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Dealing with oppositional defiant disorder August 26, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Special Educational Needs.

As teachers around the world make their final preparations for the start of the new school term, most will be crossing their fingers that their new classroom is free of major behavioural problems.

Here, leading child behavioural expert Fintan O’Regan discusses ways to cope with the ‘defiant child’. This article first appeared in the summer 2010 issue of International School magazine.


Oppositional Defiant Disorder is diagnosed when a child displays a certain pattern of behaviours that includes losing their temper frequently, defying adults, being easily annoyed and deliberately annoying others. These are definitely not the individuals to get into an argument with. It is a less extreme behaviour than Conduct Disorder but, left untreated, can overlap into areas associated with this.

The key elements are that these are children who display the following characteristics:

•    Argues with adults
•    Refuses and defies
•    Angry and defensive
•    Spiteful and vindictive

In essence they display a ‘counter-will’ against authority, especially when frustrated or stressed. They are often completely inflexible in these situations and the more pressure is applied to make them conform the greater the opposition.

The reasons and origins of this condition are difficult to detect clearly but often the pattern will indicate frustration and intolerance as a result of some other type of SEN, for example ADHD or Dyslexia, lack of structure and patience in early child development, low academic and self worth or a combination of all of the above.

In many ways these are the students who say “You can’t make me”, “It’s not fair” and “Whatever”. Douglas Riley in his excellent book The Defiant Child (1999) defines some of their behaviours as:

•    They live in fantasy land where they can defeat all authority figures
•    They are optimistic and fail to learn from experience
•    You must be fair to me no matter how I treat you
•    Seek revenge when angered
•    Need to feel tough
•    Feel you will run out of moves eventually
•    Feel equal to their parents
•    Emulate the behaviour of their least successful peers
•    Answer most questions with “I don’t know”
•    Logic revolves around denial or responsibility

Likely to cause teachers and parents the most grey hairs and sleepless nights, these are the students who need to play up to the crowd, be seen to win the argument and have the last word…

Click here to read the rest of this article. Fin O’Regan is one of the world’s leading experts in behaviour and learning training and consultancy. For more details contact him at www.fintanoregan.com



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