“Get out of my face, it’s not my fault and you know nothing about me..”

Children who may exhibit challenging behaviours both in school and at home is not a new phenomenon despite what the press would have us believe.

However many teachers and parents are struggling with the consistency and intensity of specific individuals who exhibit oppositional types of behaviours.

There are two terms given to describe persistent oppositional behaviour, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ODD and Pathological Demand Avoidance, PDA.

ODD often refers to children who exhibit the following persistent behaviours

  • are angry and irritable
  • often lose their temper
  • argue with authority and refuse to comply with requests or rules
  • often deliberately annoy people and blame others for mistakes
  • are spiteful or vindictive
  • PDA is characterised by an extreme avoidance of everyday demands. The difference is that it is an anxiety-driven behavioural need to be in control.

The key features of PDA are as follows:

  • refusing
  • giving excuses
  • distracting or changing the topic of conversation
  • negotiating or needing to have the last word
  • bombarding with repetitive questions or noises
  • withdrawing into fantasy world
  • complaining of physical impairment – ‘my legs won’t work’
  • Panic-driven physical outbursts or meltdowns.

Children with PDA share many of the social communication, social interaction and sensory difficulties seen within the autism spectrum and as a result PDA and ASD often occur together.

The causes of ODD

This is unknown but it is thought that a combination of environmental and biological factors may be responsible including the following:

  • parenting issues including inconsistent or harsh discipline, or a lack of supervision
  • parental mental health problems eg depression and substance misuse
  • abuse or neglect
  • other family problems, like a marriage break-up
  • under-achievement
  • a child’s natural disposition or temperament
  • the presence of other mental health problems
  • inherited genetics

Children with ODD can often have impulsive and sometimes hyperactive features so this will often overlap with ADHD.

Management of ODD and PDA

As children with ODD and PDA are often demanding, difficult and defiant, management both at school and home will take time, energy and commitment.

There are no magic solutions or strategies that will transform behaviours overnight. As a result this will not be a case of “inspiration but of perspiration”.

The key issue will be to establish consistent approaches at school and at school and to work in close collaboration.

  • Some initial tips for teachers would be:
  • Identify what triggers the child’s behaviour.
  • Develop classroom rules and a daily schedule
  • Provide structure during free time or break times.
  • Communicate clearly both rewards and consequences
  • Be positive; give praise and positive reinforcement.
  • Do not provide opportunities to argue.
  • Avoid raising your voice, be neutral and speak calmly.
  • Put the child near a good role model.
  • Minimise distractions.

Some initial tips for parents and carers would be:

  • Create a structured environment, set house rules, routines and expectations
  • Be consistent, be clear
  • Use a calm voice
  • Pick your battles and avoid power struggles
  • Learn to play with your child, spend time together
  • Celebrate successes and praise good behavior
  • Assign a weekly household chore
  • Persevere – expect behaviour to get worse before it starts getting better

These tips will form just a starting point as specific children will require specific systems and strategies.

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