Practicing positive communication: Children and Teens with Oppositional Defiance

Children and Teens with Oppositional Defiance

Have you ever been scared in your own home? Children and teens exhibiting defiant behavior consistently can be emotionally draining for themselves and others around them. There's a range between the usual independence-seeking behavior of teens and out-of-control defiant behavior. It's normal to exhibit oppositional behaviors at certain stages of an adolescent’s development.

However, your teen’s issue may be more serious if their behaviors:

  • Have lasted at least six months
  • Are persistent
  • Are clearly disruptive to the family or school environment

The DSM-5 defines ODD as “a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness”. Understanding how ODD presents can become even more challenging if your teen is part of the neurodivergent community. Looking out for symptoms like tantrums, excessive blaming, resentment, aggressiveness towards siblings and peers, and spiteful/vindictive behavior to tease apart ODD from symptoms of other learning and developmental disorders.


ODD or a related conduct disorder presents in about 40% of children and teens with Attention Deficit Disorder. There also may be higher rates of ODD in teens with other developmental and intellectual disabilities. ODD is often comorbid with being neurodivergent. Some research suggests that this defiant behavior could be a side effect of a child’s inability to resolve their capabilities (due to social, language, or social-communicate challenges). Emotional regulation differences could amplify the repeated struggles of failing to meet normative expectations.


Although some communication techniques recommended for parents might seem simple, using them in the face of defiant or oppositional behavior could be extremely difficult, especially if there are major stressors in the home. The most important in treatment is to show consistent unwavering and unconditional love. In the face of opposition, displaying acceptance can be tough. It is important to work through that difficulty without being too hard on ourselves and do our best to be consistent.
Some strategies for parents to practice at home could be:

  • Model the behavior you want your child/teen to exhibit.
  • Avoid power struggles. Anything can become a power struggle if we do not monitor our reactions.
  • Set boundaries and enforce reasonable consequences consistently. Communicating these boundaries and consequences with a spouse/partner beforehand could be extremely useful.
  • Create a united front. Bring members of the family together. Often treatment can include family therapy to process and uncover potential stressors. Encouraging open discussion and working towards common goals can be beneficial.
  • Create a routine where you possibly spend time together with your teen or child on a consistent basis. That can help them feel loved and important enough to be a consistent part of your life. They may grow to look forward to that time.

Often children and teens with oppositional or defiant behaviors can feel lowered self-esteem. Be aware to avoid any type of labeling that judges their character. ODD is very often a sign of potential deeper emotional struggles (i.e., mood disorder, emotional dysregulation issues) or of attentional deficit disorders. As parents, we can help by trying to uncover any potential issues by getting the right support for our children. Social skills training, parent training, individual and family therapy, and cognitive problem-solving skills training could be extremely useful. An in-depth evaluation by a trained professional should be able to bring underlying issues to the surface.




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