Strategies for Teaching Children with ODD

By Victoria Trix

Teaching a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can be difficult, but with these strategies you will find that things in your classroom will go a lot smoother.

Teaching a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can be frustrating, challenging and exhausting. However, it is important to remember that the student is suffering, too. These students have mental deficits that may be a result of negligence, economic disadvantages or neurochemical imbalances. They are not acting this way just to make everyone else miserable – even though it may sometimes seem that way! Though these students can be disruptive or upsetting, there are useful strategies for helping them act appropriately.

Focus on Prevention

Dr. Ross Greene, author of “The Explosive Child", reminds parents and teachers that children with ODD may have deficits when it comes to dealing with frustration. He therefore counsels teachers to work on identifying the types of activities that are likely to cause frustration in the child and help him or her develop coping mechanisms.

"The definition of good parenting and good teaching is being responsive to the hand you've been dealt," Greene says.

Establish Expectations

Most students respond well when teachers clearly state their behavioral expectations. This is especially important for students with ODD. Teachers may start by stating two or three behavioral goals for the student. These goals may include expectations such as “I will accept the word ‘No’ “ or “I will follow directions." If possible, include these expectations on a behavioral chart and monitor progress throughout the day. Have the student state the expectations at the beginning of the day, and restate it as needed.


Students with Oppositional Defiant Disorder often act as though they don’t care about others. However, using praise whenever appropriate can make teaching these students much more effective. Teachers who use a behavioral chart to monitor expectations should be sure to reward good behavior, too.

A smile or word of praise from a teacher can mean a great deal.

Natural Consequences

While students with ODD do respond to praise and should be given some flexibility, they also need to know that their behavior will have consequences. The consequences should be appropriate and meaningful, but they MUST be something the child wishes to avoid.

Some children, for example, love doing chores in the classroom, so this would not be an effective consequence for inappropriate behavior. Teachers who know their students well can choose consequences that will help their students with ODD consider the risks very carefully before engaging in disruptive behavior.

While working with students who have Oppositional Defiant Disorder can often involve extra work, it can also be rewarding and enlightening for teachers who take the time to understand the student’s condition and establish clear expectations with predictable positive and negative consequences for their actions.