Parenting child with ODD using descriptive praise

Parenting a child with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) can be tiring and especially frustrating because of their tendency to challenge authority, purposely disobey, and intentionally annoy others. The symptoms of ODD can also carry over to other settings and authority figures, which make managing your defiant child even more difficult because teachers, church leaders, coaches, and other parents are also looking to you for discipline and help. Luckily, ODD is treatable and much can be done at home to decrease negative behaviors.

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Why is descriptive praise important to improve Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Praise is one of the most effective tools to begin shaping your ODD child’s behaviors. It may go against your natural reaction to start giving an ODD child praise when most of the behaviors you observe are negative, but praise is essential to turn their behaviors around. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder often display their defiant behaviors to get a reaction, so as a parent, you need to start showing them that positive behavior is how they will get a reaction, rather than through negative behavior. Having firm boundaries and giving consequences when you observe negative behavior is necessary, but more attention should be given for their positive behaviors. Smarter Parenting suggests that you give 4 praise
statements for every 1 correction to be most effective.

There are several ways to start incorporating more praise into your home. Reward charts and jars are a great tool to remind you to praise your child. Include your child in making a reward system and have them choose a reasonable reward to work towards. The ultimate reward must mean more to them than the satisfaction they get from disobedience. Because of this
it may take time to adjust the reward system and find what works for them. You can also set-up reminders for yourself to increase the amount of times you praise in a day. You can do this by setting a timer that goes off every 30 minutes and finding a behavior to praise each time it goes off, or you can place sticky notes in various places around the house and praise your child each time you find a sticky note.

Learn the behavior skill of Effective Praise.

Praise must be descriptive to be effective

To be the most effective in managing oppositional defiant disorder you must give descriptive praise. You can’t just say “good job” and be done giving praise. You must go further and describe the exact behavior you observed to fully reinforce the behavior. Even though it may seem obvious to you what you are praising, it may not be to the child. Describing the specific behavior will help them know exactly what you expect and what to do in the future to receive praise again.

What to praise

  • Positive behaviors your child is already doing that you take for granted. There are probably many behaviors your child is already doing well, but you don’t notice because it has become a normal part of your home. Start increasing praise by acknowledging what your child is already doing well.
  • Improvements, no matter how small. Don’t wait for you child to master a behavior before you begin praising them. For example, if they normally yell at you and refuse to obey when you give them an instruction, but this time they yell, yet still complete the instruction, ignore the negative behavior of yelling and praise them for following through with the instruction. The other negative behaviors can be shaped over time, but genuinely praise them for the improvements they make.
  • Effort to use a new skill they have learned. As your child learns new skills to change their ODD behavior it is important to support their progress through giving praise. Your child will be more motivated to continue improving and implementing if they receive descriptive encouragement along the way.

The skill of Effective Praise

Smarter Parenting’s skill of Effective Praise is another helpful tool to guide you to praise a child and make your praise most effective. It includes 4 steps:

  1. Show your approval/Find a positive behavior.
  2. Describe the positive behavior.
  3. Give a meaningful reason.
  4. Give a reward.

Download the steps of Effective Praise

Steps of the behavior skill Effective Praise
Steps of the behavior skill Effective Praise

Besides increasing positive behaviors, using descriptive praise is a great way of building self esteem in children. The more behaviorally specific praise they receive the more they will see what they are capable of and desire to work harder to achieve greater goals. As their self esteem improves then the need to disobey and annoy others will decrease and they will be able to build more positive relationships with peers and adults. It may take awhile before praising becomes natural, but start small, and praising frequently will soon be a simple addition to your parenting toolbox.

Visit our ODD page for more help in parenting your ODD child.

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