Tips for Parenting Oppositional Children

Tips for Parenting a Child with ODD


When you ask your child a question—Can you please clear the table? Isn’t the weather nice today? Would you like spaghetti for dinner? —is the first thing out of their mouth inevitably the word “No”? Even if you’re asking them if they want to do something fun that you know they would enjoy—Would you like to go swimming at the pool today? Do you want to go to the theme park this weekend? How about going toy shopping this afternoon? —do you still get a resounding no and have to argue about it?

“No” is one of the first words children learn, and occasional defiance from kids and teens is considered normal behavior. But when this behavior persists or is severe, it could be a sign of a behavioral problem called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)?

ODD is considered a behavioral disorder that affects as many as 5% of all children. Symptoms and signs of ODD include a tendency to be argumentative, easily annoyed, and to have repeated temper tantrums—especially when they don’t get their way. These children are chronically uncooperative with parents, peers, teachers, and other authority figures. They tend to say no even when saying yes is clearly in their best interest.

Does Your Child Have ODD?

How can you tell if your child’s behavior is normal or if it falls within the realm of ODD? One quick way to determine if your child would benefit from being evaluated for ODD is to ask yourself this question:

“When you ask this child to do something, how many times out of 10 will they do it the first time without arguing or fighting?”

Most children will comply 7 to 8 times out of 10 without a problem. For most ODD kids, however, the answer is usually 3 times or fewer. And for many of them, the answer is 0.

Jeremy, age 9, was an expert at saying no. He had been suspended from school 5 times in the 2nd grade for refusing to do what he was told and being openly defiant with his teacher. His parents, who had tried to be firm with Jeremy but hadn’t had any success at getting him to be more compliant, were told not to bring their son back to school until they sought professional help for him. They decided to take Jeremy for a clinical evaluation that included brain SPECT imaging, a technology that shows areas of the brain with healthy activity, too much activity, or too little activity.

What Brain Imaging Shows About ODD

Jeremy’s brain scan revealed marked increased activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). Considered to be the brain’s gear shifter, the ACG helps people shift from one thought to another. When the activity is too high in this region, people tend to get stuck on thoughts or on a single course of action. This is brain pattern is commonly seen in people with obsessive compulsive disorder. For kids with ODD, this means getting stuck on saying no, being argumentative, and refusing to budge.

For Jeremy, taking nutraceuticals to help calm his ACG diminished his oppositional behavior. A follow-up SPECT scan two months later showed that Jeremy’s ACG was now functioning at a healthy activity level. Combining that with teaching his mom and dad new parenting skills, Jeremy was able to go back to school where he excelled in class. In fact, his new teacher could not understand why his former teachers had warned her about him.

5 Tips for Dealing with a Child with ODD

There are many things you can do on an everyday basis to help you handle your oppositional child. Here are 5 strategies you can start implementing now.

1. Give them options.

When you give oppositional children or teens with ODD an option as to when they might do something, they tend to be less likely to get stuck on “No, I won’t do it.”

2. Use distraction.

When your child or teen is stuck on a negative thought or behavior, it is helpful to distract them for a bit and then come back to the issue at hand later.

3. Notice what you like more than what you don’t like.

Rather than only giving your child attention when they are misbehaving or being defiant, make it a point to provide positive reinforcement when your child is being compliant and agreeable.

4. Don’t fight back.

It’s important to avoid fueling the fire when a child is stuck in an argumentative state. Don’t escalate the argument. Keeping calm will help your child get past the oppositional thoughts.

5. Be a good role model.

Examine your own behavior to see if you also have oppositional tendencies. Having an overactive ACG tends to run in families, meaning parents who have obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, or inflexible personality styles tend to have children with ODD. Make an effort to be more flexible in your own thinking.

If your child is displaying oppositional behavior and it is affecting their school performance, home life, or friendships, it’s a good idea to seek an evaluation. At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging to help assess areas of the brain where there is too much or too little activity. This helps us tailor a treatment plan using the least toxic, most effective solutions for your child’s unique needs. Treatment may include family therapy and parenting skills, lifestyle recommendations, nutraceuticals, and medication (when needed).

To find out more about how we can help your child, call 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit.



  1. As I read the article on ODD, I began to think of all the Adults that may have had ODD and was Labeled, trouble makers, or even worse. Their lives taken a down hill course through their life.

    I believe this is an important read for all Parents, Grandparents, Teachers, School Authority and any Child Care worker or those Caring for Children in a home.

    Thank you,
    Carole Christine Flynn

    Comment by Carole Christine Flynn — October 30, 2019 @ 3:08 AM

  2. My oldest child was hospital for this from 8 grade to 12. Her behavior reck our family.She is now in her 40 and we haven’t talked in years due to her erratic behavior and blaming me for
    this disease.This is real. Her brothers some what tolerate it and her younger sister what’s no more drama like me.It is ashame the degree of no intervention. I am 65 and can’t go back just forward.Her children I can’t see and her daughter doesn’t know me.Thank you

    Comment by 8ev A Peltz — October 30, 2019 @ 3:15 AM

  3. I know a couple who might benefit from this article, but they may be in denial about their son, but this sounds like what he’s going through. I think he’s only two years old, how can I bring this up to them without offending them ?

    Comment by Jerri Robinson — October 30, 2019 @ 3:23 AM

  4. I can totally relate to what you’re describing with your oldest child. My oldest child, who is 50 years old, also has divorced us and blamed us for things that were positive in our minds but negative in hers. She has refused to see us and won’t allow us to relate to her child, our grandson. Further, when she had a baby she would no longer see her best friend from high school because she had a child and her friend didn’t. Seems bizarre but true. Her sisters can’t tolerate her behavior. So we’re all estranged. I feel very sad about the whole thing. Thanks to Dr. Amen and his help with brain disorders for intervention into these behaviors that appear to start at an early age.

    Comment by Suzanne Ryan — October 30, 2019 @ 3:46 AM

  5. I don’t think my 4 year old has ODD but he definitely has some tendencies. I use the methods above to bring him back from the brink when I can see he is about to go down the meltdown rabbit hole. On day to day the options and distractions work a lot. He has BIG emotions and doesn’t know how to deal with them. He is the kid that never wants to be alone and follows you around from room to room. He has to be touching you if you are sitting next to him. He is most comfortable with routine and many things scare him. He is so different from his older sister. I thought this started with the terrible twos but it’s been going on for over 2 years.

    Comment by Kim — October 30, 2019 @ 5:31 AM

  6. Thank God for the new brain research we have today. Many of today’s issues are caused by differing brain issues. If you have ever dealt with a small child who is defiant you know the hurt that comes when they can’t be pleased. My soon to be 3 year old grandson’s behavior is deplorable and his 6 year old sister’s is, too. I am going to suggest my son and his former wife look into this ODD. I am already doing some of the things they suggested and pray we can understand and control this problem better. Thanks for the new insights.

    Comment by Nora E Hendry — October 30, 2019 @ 5:35 AM

  7. What are the nutraceuticals recommended to help calm the ACG in these children/adults? Thank you!

    Comment by Amber — October 30, 2019 @ 10:48 AM

  8. Helpful article.

    How does ODD play out as an adult? Especially if it goes untreated or unmanaged as a child?

    Comment by JLawyer — November 1, 2019 @ 8:15 AM

  9. Hello. What about a child that is cooperatives only when she wants to get something? She shows the ODD symptoms at her convenient.

    Comment by Cecilya — November 3, 2019 @ 10:50 AM

  10. Hello Amber, for more information on nutraceuticals please visit:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — November 5, 2019 @ 8:29 AM

  11. My 11-year-old granddaughter was finally diagnosed with ODD and started on medication last year. Her parents said she has shown these behaviors since she was a year old. She often refused to do her schoolwork and, typically when she was bored, she got enjoyment out of deliberately antagonizing and pushing any adult’s buttons until they exploded. Her antisocial behaviors included refusing to wash her hands after using the bathroom, spattering food on walls, deliberately urinating and defecating in her clothes, tying knots in electrical cords, vandalizing property, and disrespecting adults. She felt powerful when her attitudes and behaviors disrupted the family or the classroom. No disciplinary methods worked. We are so thankful that medication has had a significant impact on her behaviors and attitudes.

    Comment by Linda Lierman — April 9, 2022 @ 2:06 PM

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