Oppositional Defiant Disorder

An Educator's Guide

What is ODD?

"Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a condition characterized by a persistent pattern of aggressive and defiant behaviour and a need to annoy or irritate others. Common behaviours include frequent temper tantrums, frequent arguing with both peers and adults, intentionally annoying others, blaming others for own mistakes, and appearing angry and vindictive. " (Learn Alberta)

ODD is usually present in students by the age of 8 but can appear earlier or be triggered by external events in a students life.

What are the Signs?

Students with ODD are characterized by their defiance (duh) of authority, mainly adults. They do not typically act aggressive to other students but do seek to annoy them. The behaviour is typically present at home and school but not in all situations and with all adults. It is particularly defined by "the presence of markedly defiant, disobedient, provocative behaviour and by the absence of more severe dissocial or aggressive acts that violate the law or the rights of others." (Northern Michigan University)


  • Is easily angered, annoyed or irritated
  • Has Frequent temper tantrums
  • Argues frequently with adults, particularly the most familiar adults in their lives, such as parents
  • Refuses to obey rules
  • Seems to deliberately try to annoy or aggravate others
  • Has low self esteem
  • Has low frustration threshold
  • Seeks to blame others for any misfortunes and misdeeds.

(Mental Health Matters)

A short video for all those visual learners (Not too fond of the music)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

An Educators Tool-Kit

What NOT To Do

It can be especially difficult for teachers to separate the student from the behaviour in the case of students with ODD. It is far too easy to see the student as the problem as opposed to the illness. The student needs to be supported to help them solve the problem that they are having. You cannot simply punish ODD out of a student, therefore many traditional approaches to behaviour management will not work for students with ODD and may in fact exacerbate the issue. Remember to treat the student with patience and respect and separate their behaviour from their identity.

What To Do

Students with ODD are trying to get a reaction with their behaviour, that is its purpose. Engaging in a power struggle or becoming frustrated with the student will reinforce their unwanted behaviour. Teachers need to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to dealing with defiant behaviour.

Decide which behaviour you want to eliminate and which you plan to ignore. Pick the most important ones and ignore the rest, engaging with all of them will be too time consuming and will validate the unwanted behaviour in the student's mind.

Work with the student to create the behaviour plan. They will be engaged and view you as less of an authoritarian to defy.

Praise positive behaviour. Even the little things, praising or rewarding positive behaviour will encourage it in the future.

Avoid absolutes and power struggles. If you are engaging in a power struggle you have already lost. Always give the student a choice, even if both outcomes would be preferable to you.

Do not take the behaviour personally. The student does not hate you, or is not acting out because of something you did, you are just the target. React calmly and simply, do not get frustrated. It is better to ignore and walk away then to engage in a power struggle.

Listen to the student. Establish and build a positive relationship with them. Get them to see that you are there to help them and do not define them based on their behaviour.

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Sample Lesson

Lesson Goals

To teach students about ODD

To teach students how ODD is identified, and treated

To help students develop empathy for other students who may have ODD

To normalize the discussion of mental health issues

Lesson Outline

Begin by asking students to brainstorm a list of things that they do not like to do and write them on the board

Follow up by asking them how it makes them feel and how they usually respond to being asked to do those things

Explain that some people can develop a condition that causes them to see even the most harmless request as something they do not want to do and develop negative behaviours as a result. Today they are going to learn more about Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Review the learning objectives above with them. They will be conducting research and presenting their findings to the class. Ask them if they already know anything about ODD or someone who has ODD and discuss their responses.

Students will be placed into small groups and and each group asked to research one of the following things:

Characteristics of ODD

How it is diagnosed and general statistics

Treatment for ODD

They will summarize the information they found on a large piece of chart paper

Each group will also be asked to brainstorm some strategies they think would be helpful for someone who has ODD.

Students will be given a handout with a chart that they will then complete by taking a gallery walk around to the other chart paper in the room.

At the end the teacher will ask the students to share the most interesting thing that they learned in the lesson. This would also be an ideal time to ask if they think that the classroom rules are fair and would help or harm a student with ODD (This could be done as an exit card or reflective journal as well)