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Why the Word "No" Sets off an Oppositional, Defiant Child

by James Lehman, MSW
Why the Word No Sets off an Oppositional, Defiant Child

Many parents of children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder feel hopeless and alone. They live in homes that become like little prisons as they deal with kids who are absolutely out of control and unmanageable. They don’t like their child any more, even though they still love him or her. And they’re confused about why nothing works. They tell me they feel isolated and lonely because they can’t socialize with other families due to their child’s behavior. Certainly things like sleepovers, days at the beach, parties—all those activities become affected by this kind of child. It’s not surprising that these families have a harder time in general, and often wind up emotionally, spiritually, and functionally bankrupt. The other siblings grow up in an atmosphere of intimidation and frustration. Attempts to just get the oppositionality to stop, however well-intentioned, are often met with frustration and failure. As a parent of a child with ODD, your strategy has to be to learn how to manage the oppositionality in a way that slowly leads to its extinction. In the thirty years I worked with kids with ODD, I found that the following strategies helped improve their behavior and taught them how to cope when someone told them “no.”

As a parent of an oppositional, defiant child, every day brings a new fight as you try to exercise your authority.

Why “No” Triggers an Explosion
Nobody likes the word no, especially children and adolescents. “No” means disappointment, “no” means not getting what you want, and that’s frustrating and disappointing for everyone. Most children learn to deal with this somewhere around the age of two and three, when their personality actually forms. Over time, they develop the ability to balance their inner wants and needs with outside expectations and responsibility. But for kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, the message they internalize is, “If I’m not in control, bad things happen. When bad things are happening around me, the only way I can survive is by being in control.” They react to the word “no” with yelling, threats, punching the wall or hurting one of their siblings. And the more chaos and inconsistency they perceive in their lives, the more they feel the need to stay in control.

For many of these kids, oppositionality and defiance become a way of reacting to authority. Every day brings a new fight as you try to exercise your authority. Whereas many children learn to accept that they can’t be in control all the time, children with ODD often experience a sense of panic when they see they’re not getting control. Their parents learn to walk around on tiptoes, and too many of them blame themselves or try to find some person, place or thing to point the finger at instead of focusing on the task at hand, which is, “How can I teach my child how to manage things today?”

Three Ways to De-escalate Oppositional, Defiant Behavior
“No” is a powerful word. All children have to learn how to deal with it, and children with ODD are no different. But there are things parents can do to avoid or escape from explosive behavior, or to redirect their child’s behavior.

I want you to remember those words: “Avoid", "Escape" and “Redirect.” Because we want to try to avoid conflicts with ODD kids, or escape those conflicts as soon as we can, and redirect them toward something positive.

  • Avoid the Conflict

One of the ways we avoid conflict is by having a written structure posted some place where everyone can see it, like on your refrigerator, for example. This is really a schedule that would look like the following:

Daily Schedule
Snack and relax: 3:30-4:00 p.m.
Chores and homework: 4:00-to 5:00 p.m..
Free time: 5:00-6:00 p.m.
Dinner: 6:00 p.m.
Free time after dinner: 7:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Homework: 7:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Bedtime: 8:30 p.m.

I think these kids do better if they come home from school or daycamp, have a little snack, do some chores or homework, have brief play time, and then have dinner. After that they can do a few more chores, have some free time, then go to bed. Evenings need to be as subdued as possible. When you have such a schedule and your child says, “I want to play now,” you can say, “You know the schedule, Tommy. Playtime isn’t till after dinner.” Now in this case, although you’re saying no, you’re really re-focusing that child on the schedule. Understanding the schedule and internalizing the structure are important coping skills that kids with ODD need to develop. So you’re accomplishing two things here: You’re avoiding a direct fight with “no,” and you’re focusing on structure and scheduling, which are coping skills these kids need to learn.

And as a parent, remember that the idea is to not to think about yourself as giving in, but rather, you’re avoiding situations where there's a higher risk of your child acting out. So if you find yourself having to avoid too many situations when you’re at the mall because of the fear of outbursts, my recommendation is that you avoid going to the mall with that child until he’s at the skill level where he can handle it.

  • Escape from Fights

The other strategy we want to look at is “Escape.” Once the fight with your child is starting or has begun escalating, you need to find a way to get out of it. First of all, you can state your position, turn around and walk away and not respond to the child’s backtalk. So, for example, you can say, “It’s not time for you to play video games now. It’s time for you to clean your room,” and then turn around and remove yourself from the argument. There are cases where you will find that a kid with ODD is backtalking to parents as they're on their way to do the chore you asked them to do in the first place. Sometimes it seems that their mouth and body are moving in two different directions! Don’t let yourself be pulled into the backtalk, either. Just simply go about your business and do something else.

  • Redirect your child’s behavior

The third important step in the plan to de-escalate the oppositional behavior is to “Redirect” the child. Redirecting is a strategy you can use when the child’s behavior starts to escalate. You can say, “Remember, you want to watch that show at 6:30, so stay focused,” and then turn around and walk away. This redirects their attention to something else and teaches them to focus on something other than the argument. Redirecting is also helpful in situations where there have been conflicts in the past, and where you know an explosion is likely. You can distract your child by getting him to do something differently early in the escalation period. So when you see that he is starting to get agitated, that’s the time to send him to do some alternate task that can be helpful for the family. For instance, “Please go get the lettuce out of the refrigerator and wash it for the salad. That would be a big help.”

Stop Throwing Fuel on the Fire
I think it’s important for parents to understand that once a kid with ODD starts arguing about being told “no,” he gets very invested in the process of arguing as much as the outcome. So in effect, the argument fuels itself. The first thing parents have to do is stop throwing fuel on the fire: Don’t argue or talk back to the child. State the rule, state the expectation or the task at hand, and walk away. When times are calm, sit down with your child and have a discussion and say, briefly and concisely, “I don't think arguing helps us solve our problems. So I’m not going to argue with you anymore. And the time you spend talking back and arguing with me when I’m not responding will be taken off your computer time tonight. 2 minutes for every 1 minute you argue.” Don’t overly explain or justify by giving examples. Tell him the rule, but don’t sit there and get into an argument about it. Get up and move on to something else. Expect him to argue right then and there. But understand that the best way you can deal with children with this particular disorder is to lay out a structure and stick with it.

I think it’s important for parents to remember that many of these kids do develop coping skills, it’s just that, as the poet Theodore Roethke said, “a slow growth is a hard thing to endure.” Time helps with these guys. Age helps. And they can learn problem-solving and negotiation skills, it just takes a little longer, and will take more patience on your part. Stick to a plan that on one end is flexible enough to deal with their impulses, but on the other is firm enough to hold them strictly accountable, and I believe you will see real change.

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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


It is impossible to set a schedule as shown above. In everyone's hectic lives today, I don't think ANYONE can stick to that type of schedule. I think a different REALISTIC way needs to be shown.

Comment By : realworldmom

I think the idea of a regular schedule is great, especially if you have only one child and you start when they are young enough. I could possibly eventually use this effectively to help my bp 10-yr-old, BUT HOW can I do this with my ODD 17-yr-old around whom we've been tiptoeing far too long? And if we do not include something similar for the 17 yr old, the 10 yr old would scream discrimination (ie: have a fit!!). I would love some advice or just some ideas.

Comment By : Adele

That schedule is fine for a young child, but what do you do with a teenager? She is fine as long as she gets her way, but as soon as I say "NO" all heck breaks loose. Along with her walking out the door to God knows where.

Comment By : Skoobydooette

I am a single mother of four and I agree with the schedule , but it's hard to stick to a schedule when you have other things going on. I have kids in after school activities , sports, not to mention one child seeing a counselor once a week. Also school conferences, dr appts and so on. Any suggestions what to do when you can't keep the same schedule on a daily basis it seems I always have a lot to do at different times.

Comment By : momof four

I am also a mother of four and I went through the same thing. It came down to choosing either after school activities or sports and not both. I had to look at the whole picture and figure out where I could cut down on some things and leave the others. I have two disabled children, so I had therapy, and counseling, Dr. appts. every month and medication refills. So, my kids did not have a whole lot of after school activities and sports, because unfortunately for me to keep my own sanity, it just could not happen. Over stimulating kids with activities can also be a bad thing. I decided that we would do activities as a family instead. Like going on bike rides, mountain biking, going for picnics, going to the lake, jet skiing, and board game nights. It is funny because at first I thought the kids are going to hate this idea, but actually they liked it more than after school soprts and activities. Now they are older and I asked them what do you think about the choices I made, and they love the fact that I picked family days and nights over after school sports and activities. I hope this gives you some information and helps in some way. God bless.

Comment By : Momoffour

Oppositional Defiant Disorder - Is that the same thing that used to be called "strong willed kids?" The ODD name jsut makes being a disobedient child sound so clinical, like it is some sort of disease or "condition" when in fact it is a chosen attitude/behavior. Let's stop treating our kids as if they are "sick" and instead simply hold them accountable for their behavior with (1) clear guidelines/rules, (2) consistent enforcement (which is hard work for parents,(3) clear parental roles (who's in charge here, anyway?) and (4) certain, pre-determined, consistently applied consequences. That is the job of a parent.

Comment By : Grandad

That being said, Jim's three point strategy is sound. We need to understand that we don't always have to say the actual word "no." There are other helpful ways of dealing with issues that lessen the chance of igniting an explosion. - Give the child a choice: "Do you want to put on the blue socks or the green socks?" Or for older teens: "You can have your friend over here, or we can play video games together..." - Distract with other activities: "Can you help me make your lunch? Let's make a crazy peanut butter and baloney sandwich?" - Praise positive behavior: "I like it when you take care of your own stuff like adults do..." (Rather than just focusing on the negative) - Put the child in control of the consequences: "That button on the computer is not for you to touch. You can come over here and play this game or you can sit in the time out chair."

Comment By : Granddad

My 16 year old ODD daughter also suffers from adoption issues of abandonment. We have followed your program with a scheduled day and I have successfully changed my behavior and no longer get sucked into an arguement, which used to happen daily with raised voices. I thought things were improving because the yelling had stopped. However, she recognized that she had lost control the situation. She gained it back by running away. She thives on the chaos she creates by this behavior. We still have "no" in our vocabulary because she has a boyfriend that is as conrtolling as she is and he is emotionally abusive. She claims he has only hit her once. There is no way we will ever support this relationship, so we still say "no". Nothing we did would stop the running away which usually happened in the middle of the night while we were sleeping. My daughter is currently in a short term residential treatment center. We don't know what we will do when she comes home. We do feel helpless to change her behavior.

Comment By : Unsure and Confused

To the parents of teens, I have a 14 year old who likes to take off and then call me to say he's spending the night some where. He did this last night and instead of arguing, I simply said, " you are not staying there, you will be home in 15 minutes and I am not discussing it with you" and then I hung up the phone. He didn't come home til late, but at least came home. I find the scedule is helping and I let him help me make it so he feels he has some say. Before we do it, I tell him if there is an argument, I make the schedule, if he stays calm, we make it together and one night a week we go out and do somthing fun. If you can't make a schedule, my question is what are not willing to give up? Me, I gave up my book club and now that night is our fun night. I'd give up going out everynight or whatever to keep the order we have going right now.

Comment By : hopefulmom

After a certian age, you have to realize that your influence is over. That this person, this child of yours, is going to do what they want. If allowing them to continue their behavior is negatively impacting your life, you need to let them go. Out into the world-on their own. I have a 17 year old who has been defiant and a source of heartache and problems since he was 12. I have no expectations that I will ever change him. He will have to change himself. That means he will be making his own choice (good or bad) and will have to live with them. I will also have to live with them but will not live with him.

Comment By : Doh!

We have an almost 16 year old daughter who has been defiant since she was 2! We have been in counseling on and off since she was 8. She is also bipolar and has ADHD. The disrespect is almost constant now. I have been trying for years simply to establish a family dinner time! As far as parenting being blamed, we have made lots of mistakes, but there is also a biochemical cause for ODD. We have considered the residential treatment option but don't currently know where to turn. Dear Unsure and Confused: Our daughter is also adopted. Are you pleased with the treatment center you chose? Can you tell me anything about it? I would sure appreciate it.

Comment By : Pamglat

To all the parents out there with young children, I would like to tell you how lucky you are to have this insight into ODD and recommendations that are practical tools for getting through the day. Use them. I wish this information was available to me 20 years ago and perhaps things would be different today. My ODD child is 26, still challenging, defiant and self-centered. Try to forget about the labeling and concentrate on the behavior. Hold them accountable, provide structure, and let them feel the consequences of their actions. They are much stronger than what we think!

Comment By : Kat

Some more good ideas in that article. I'm am naturally a structured parent. I didn't realise that until I joined my stepfamily and had to learn a different parenting style because of our 12 yr old. His twin sister, is completely the opposite. I have adult children and grandchildren and I wish I'd known then what I've learnt now with learning to manage this boy's behaviors. The mouth never stops, it's true, but in this house he gets counted for back talk and always has done. We've been using 1-2-3 Magic for years with success. We still forget at times and buy into the tit for tat. Then my memory gets jolted and we go straight back into the routine. A scheduled routine works wonderful and it fits in with my pattern of parenting and it has worked for this boy. Rules is what he relates to. When he's really refusing to take responsiblity, we just need to ask him, "What is the rule" and immediately he comes to attention and he will tell us the rule and then we all know where we stand and it's the end of the argument. I'm not looking forward to him reaching 15, as that is when they revert to that 4 yr old stage of independence. It's been a fairly peaceful summer, school, and other adults will take us offline again for a time.

Comment By : khar59

Life could be the way it should with my one ODD child, but she has 3 siblings that need to participate in acitivities for their excessive energy levels and should get the chance to, whether she can be difficult or not. I struggle with balancing what is best for her with what is best for my entire family. I also find, with my ODD child, consequences don't usually matter to her. She has missed parties, we have thrown away her favorite toys, etc. She isn't happy, but it doesn't change her choices or behavior. I would love to hear more real life solutions. I've read almost every book out there and tried what the dr. says, but real life doesn't fit into a book and you usually can't appreciate a situation until you are personally in it.

Comment By : mombomb

This is wonderful information. I can't wait to start using this with my seven year old and four year old. I definitely have to use more patience with them. Thank you so much for giving us this information in a newsletter.

Comment By : cdsmith0503

* To the Single Mom of 4: The schedule is not meant to box you in. Picture yourself outside of the schedule rearranging things as needed but always having the schedule as a general framework to be used as the starting point. Dealing with children with ODD is very tough. And that means parents have to make tough decisions. Ultimately, they have to set their priorities to what’s most important for all the children in their family. If managing your child’s ODD is the most important thing, then you have to work on that schedule to adjust it so it helps to manage his behavior. This is no easy task. You have to look at what each of your kids need as well as what they want. It’s important to understand that if many of the activities center around the child with ODD, such as using school, sports and activities as a way to fill his time, that’s the first part of the schedule that can be adjusted. I think a child learning how to act appropriately ultimately has to come from problem-solving skills and not redirection or exhaustion. Secondly, I do think that a single parent with 4 kids really does need to examine their schedule. If there’s a scheduled activities block, then the other things such as free time or homework or dinner can be rearranged. Of course, with 4 kids, a lot of unpredictable things can happen, with the schedule needing to be adjusted. But see this as an opportunity for the child with ODD to learn another skill, such as how to deal with frustration or how to manage impatience.

Comment By : James Lehman, MSW

I think we're just letting our "spoiled brats" getting away with anything they wish under the new excuse:"ODD" (I wish we had that"excuse"growing up!

Comment By : kmr

I am so glad to get more information for dealing with ODD. These strategies are really helpful,but I have trouble with finding the "peaceful, good behavior time" to go back over my childs behavior,or the situation with them and explain or work out a plan for their behavior"next time". It took me about 6 months to get my 15 year old to even TALK about alternate ways of dealing with with her frustration(which had been verbal /physical abuse of others. Now she is activley trying to control herself so that she can get together with friends,etc. I keep listening to the Total Tranformation CDs and learn something new or something I missed each time.PLEASE keep writing about ODD stratagies.

Comment By : lillian36

KMR I find your comment extremely offensive! You have obviously never dealt with an "ODD" child. ODD is not an excuse. And our children are not spoiled brats. My 10 year old daughter for the most part is a very pleasant child. She is no different than any other 10 year old, until something upsets her. It is not her fault that she hasn't developed the necessary skills for coping with all situations in life. It is something that we have to work on with our children. No one here is saying "My kid has ODD so just give her what she wants and she'll stop" In fact, you can give an ODD child what they want and they will still have out of control, violent tantrums. Do you also think that a "mentally handicap" or "Dyslexic" child just doesn't want to learn?

Comment By : fedexair06

kmr, I know that ODD is a very difficult and frustrating problem among families and can bring everyone to feel resentment or a feeling of hoplessness or why me however, it is real. Calling children "spoiled brats" or any name just makes them feel even worse. I know the frustration and at times you just want to walk away however, they need us to help them help themselves and not call them names as you have stated :spoiled brats". God knows that I just want to live a normal life but if we choose to show our frustrations and negativity towards them instead of positive approach, they will end up living very difficult lives as adults. We want our kids to have the best lives and must do what is necessary eventhough we may have to give up a large part of our own. If we have a child with Downs, do we not give up our lives for them? I believe it is our own behaviors that can make or break the problem. I am not saying that we are the blame but what I am saying is that ODD is very difficult to deal with and we must take the advice to observe our own behaviors on how we as parents handle problems and have structure. Having a set schedule is ideal however, if it is not right for you I believe that there is a way around it. I know that our kids have a more difficult time than others so maybe we could try to have all of our children be a part of the schedule making. For example, they all can have the same times for dinner or homework and different activities at the same time. I really believe that kids of today need to feel important and be apart of decision making. I believe that does help kids feel more in contril. We are not living in the old schhol society anymore and we as parents have to learn what helps them tick so they and we can enjoy our families and expectations of all. Take Care and never give up. These are our precious gifts.

Comment By : wemust believe

Bravo! I have an ODD daughter, our only girl and last in our family of 6 children. She is now 21, by God's grace alone, and this is the by-far-BEST article I've read on ODD, and I'm a diligent reader!!! I especially found the qualificators helpful. For example, Every DAY is a new challange, and it may take a Long Long time to reap results. This type of behavior is the most challenging I've encountered in my fourty years of parenting. It's heart-wrenching to know theres a sweet, tender young lady under that rough, offensive exterior. It's hard to try and convince others of this too. But, then again, life is life. Counseling and medication (for me and my daughter) helped me for a while, but, I'm not convinced it helped her. Right now, since she has officially crossed the threshold of adulthood, is to stand ready to support and pray for wisdom to keep from enabling and to watch for articles such as this to glean any bits of ideas I can still implement to help her help herself. Mrs. S

Comment By : Mrs. S.

I have two children, a 15 year old daughter who is difficult,and willful but reasonable. She has some difficulty with school and attitude which gets her into some trouble like afterschool detention for 15 minutes, apology letters, school/community service (which i think is great! If she uses foul language in school she has to scrub the library tables since she can't scrub her mouth) For the most part she is easy. My son, on the other hand, is three years old and his behavior makes me feel 300. Although he has a very advanced vocabulary I Sometimes I feel he only has a very limited and negative vocabulary **no, stop it, i hate you, you're not my friend, i don't love you, i want it RIGHT NOW! do it RIGHT NOW!,I am sad, I can't be happy, I am mad at you and shut up stupid*** and this is just a short list. The physical violence we endure from him is scary. He hits his sister mercilessly and just laughs (thank God she is 15 and a lot bigger and stronger than he is and doesn't usually get hurt but there have been black eyes, swollen lips, and clumps of hair pulled out) At other times he throws things around the house, at us, at the animals or he hits himself on the head. Our cat and dog are terrified of him. Other times he is the sweetest little man on earth. He is quick to say I love you and when we respond I love you too he just smiles and says I love you four. He is very very intelligent but very very difficult. Our pediatrician has told me that if nothing changes, when he is old enough to be evaluated, he will most likely be classified as ODD. This is heartbreaking. I have seen what happens to these poor fallen angels in school, in social settings, when trying to make friends, and when just trying to live like everyone else. They are like pointy poisonous urchins in a sea of society. People avoid them! I mean, who wants to step on sharp poisonous barbs that dig deep, are hard to remove, leave painful holes in sensitive places as well as poison? I bought the total transformation but it seems to be geared mostly toward older children. I have read many many books on setting limits and strong willed children, discipline with dignity, child rearing, and assertive parenting (so much so that my family says to just throw the books at him and run!) but nothing has worked. Unfortunately I am starting to join the camp of people who believe there is something wrong with my son as well as with the rest of us. Why can't I get a handle on this little angel if i was able to raise a relatively well adjusted daughter. I know his behavior is a direct result of our inability to match our parenting to his temperament but i need new ideas on what to do to help him before it's too late and he turns into "that kid" ... you know, the one with no friends, no social life, no social skills, no future.

Comment By : mamabear

Obviously these are not unknown, untreated, situations. I am hopeful, prayerful and will do anything!! My grandson is 9 and I love him deeply. I want to see him as the happy boy that he wants to be.

Comment By : kip

Mamabear, try to use 1,2,3, Magic for your little one. I used it with my little ODD guy, and as a teacher at school it can be quite effective if you use it religiously. As a teen, he is worse than ever! and know that we all have to continue to search for new ideas and ways to help them. Keep hope and patience on your side always.

Comment By : always searching

Im curious if your child who is 17 and half was never diagnose if i suspect any of these disorders like ODD can can a professional see at his age now

Comment By : Ventura mom

I love the idea of actully posting the schedule where all my kids can see it. I have two very defiant children (13yr and 8yr) and one child who loves to please his parents and teachers (5yr). Both of my defiant children have problems in school, with making and keeping friends, and with the word "no." It breaks my heart to see the torture they put themselves through by not doing what is expected. Their teachers blame me, I blame their teachers because they are the "professionals" and should know how to teach children with behavior problems. Now I understand that it is a problem solving issue. Somehow my two oldest children have never developed the skills necessary to cope with their natural desires to do as they please. I get it. I understand it now. I'm so relieved to know that I'm not a terrible parent, that their teachers haven't been properly trained to deal with kids with ODD, and that my new relationship with my childrens guidance counselor will be more productive since I have a grasp on the cause of their behavior. Now it's time to get to work and stand my ground.

Comment By : Mamama3

Mamabear - I could have written your comment. I have a 15 1/2 yr. old ODD/Bi-Polar son, who was just that 3 yr. old you're describing. His sister is now 21 and in college, but endured his torture, the hitting, hair pulling, being spit upon, tripping, stealing her things, etc. He also tortured the cat, the neighbors, broke things around the house and was kicked out of pre-school. In elementary, I was called to school 4 out of 5 days. He threatened the teachers, refused to do his work and so on. We found out when he was 5 that he had lead and heavy metal poisoning. He had a year of blood chelation therapy and is now lead free, but I believe still suffering the consequences of having had it. His pituitary and hypothalamus are NOT functioning, he's under the care of an Endocrinologist and a Psychiatrist. If it weren't for Total Transformation teaching me how to be "the parent", he'd still be bullying, threatening and tormenting me. He doesn't like me being in control, but things are going much better, now. It felt good (after lesson 3) to tell him, "YES! You CAN go to your friend's house, after you've had a week free of cussing/bad-mouthing me!" Whew! He was shocked and the ball was put in his court! I'm still working on "being the parent", but making progress. A schedule works best for him, IF I can maintain it. I love it when his loving and kind side shines through! He's been so hard to live with, but with continued counseling and effort on my part, things are getting better. I just couldn't believe how similar our stories were. Good Luck!

Comment By : 1penneyb

I find sticking with a schedule about as exhausting as dealing with my child's behavior because we always end up fighting about it anyway. It would be beautiful if a schedule could work. As it is now, we hardly ever get to do anything fun on weekdays because we spend whole evenings fighting over homework. My son is an obsessive reader and would spend all his time between that and TV if left to himself. I practically have to force him to do anything else. He is also ADHD and it is hard to get him to move from one activity to the next. Even activities he's interested in (e.g. scouting, bird watching) are not enough to get him to follow a schedule. Bedtime is the biggest battle of all because he just will not stop his preferred activity long enough for his body to switch off and go to sleep. For those parents commenting that ODD really equals "spoiled kid", I'd suggest you change that to "iron-willed kid" or better yet, change places with me for a week!

Comment By : read2mama

Wow, I feel as if you all are speaking about my home environment. My son is 9 yrs old and has been diagnosed w/ ADHD/ODD. He can be very loving, but then that disrespectful, "I'm not doing nothing", or "Leave me alone" syndrome and all hell breaks loose. Or there are times when he will have temper tantrum like he is 2 yrs old just screaming at the top of his lungs and throwing things. He does not like the word "no" and taking things away from him does not always change his behavior. I am truly at my ends and just can't take it anymore having to constantly fight with a 9 year old child. I am trying to realize that he has a disorder, but mostly I do believe he knows what he is doing.

Comment By : rde

i live in a big house and what can i do so that my 17 year old son doesn't climb out a window at night to be with friends after i go to bed?

Comment By : fedup

I am reading my life above. We told our 17yr old that when he quit being abusive, disrespectful, and be responsible for one week, he could have some priveledges back, he has yet to do it. We told him this three years ago. He still does not stay in the house by himself because he cant be trusted. We now lock all our doors if we go out of the house with the boys in it so they dont rummage through and steel items, even personal items. I often have to call my husband home because he is so abusive. We have called the police, we have had him on medication, nothing works. He lies just to hear himself lie. He is adopted, suffers from ODD, and abandonment issues. He nearly goes through the roof when you tell him no. He has to have C's and above to get a car, he has yet to do it and somehow that is our fault. He has the power to do it, however has to show the teachers he is in control of when and if he decides to hand in assignments and/or study for a test. Everything is about him and his control of any and all situations. I am a person that dont back down or off consequences. Therefore he has no priveleges. He can be a great kid, however wants nothing but Chaos and seems to get it.

Comment By : DOT

My step-son's bio-father was emotionally / physically abusive to him from the age of 2 till 12, when his bio-father died of heart attack,(diabetes, never took care of himself). His mother (my wife) and I re-financed our home twice to pay the legal bills to keep that monster away from our sweet child. While bio-father was alive, the boy was terrified any deviation in behavior would result in being forced to go live with the bio-father, which we insisted would never happen. Who knows what that monster told the child for all those years. When he died, we all thought we were free from the anger/fear issues the boy had been dealing with. Opposite happened, he became so defiant of ANYTHING he was asked to do. His response to any threat of consequence was "There's nothing you can do to me that I haven't already survived, so F*** OFF!" and then he would either destroy his room or run away into town. We live about 10 miles from the edges of the city where he goes to school, in a quiet country setting. He has shown up as much as 25 miles away, walked or rode a scooter (after locking his bike to try preventing such excursions). He started a rather lucrative business of stealing my blank computer CD's, and would use the family computer after everyone else was asleep to burn copies of his cd's, and then sell these illegal copies. He also started stealing from other places. After getting busted with stolen merchandise, he has had a case worker who drug tests him regularly. Nothing being used, but he talks about how "cool" drug use is. He normally does simple jobs you would expect an 8 yr old to be able to handle, but nothing more. If you ask for a little more attention to detail on a job he freaks out. We can't afford to run him into town with no warning/planning, yet he tries it every single day. "I need the computers at the library for an assignment" was never assigned, or doesn't need to be typed, or he is trying to use homework as an excuse to go play games on the internet (we don't have internt at home. The last time he freaked out about not being able to go somewhere we had to call the cops to take him awayinto lockup before he hurt himself. A year ago I tried to tackle him as he was running away again. That turned into a 45 min wrestling match with no clear outcome, I simply got him too tired to go any longer. In the year since that event, he has grown 4 inches, and about 20 lbs, to the point he hurt his mother trying to shove her out of the way when he wanted to leave. That last time we discovered he had gone off his meds 3 weeks earlier, and was being very deceptive about hiding the pills so we wouldn't know. He admitts the meds work to keep him focused & on task, but he refuses to take them unless we watch him take his meds. He is just starting to figure out things he should have realized years ago, like how parents are really trying their best to keep their kids safe. From all the posts I've read here, that's all any of us want. But my kid doesn't care that we keep him safe, he wants to do the dangerous reckless things his friends are doing. All we can do at this point is point him in the right direction, and hope he gets a few lucky breaks to keep himself out of jail. We've tried the techniques listed on this site, but he doesn't react anything like the articles say he should. He simply doesn't care about anything besides himself. I was a difficult teen (so says my mother), but I was never in this criminal class. Good luck to everyone dealing with this situation.

Comment By : tiredstepdad

I use the techniques described by Mr. Lehman on my 4 yr old son. He is always arguing and defiant with everything I ask him to do. The whiney "no" drives me crazy. But I give him limits and set the timer and he seems to respond well to "times up". BUT, when I get lazy and stop using the techniques he goes back to his whiney ways. I know it takes a lot of work by the parents to be conisistant, but it is something that has to be done if you want it to work. Parents, stay strong!

Comment By : tryingtostaystrongmom

how do you escape from a fight if your 5 year old keeps following you around back talking even after you have told him/her to go to your room and pick it up. I have stood at his door and held the door closed but he beats the door so bad that I feel he will hurt himself and the door, so I open it and then he is right there thinking its funny or a joke that i opened the door and hes right back at it not doing what he is told.I try to escape and not engage but what techniques should I use when he keeps coming or says no if you dont let me do this im not going to do that etc.

Comment By : 5yrblues

Great advice, but unrealistic schedule. For example, with younger children, should bath time be in there somewhere. There's a lot more than just chores and snacks.

Comment By : Partyof5

grandad: have you heard nothing he has said in previous articles? in a brain scan it can be clearly shown that a child with 0DD has a DRASTICALLY different mind than a normal child. if you would do your research instead of clinging to old traditions and methods you might learn something.

Comment By : colleen4him

After reading may suggestions and complaints, thank you all for the advice as it will help us with our 6 yr old son with possible ODD. I do think many are missing the point that the schedule was just a set example and we are to set our own schedules. I think it is all worth trying!! Thanks everyone.

Comment By : vettey

It surely IS easy to look at these children and blame the parents for doing a poor job of raising them, but no, that does nothing to deal with this growing psychopath whom society does not need. Parents must learn from behavior specialists and psychotherapists new strategies for the horribly entrenched patterns in their families. To the person who blames a child's TEACHER for not being trained in ODD, that is the lowest and most cowardly thing you can say; and your denial is hurting your child and yourself, not to mention being a total insult to teachers who already have to wear twenty different hats and tailor programming to twenty different children. If you can't handle your kid at home, how can you suggest a busy teacher with a classroom full of kids should be able to deal with YOUR out-of-control youngster? You have to be kidding - and blaming others is a quick way to more very negative outcomes all around.

Comment By : Gabrielle

A schedule is a simple thing to create...not so simple to stick to! With hectic lives; modification of schedules is a must...that being said: how can you have a "schedule" when it needs to modified on a regular basis(sometimes daily) to accommadate all of your children's different 'doings' and 'needs'? It is appropriate to have individual schedules, set to each age group (my ODD etc 15yr old definately needs a different schedule than my 3yr old)...but again, how do parent(s) incorporate multiple schedules to make them work for everyone? I'm sure that there are parents who have given up their own special time to make room for a childs thing/event, but what do you do when the ODD child thinks his/her schedule should take priority over siblings schedules ie: "my time on the computer is more important than hers because she can't even read yet"!?

Comment By : Racket

* Dear Racket: These are good questions this time of year when everyone is moving into school and after-school activities. You’re right that the needs of your 15-year-old are quite different than those of your 3-year-old. Some scheduling tips are to have as much routine as you can in your day so that your family can count on some activities occurring at definite times. Try to have breakfast, dinner and bedtimes at the same time each day, for example. And make sure to build-in "free time" for kids in their schedules every day, to use for rest or play. As James says, having a schedule that the kids can count on will not only reduce the stress in the home. Internalizing a structure and a system, such as a schedule, is an important skill that oppositional kids need to develop. We often hear parents ask us on the Support Line, “How do I explain things to my kids so that they understand?” What James Lehman suggests is that kids understand well enough; it’s not necessary to keep trying to explain things to your child’s satisfaction. Your 15-year-old knows what it means to share, for example. Just remind him that, “In this family, we take turns.” If he does more than grumble about this, if he refuses to move away from the computer when his time is up, then you will want to have a discussion with him about this choice and give a consequence for that behavior. Remember you can always call the trained specialists on the Support Line. They’ll be glad to give you ideas on how to use the program techniques to improve your kid’s behaviors.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

KMR, I have to agree with you. In many cases, these children are down right spoiled. Maybe not with material things but with parents giving in too much from the time they are little and not disciplining when they should, such as when a child is very defiant or lies or gets in trouble at school. How do I know this? Because We were parents like this with our daughter who is now 30 and is a train wreck. Unfortunately, her being a train wreck is severely affecting our G-kids. At age 13, I was awakened at 2am by two policemen standing with our daughter in our bedroom. She had snuck out, joined a friend, also with ODD, I'm guessing, who had stolen her mother's car to go joy riding. Thank God the cops caught them! We took her to the ER to have her checked for drugs. She was negative but was kept for a week in the child psych unit. She was diagnosed as ODD & the Dr. told me himslf, " Mrs. ---- your daughter is down right spoiled and has way too much control in your house." And he was right. As I sat & thought back thru her childhood, I realized just how much we had given in every time she nagged us to death when told, "No". She really hated being told no & just kept pushing & pushing until we finally gave in. She was an only child & we made the mistake of making her the center of our world. When she was little, even family members told us outright she was spoiled & I would get mad. But later came to realize they were right. The doctor was right. Children get strong willed because they're spoiled, get away with too much, and have too much power & control in their house. Not only will their parents pay for it but so will their future children.

Comment By : Melanie



* Dear NEED HELP WITH A GOOD BOY WHO HAS ODD: Lots of kids will claim they've completed something just so they can do what they want. If completing homework is an issue, as you mentioned, you might start there. Let your son know that, in the past, he has told you his work was finished, only to discover later that it was not. So for now, before he has access to his evening privileges, he will need to show evidence that his work is completed. He may complain or argue, but it is important that you do not take that "bait," as James would say. Instead, simply state, "I'm sorry you feel it's unfair. Until we see that you are getting your work done, this is how it is going to be." You also wrote that your son's comments make you angry. Remember, kids watch you for a living: they know how to push your buttons and get you off the subject at hand. Stay calm and focused, and redirect your son: "it's nice to hear that your work is done - I need to see evidence of that before you can use the computer." Good luck, and let us know how it's going.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have a 10 year old adopted son with ADHD and ODD. 2 months ago I had to call the police because he got mad and threw something at me and knocked me out. This was the first time it got to this level. He was so angry at me he didn't even know what he threw. Thank God it wasn't a knife. He was the "cool kid" at school, having a police record at 10. I have been reading your articles and following many of the suggestions. For the 1st time in 8 years I had a full week of not one arguement. He got his bigger reward for the week for his excellant behavior. The following 2 days he was back to the argueing I feel like I'm being blackmailed. If there is something he wants he can behave to receive it. If it is the right thing to do it's not on his agenda. I've noticed he gets completely out of control if he is tired, has had friends over more than one day etc. I'm limiting his social times and being more awre of his bedtimes. Other than this, now what? I have an 8 and 5 year old too.

Comment By : samsmom

* Dear ‘samsmom’: You can probably help reduce arguments by recognizing when you are getting pulled into one and not participating in it. As James Lehman says, “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” When your son tries to argue with you say, “I can see you’re frustrated, but we’re not going to continue to talk about this. Find a way to calm yourself down.” As James says in this article, a kid with ODD “gets very invested in the process of arguing as much as the outcome. So in effect, the argument fuels itself.” Therefore, when your child starts an argument, don’t argue back. Kids need to learn coping skills to manage their feelings in socially appropriate ways. If it is your experience that your son really struggles to calm himself down, then be sure to let his pediatrician know. And remember, you can call the specialists on the Support Line for more ideas on how to use the techniques in the Total Transformation program.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

There is a lot of discussion about the word "No" how strong it is and how to deal with it. Also, it was advised that parents should stick by their position and not turn around to the backtalk. I agree. I would like to add something. I strongly beleive that the kids with the ODD nature are more softer in nature than others meaning that they are easy to calm down. But the damage is already done I agree. But would it a good idea to also show them a benefit in the form of a bribe or a gift or some treat etc every time they behave well and played by your rule to stay calm?

Comment By : aparent

Have tried setting a schedule for 7/8 yr old. doesn't work as every time the child is negotiating something out of the schedule. Have tried consequences and diverting to the schedule as explained above but the child complains there is no balance and this is too difficult and simply turns back to saying NO to everything. He listens to everything at school but at home i am a my wits end trying to cope with his bad behaviour.

Comment By : Lostmum

* Dear ‘Lostmum’: James Lehman said that one of the hardest things that parents have to learn to do is to find a way to work through our feelings when our kids are upset with us—sad or mad about the limits we are placing on their behaviors. Try to remember in those difficult emotional moments that kids need our help setting limits on their behavior choices and our help learning how to deal with their negative feelings. Instead of joining in with your son negotiating with you regarding his schedule, help him recognize and name his feelings and talk about what he can do with them. “You look like your getting anxious. It can be difficult to do something we don’t want to do. Take a minute to calm yourself down before you get started.” We hope this is helpful and invite you to call the Support Line for more ideas on using the Total Transformation Program in your home.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Im glad to see that im not all alone, i found this article to hit very much at home. I have a 7 year old daughter that has many different Disabilities and O.D.D. happens to be one of them. I have a older child as well that feels like in order to get the attention that her little sister gets on a day to day basis she must act up even more so. I'm a single mom trying to do whats best for my daughters and some times i feel as if im at a loss, my youngest also has ADHD,CAP and learning disabilties, shes a a kindergarden learning level... is there any special tools that i can use to teach my daughter with out her getting super frusterated or even my self after she loses her temper and has what i call a "outburst"

Comment By : mommaneedstoknow

* Dear ‘mommaneedstoknow’: We are unable to recommend specific tools to use to teach your daughter. What we do recommend is working with a professional who specializes in helping children with your daughter’s disorders, who can evaluate your daughter’s specific needs and measure her progress. We can refer you to an article with tips on how to remain calm when you’re getting frustrated. We hope this will be helpful for you: Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry by Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My youngest child of 4 who is 15 seems to be odd. He has no motivation or initiative in school and is failing most subjects. Over the years I spent so much time trying to help and "rescue" him. I now believe, as hard as it is for me, that failure may be the natural consequence to help him take some responsibility for his behavior. Taking the computer away from him at night so that he will hopefully get on the bus in the morning or not sleep all Sunday and do some required assignments sets him off. He will yell that he hates us, tell us we are retarded, call us names, and wish us dead. It is very hurtful but we try to keep our responses to a minimum. As James used to say, "you don't have to attend every fight that you are invited to." I hope in time this will change because I spend a lot of time feeling defeated, deflated, disappointed, and down. It is not really fair to my other children that I feel like crap just because this child is misbehaving.

Comment By : Tracey

* Dear Tracey: It sounds like you are exhausted. It is so challenging to deal with children who yell at you and call you names when you try to hold them accountable. It sounds like your son is using what James called “Anger with an Angle.” James says, “If you were an outsider observing a child who uses “Anger with an Angle” you’d see him look as if he's losing control. But what's really going on is that this child is getting more and more control over his parents… The fact is, a child’s behavior won't change until he's not able to get power from it anymore.” That said, keeping your response to a minimum is extremely important and you are doing that—give yourself a pat on the back. And remember: it is also very important to keep setting limits with your son despite his anger. Check out James’ article about this for more information: "Anger with an Angle": Is Your Child Using Anger to Control You?

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have a child age 13. I think this describes him exactly. O DD. I am at my overloadlevel. I want to send him for treatment or a bootcamp over the summerI need time to regroup and connect with my other son. Any suggestions?

Comment By : laura

* Laura: It sounds like you are very overwhelmed. The decision about whether or not to enroll your child in a summer program is always a personal one. We do suggest that you do lots of research and take your time in making the decision about which program is best for your son. Keep in mind treatment programs, boot camps, and other similar programs often have a number of staff members (or authority figures) present and tend to be highly structured. This means it’s nearly impossible for you to replicate this type of environment in your own home. It is best to look for camps with qualified professionals to not only assist your son, but who can also assist you by training you on the skills you will need in order for your son to make a smooth and successful transition back into your home at the end of the summer. Find out what kind of follow-up will take place—will someone be checking in to see how things are going? Will there be someone at the program whom you can call if you start having trouble again a couple months later? It is also a good idea to look into a program’s license and accreditation. If a program is licensed and accredited, that indicates there is some oversight going on to ensure safe practices on site. You can visit The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs which is an excellent resource for anyone considering out-of-home placement for their child. I hope these ideas help. Good luck in your search.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My almost 7 yr old was diagnosed with ODD and ADHD. He's been seeing a therapist fir a yr now and has been on meds for 6 months. Due to the meds we are no longer getting calls or notes from school or his after school program but life at home continues to be just as miserable ad it was before we started with all of this. I have a 9-5 job but many nights I need to stay late in the office so scheduled don't work the best though I try. My son has become physically abusive towards me now and it scares me. At the slightest hint that we don't do exactly what he wants he hoes berserk. We live in an apt (buying a housewitjin a year) so we can't just let him scream as we have neighbors that shouldn't have to listen to his outbursts. When he's in a good mood he is the sweetest little boy ever until something doesn't go his way. I just don't know what to do anymore...the hubby and I have signed u to take parenting classes to learn how to work with our son but I don't hold out much hope that it will be different from any other thing we've tried. We've done everything his teacher/theraist/pediatrician/family/friends/books have suggested to no avail. I'm just relieved that other peole are going through the same thing and that we aren't alone. I know eventually we will get through this and things will be better in the long run but in the meantime I just wish for a day without screaming.

Comment By : Tiredmom

Two minutes of computer time for every one minute of arguing...even if it's one minute of computer time for every minute of arguing even if it's any consequence my child screams out, That's not fair!" So it starts all over again, a brief explanation using cold logics and the simple details of the embroglio and still there's the resistance to the writing on the wall, what you did caused these consequences for you based on volitional choices you made, actions you specifically chose. Every day the same thing, day after day, week after week, going on years now. On my end I have consistency of message and action, no moveable fences. Still....

Comment By : Stuck in a parental rut

I think this was a great article and the schedule idea is a good one overall however if you have trouble with doing this every day then pick the behavior you want to change and make that a consistent rule (homework will be done before dinner or your room will be clean before you go out,etc.) just don't let them slide on it ever. My son still attempts to negotiate but I am able to get him to complete his reading without an argument now because he knows I will issue a consequence every time if he doesn't comply. In his case I take a toy away forever (he's 8 yrs old) but if he were a teenager I'd say the same thing applies as long as the child lives under your roof, take something of value away such as car keys, TV, phone, etc and I certainly would issue consequences for walking out the door and not coming home till late or the next day. I also have stopped arguing with him, just like the article states, I say what I need to say briefly and walk away, even walk upstairs or to another room so he has no one to argue with. I give him time to calm down then if he still doesn't comply I quietly issue the consequence, I don't even talk (and never yell at him) to him about it, I just do it. This method of dealing with him took a few weeks to start working but after loosing 5 or 6 toys, he stopped challenging me. I think these type of kids can spot a weakness a mile away so you have to be very structured and very consistent or they will run over you and when you yell or argue with them you are on their turf. I like the idea of losing computer time for arguing, I will have to keep that one in my hip pocket!

Comment By : Mom who found peace!

* Dear “mom who found peace”: Thank you for your comments. We’re so glad this article resonated with you. You’re so right about picking one behavior you’d like to change, being consistent with consequences, and then moving on to the next behavior on your “list.” One thing I learned from my work with James Lehman is that it’s more effective to take a toy away for just a short amount of time and have your child work toward good behavior to earn it back. This is because, as James stated, “Your child will be working toward learning better behavior while he tries to earn back his privilege.” Getting that replacement behavior piece in there is so very important, because that’s where change happens. It sounds like you are on the right track as far as stating what the rule is and then walking away—also an extremely important piece of effective parenting. Thanks again for chiming in. Good luck and please keep in touch and let us know how it's going.

Comment By : Elisabeth Wilkins, Editor of Empowering Parents

I have a 13 year old son who's wanted to be the parent since age 6. He isn't defiant with others just me. Everyone who knows us thinks I have a respectful, obiedient, well behaved child. At home, it's a different situation. My son has gotten to the point where he is physically aggressive with me. I don't know what else to do. I'm a single parent in my 50's with many medical problems. I don't have the strenth, physically or emotionally to deat with him. HELP!!!!

Comment By : momintears

* To ‘momintears’: It’s never easy to deal with a child who has become physically aggressive-- nobody deserves to be treated that way. There are a few things you can do to start making some changes in how your son behaves. First, have a discussion with him about what happens when he gets angry. You can tell him, “When you get angry, you scream, you ball your fists up, and you push me. None of those things are okay and they are not going to get you what you want.” Then state the rules of your house around physical aggression and talk about what he can do differently when he is angry. If he is not cooperative, feel free to put one of his privileges on hold until he comes up with a specific plan. The next time you see him starting to escalate and become angry, remind him of the plan and walk away. Taking yourself out of the situation sends him the message that you are in control and you are not going to be treated poorly or abused. Talk again once things calm down—this is a repetitive cycle. At any point if your son is destroying your property, threatening you, or if he puts his hands on you in an aggressive or abusive way we recommend that you can the police. Many parents who are uncertain about this idea find it helpful to call the non-emergency number and talk to an officer ahead of time about what to expect if they do that. Calling the police is a good way to set some very clear, firm limits around this behavior. Here are some articles for more information: Is It Time to Call the Police on Your Child?, How to Manage Violent Behavior in Children and Teens and The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems" We know this is extremely difficult and we wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Please keep in touch with us and take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

What if you have a 9 year old that will not let you walk away? She will take off running out the door or will follow you around (most of the time). I've had doors broken trying to get away from her. It doesn't seem as if I have the option to "walk away".

Comment By : verickson

* To “verickson”: You bring up an excellent point. There can be times when it’s difficult or not feasible to walk away. We talk to many parents on the Parental Support Line who are faced with similar challenges. In situations where it may not be possible to walk away we would suggest disengaging from the child by not interacting with her. The focus in disengaging or walking away is on stopping the power struggle. It is possible to do this without walking away but it may take some practice. You would start disengaging by setting the limit on her behavior, maybe by saying something like “It’s not OK to talk to me that way” and then turn away from her and stop interacting. As Debbie Pincus suggests in her article Does Your Child Act Out to Manipulate You? How to Stop Falling for It, it’s important that you do not reengage with your child after you have set the limit. It can be helpful to have a phrase that you repeat to yourself to help stay disengaged, maybe something like “This too shall pass” or “I am strong enough to get through this situation,” whatever you can come up with to keep yourself under control. Keep in mind it probably isn’t going to be possible to turn her behavior around in the moment. For that reason, we would suggest following up with a problem-solving conversation and possibly a task-oriented consequence when things have calmed down. An example of a task-oriented consequence is loss of a privilege until your daughter can behave respectfully for specified amount of time, maybe 2 or 3 hours. Here is a great article that addresses how to have a problem-solving conversation with your daughter: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems". I hope this has been helpful. There are a lot of other great articles on Empowering Parents that could be useful for you. Here are two more you might find informative: Calm Parenting: Anger Management in Children and Teens & Sick of Your Kid’s Backtalk? Here’s How to Stop It. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to address this challenging behavior. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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Related keywords:

ODD, O.D.D., Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Defiance, Defiant Child, Teen, No Means No

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