What’s the Best Way to Discipline a Child with ADHD and ODD?

Learn the best way to discipline a child with ADHD and ODD to improve behavior. The method is simple and works. Read more on HealthyPlace.

To discipline a child with ADHD and ODD, understand the nature of the disorders. Both ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) affect behavior; therefore, concentrating on modifying your child’s actions is what will work best. Trying to involve emotions or thoughts doesn’t work for these kids—and it usually just worsens their behavior. Approximately 30 to 50 percent of children with ADHD also have signs of ODD. Here’s the best way to discipline them.

ADHD and ODD sometimes look similar. Both involve acting-out behavior and poor listening skills. The two disorders also interfere in forming and keeping friendships as well as getting along easily with adults. These similarities are only superficial, however. The difference, and one that is important when disciplining a child with ODD and ADHD, lies in intent.

Kids with ADHD usually aren’t intentionally defiant. Disruptive behaviors stem from the frustrations of ADHD and the neurological causes of this disorder of executive functioning. When a child has ODD, on the other hand, their aggressive behavior, acting out, refusal to follow instructions, and mistreatment of others are all intentional behaviors chosen to annoy and anger other kids and adults.

How to Discipline a Child with ADHD and ODD: Start with ADHD

Treating ADHD with the right medication often reduces the symptoms of ODD. ADHD medication positively affects brain functioning to reduce symptoms. While ODD can’t be treated with medication, when ADHD medication improves the executive functioning in the brain, a child’s behavior can improve across the board. Soothing brain functioning makes discipline a bit easier.

Disciplining your child can be made easier with parent training. In this behavior therapy for parents, a behavior therapist teaches parents how to use behavior modification (also known as behavior therapy) at home with their child. This could be one of your most helpful parenting tools, as behavior modification is the best way to discipline a child with ADHD and ODD.

How To Discipline Your ADHD/ODD Child with Behavior Modification

This disciplinary approach isn’t complicated, but it requires consistent repetition and a lot of patience. The key elements of behavior modification include:

  • Developing precise behavior goals and prioritizing them: What behaviors need to change? Target only a few at a time.
  • Creating simple rules that will shape your child’s behavior by eliminating what you don’t want and adding what you do want. Keep rules short and sweet to avoid overwhelming your child.
  • Developing a system of rewards and consequences to reinforce behavior.

Some parents find behavior contracts to be useful. To create a contract, the parent develops the rules and delineates them in writing. These are non-negotiable. Then, the parent and child develop the consequences for breaking rules and the rewards for following them. Kids with ADHD and ODD resent being controlled, so behavior contracts let them have a sense of control and thus be more cooperative.

Behavior modification is deceptively simple. The following tips will help you use the technique to effectively discipline your child.

Helpful Tips for Disciplining a Child with ADHD and ODD

Using your understanding of ADHD, ODD, and your unique child will help you use behavior modification to shape their behavior. Perhaps the most important, albeit difficult, factor to determine is which disruptive behaviors need negative consequences and which do not.

Imagine that your child is having an intense temper tantrum. Is your child having a meltdown because they’re hungry and frustrated that the neighborhood kids won’t let them play? That behavior isn’t acceptable and needs to be addressed; however, it probably doesn’t need consequences. If, however, your child’s tantrum began because they didn’t want to listen and involves throwing objects, kicking people, or other destructive behavior, the tantrum is intentional and needs to be punished.

Once you’ve determined the nature of your child’s misbehavior, you can use behavior modification to continue the process of improving their behavior. Consider these tips:

  • Use clear, consistent rules
  • Post the rules in prominent places in the house to help your child remember them
  • Consistency is key—enforce the rules, and use the established consequences and rewards, with no exceptions (with ODD thinking, one exception can be manipulated into more)
  • Use a token economy reward system where your child earns small trinkets or stickers that add up to reach a larger reward for good behavior
  • Catch your kids behaving well rather than only looking for negative behaviors; keep your focus on the behavior you want rather than on what you don’t

Disciplining a child with ADHD and ODD is challenging and stressful. Using a system of behavior modification, while not a quick fix (everyone’s behavior changes slowly), is a consistent, methodical approach that your child will respond to. You can and will help improve your child’s behavior despite both ODD and ADHD.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, August 21). What’s the Best Way to Discipline a Child with ADHD and ODD?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Last Updated: September 12, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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