Handling ODD in the Classroom

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Last edited: January 14, 2022

Having a student with ODD in your classroom can be very challenging. One student’s behavior can impact the learning environment for your entire class.

Here are some tips for supporting a student with ODD.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder in the Classroom

Every school year, you face behavior issues in your classroom. Students forget to raise their hands, don’t complete their work, or talk during your lessons. Your behavior program works to control most of these common misbehaviors. However, every once in a while you encounter a student whose behaviors are too extreme for your usual system of classroom management. These students may have oppositional defiant disorder. Here are some ways to support these students in your classroom.

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

The Mayo Clinic defines oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD, as “a frequent and persistent pattern of anger, irritability, arguing, defiance or vindictiveness toward you and other authority figures.” Students with ODD are not just strong-willed or emotional. Their behaviors continue over a long period of time and significantly impact their lives at school and at home.

Here are some common behaviors of a student with ODD:

  • Frequently angry and easily loses temper
  • Physically aggressive
  • Difficulty transitioning from one activity to another
  • Often argues with teachers and other authority figures
  • Defiant behavior when asked to do something
  • Deliberately annoys others
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Blames others for bad choices
  • Spiteful or vindictive

Supporting Students with ODD

Having a student with ODD in your classroom can be very challenging. One student’s behavior can impact the learning environment for your entire class. Here are some tips for supporting a student with ODD.

Tip #1 - Build a relationship with the student.

From the first day of the school year, our goal is to build relationships with our students. This is especially important for students with ODD. Try to make connections with the student through common interests. Make a point of talking with the student every morning to see how he is feeling that day. If the student knows that you care, the number of defiant behaviors may decrease. 

Tip #2 - Start an individualized behavior plan.

Since your regular classroom management system won’t work for the behaviors of a student with ODD, it’s important to set up a plan that will work. As you get to know the child, make notes about the things she enjoys. Identify the behaviors you want the student to exhibit and choose a reward s/he can earn. Maybe the child really likes playing computer games, so you can use a few minutes of extra computer time as a reward. 

Make sure you share the behavior plan with other teachers the student will see, like the art, music, and gym teachers. You should also give a copy to your principal and the guidance counselor, since you will need their support if a situation escalates beyond what you can control in your classroom.

Tip #3 - Be clear and consistent.

Once the behavior plan is in place, make sure the student knows exactly what s/he needs to do to earn rewards. Maybe the requirement is to follow directions the first time they are given three times in a row. When the student gets three tally marks, the reward is given. Focus on the positive behaviors the student displays rather than the negative. 

However, if the student doesn’t meet one of the requirements of the behavior system, make sure you don’t give the reward. Consistency is so important, because the student will quickly realize that he can get away with inappropriate behaviors if the reward is still given.

Tip #4 - Work with the student’s parents.

It’s likely that the student’s defiant behaviors don’t only present themselves at school. The child’s parents are probably dealing with similar behaviors at home. Get the parents on your team, and work together to find strategies that work for the student. You can share the behavior plan you have in place and the rewards you are using. Then, they can share anything that is working at home. Communicate with the student’s parents often, and support each other as you try to help the child. 

Tip #5 - Stay calm.

The purpose of the student’s defiant behavior is to get a response from you. Stay calm, and don’t react to negative behaviors. If the student is refusing to do work, repeat your request and walk away. Be sure to note the failure to comply, and follow through with the behavior plan by not giving the reward. 

Tip #6 - Set up a cool down area in your classroom.

Sometimes all the student needs is a few minutes to calm down when she is feeling angry. Set up a spot in your classroom as a cool down area. Make sure it’s in a place that is away from most distractions and other students. Stock the area with a comfortable place to sit and some sensory tools and fidgets that can help the student relieve stress.

Set a timer, and when it goes off, check on the student to see if she is ready to return to the lesson and make more positive behavior choices.

Tip #7 - Create a safe learning space for all students.

You’re not the only one being affected by the student’s defiant behavior. The other students in your classroom are exposed to it every day, too. Violent behaviors from a classmate can be scary for the rest of the class. 
Make sure that all your students know that having a safe learning space is your top priority. Have a place where the rest of your class can go if the defiant behavior escalates. Maybe they could move to a nearby classroom until it’s safe to return. Your students will feel reassured to know that you have a plan in case there is a dangerous situation.

Tip #8 - Take time for self-care.

An entire school year with a student with oppositional defiant disorder can take a toll on your passion for teaching and your own health. Make sure you take care of yourself. Schedule a personal day to do something you love or go out with some friends after school to relieve some stress. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. 


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About the author

Tara Dusko


About Tara

Tara Dusko is a reading coach who helps teachers implement a reading workshop model in their classrooms. She previously taught 5th grade for one year and 3rd grade for 13… Read more

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