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Dealing with ODD | How to correct children’s bad behavior with Correcting Behaviors

Dealing with ODD | How to correct children’s bad behavior with Correcting Behaviors

How to deal with challenging behavior in children is a question parents dealing with ODD ask. Children who have been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) exhibit both emotional and behavioral symptoms. They are prone to losing their temper and become angry and irritable easily. They continually challenge authority figures through arguing, refusing to comply with requests and openly defying rules. Children with ODD also blame others for their misbehavior and can be vindictive. ODD is usually diagnosed by age 8, but children can exhibit symptoms as early as preschool. Correcting Behaviors is a necessary skill to use with children who have been diagnosed with ODD because it gives the child clear expectations and a predictable response for misbehavior. Due to the argumentative, defiant, and aggressive behaviors in children with ODD, parents and other adults who interact with these children tend to shy away from enforcing negative consequences to avoid escalation, however, this only makes the behaviors more severe. All children need boundaries and consequences, but children with ODD especially need them so they can learn to take responsibility for their actions and be held accountable for misbehavior. Correcting Behaviors gives parents and authority figures a routine, non-emotional way to react to misbehavior, which aids in reducing escalation and increases the chances of following through with negative consequences and regain control of the situation.

Visit our Correcting Behavior lesson page to learn more about this skill.

The steps of Correcting Behavior are:

  1. Get the child’s attention to stop the problem behavior
  2. Express empathy.
  3. Describe the bad behavior. Be sure to be descriptive and avoid judgment. Avoid asking questions.
  4. Deliver a consequence. The consequence should be doable and is meant to teach, not punish, your child.
  5. Describe what you want your child to do instead. Use words your child will understand.
  6. Give a reason why this good behavior is important to your child.
  7. Practice the new behavior and then reduce the consequence.

Print out the steps of Correcting Behaviors for easy reference

The behavior management strategies of Correcting Behaviors means all the steps work together to prevent misbehavior from happening again. I’d like to review a few of the steps that are especially important for children who have been diagnosed with ODD. It’s important to get the child’s attention before you begin any correction (step 1). Step 2 is to express empathy. Children are most responsive and willing to participate in a teaching interactions when they believe you understand their point of view. For this reason, it is especially important to express empathy for children who tend to challenge authority figures. Steps 3 and 5 focus on describing the negative behavior you observed and the positive behavior you expect. Since children with opposition defiant behavior become argumentative, it is best to be concise and clear about what you observed and what you expect. This leaves less opportunity for your child to challenge and avoid responsibility. Use step 6, to give a reason why the positive behavior would benefit the child, is another way to encourage a child with ODD to follow rules. If they are able to see that the reward for behaving well outweighs the satisfaction they receive from deliberately annoying others then they’ll choose the positive behavior over the negative behavior. Finally, practice the new behavior so your child understands what they are supposed to do and then reduce their consequence.

Here are some extra tips while using Correcting Behaviors to help your child with ODD.

Help them feel in control

Find ways to include your child in making rules and establishing consequences. Many of the behaviors exhibited with ODD are used as a tool to gain control. If you include them in defining rules and consequences they gain a sense of control over the outcome and won’t perceive the rules as arbitrary boundaries set by an authority figure. It also reduces the gap they feel between themselves and you as an authority figure, reducing the likelihood of defiance if they break the rules. Written contracts are one example of how to include a child in the process of establishing boundaries and the associated rewards and consequences.


When negative behaviors occur that are not on the contract, occasionally let your child choose their own consequence. It’s surprising how well children can match the degree of their consequence to their negative behavior.

Also include choice in the rewards your child earns, such as choosing where they get to sit at dinner or the next movie the family gets to watch together. Help your child earn control in positive ways so they don’t have to seek it through negative behaviors.

Use the phrase “you have earned”

Children with ODD have a difficult time taking responsibility for their behaviors, and instead blame others for their misbehavior. Incorporate the phrase “you have earned ____________ as a consequence” into step 4 of Correcting Behaviors. As they hear this phrase repeated over and over they will start to internalize that they are responsible for receiving a negative consequence. You can also use this phrase when giving positive consequences to further reinforce that their behaviors control whether they receive positive or negative consequences.

Have more positive interactions than negative interactions

It can be difficult for children with ODD to maintain relationships with friends and even adults they interact with because they consistently try to annoy others and challenge rules. Because of this they usually receive more negative attention than positive attention, which makes it especially important to maintain a positive to negative ratio of AT LEAST 4 to 1 at home.


In addition to using praise, spend one-on-one time with your child to talk with them, participate in activities they enjoy, and build your relationship. Creating a more positive environment will decrease episodes of defiance. Increased positive interaction will also help you gain more love for your child. When you have positive feelings towards your child you will be more able to respond appropriately when they are defiant.

Gauge the best time to practice positive behaviors

I once worked with a child who had spent his early years in a home with a drug addicted mother and he observed many inappropriate behaviors during that time. After being removed from the home and spending time in the state hospital, he was transitioning into a potential adoptive home that his brother had been adopted into. Although his behavior was much improved, he still had the diagnosis of ODD along with other diagnoses. Each time I went into the home to work with him I quickly knew if he would be receptive to what I was teaching that day or if he was more prone to focus on irritating and testing boundaries. I would adjust my activities and plan for the day accordingly. Instead of requiring this child to learn and practice a new behavior I would first play a game or work with another family member until he would express willingness to behave positively in our interaction. Of course you cannot, and should not, always cater to a child’s desire to participate, but when practicing new behaviors you want the child to be as open to learning as possible.

The final step of Correcting Behaviors is to practice the positive behavior and reduce the consequence. Whenever possible this should come directly after receiving a consequence and describing the expected positive behavior, however, if your child is especially defiant and not willing to practice then don’t force them to. Instead offer to role-play at a later time when they are more willing so that practicing expected behaviors can be a positive experience.

Over time rejection from peers and classmates can amplify your child’s use of inappropriate behaviors and it could develop into a more severe condition called Conduct Disorder if the behaviors are not addressed. A lot can be done to shape the behaviors associated with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Begin correcting these negative behaviors now by working on shaping one behavior at a time. Also, pair the use of Correcting Behaviors to the skills of Preventive Teaching and Effective Praise to focus even more on learning positive behaviors.