Oppositional Defiant Disorder is more common than most parents and educators may think. Here are some ways to help administrators and teachers establish a plan for handling students with these behavioural characteristics.
Teaching students with unique learning and behavioural characteristics has defined some of the most memorable moments in my education career thus far. Certain colourful events stand out as the most trying as well as the most rewarding. I learn something new about myself as an educator from each student I teach. If teachers can learn to view these “colourful” moments as learning opportunities for both ourselves and the students, it becomes easier to see their growth as individuals through the challenges.
What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is one of the more common behavioural disorders among children and adolescents, affecting between 1% and 16% of youth, depending on where the statistic comes from. ODD is defined as a pattern of defiant, hostile and disobedient behaviour directed towards adult authority figures. Common behaviours include: angry outbursts, temper tantrums, rebellious actions, arguing with adults and passive or active refusal to obey rules or instructions. Children and adolescents with ODD can also demonstrate hostility, negativity and spitefulness. Needless to say, these behaviours can be quite disruptive and challenging for teachers to manage in a mainstream classroom!
The most important thing for teachers and administrators to understand is that the hostility and defiance is not usually a personal attack against the authority figure. Students with ODD are not usually discriminatory, but will react in a similarly defiant manner to all authority-wielding figures. Yet, with preventative planning and a great deal of patience, ODD behaviours do not always have to result in disruption of lessons and routines.
Supporting Students with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
The most important first step when dealing with a student who has ODD is to establish a strong team of support for the student, including all teachers, support workers, parents and administrators. Establish a set of guidelines for dealing with defiant and oppositional behaviours that everyone can agree to uphold. During this process, set up a plan of action. Try to account for the usual reactions to instructions or rules and decide as a team how you will react. Also decide what kind of behaviours can be ignored—remember to choose your battles!
Students with ODD need to feel like they have some control over what happens in their life, so try to offer choices, ensuring that both options are ones that you can live with. This has been one of my greatest challenges as a teacher—I always want to offer one choice that I want to happen and make the second choice something unreasonable. But, as former students can attest to, they will always choose the one that they think you don’t want them to. So, be prepared to actually stay at school until 9pm with them, if that is a choice that slips out of your mouth. Follow through, or they won’t take you seriously next time you offer a choice!
Most importantly, don’t react emotionally in the heat of the moment. Defiant behaviour can really get under your skin. Take a deep breath, a physical step backwards and think it through. Go back to the established plan, and remind the student of their choices and the outcomes for all choices. If you, as a teacher and professional, can keep your cool, you will be a step closer to opposing the opposition.
It is important to remember that ODD behaviours are the result of a mental health disorder, which can be difficult to distinguish from “normal” defiant and independence seeking behaviours in young adults. With treatment and behaviour therapy, students with ODD can learn to control their behaviour and find other ways of dealing with their anger and coping with stressful situations. This reaffirms how important the teacher’s role is in being supporting of building a behaviour management plan that will assist the child in learning more constructive ways of managing their own behaviour.
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Do you have experience dealing with a student with ODD? What advice or tips do you have for other teachers? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.