipline much easier.

Remain Calm

This sounds easy enough. But when you’re faced with a defiant child, it’s easy to lose your cool. Knowing these behaviors will occur and planning your response in advance will help you maintain your composure.

It’s important for your students to see their teacher as the adult in the room. Even when you feel frustrated and angry, try to avoid an emotional response.

Don’t rush towards a student or invade their personal space. Keep your voice low and your hands by your side.

Maintaining your composure during a defiant episode is the best way to diffuse a tense situation and get learning back on track.

Your Words Matter

When a student is angry and noncompliant, teachers often point out their behavior with a “You” statement and a firm command. For example, “You, never listen! Sit down and be quiet!”

This puts the student on display. And more than likely, they will counter with more defiant behavior. Try rephrasing your thoughts with calm “I” statements instead.

For example, “I want all of my students to hear what I’m saying so they understand what to do next.” This is less judgmental.

Since you are speaking to everyone, the defiant student is less likely to offer a negative response. Remember to keep your directions specific and deliver them in both words and writing whenever possible.

Praise Positive Behavior

Children who act out in defiance are seeking negative attention. And they may have been exhibiting these behaviors for years.

These students may not receive any positive affirmation at school or at home. In fact, some kids are so used to being criticized that they feel insecure about any form of praise.

When you see them on task, helping someone, or sitting quietly, praise them for it. Some kids may react in a defensive way if you praise them in front of others.

Try whispering a word of praise, handing them a note, or talking to them privately instead.

Let Them Know You Care

Most defiant students are acting out for a reason. Rather than taking their behavior personally, try to get to know them one-on-one.

Defiance is often a call for help. They may have a difficult situation at home or have experienced trauma in the past.

Sure, some students act out to upset the teacher, but you don’t want to ignore a true call for help.

Let the student know you see them and give them some of your time.

Find out what they like to do. Let them know you like them and see their potential. Remind them there are many people at school who love them and want the best for them. Making a personal connection with a student helps develop mutual respect and can transform negative behaviors.

Give Them an Incentive

When a student is resisting your requests, give them a real reason to comply. Many defiant students dig in their heels and refuse to comply when faced with a demand.

Try giving them an incentive to make the right choice. For example: “Johnny, go ahead and read your assignment. I want to make sure you get to move on to the group activity.”

This helps the student feel like they’re making the decision that benefits them instead of just following a teacher’s demand. Making eye contact and using the student’s name in a direct, kind way removes the adversarial nature of a sharp demand.

Ask for Help

Sometimes classroom situations get out of hand, no matter how good a teacher’s intentions. It’s not a sign of failure to ask for help.

Teachers who reach out and seek help, demonstrate the desire to help their students, and improve their classroom management strategies. Depending on your school, a counselor, behavior specialist, or special education teacher may be able to help.

They have specialized training for working with defiant children. They may be able to offer another perspective or even work one-on-one with the student while you tend to your class.

Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful,and enjoy hearing about my personal journey.



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Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful and enjoy hearing about my personal journey. Thanks for visiting!

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