4 Ways to Handle Back to School Problems for Children with ODD

By Melvin Hayden


The start of every school year brings all sorts of images to mind, but for parents with kids that have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), this is often a time of anxiety and even dread. If you are anxious about “back to school” time, here are a few tips to keep in mind about your child’s education:

Communication is Key. Communicating with school staff can often feel like an intimidating task. However, remember that your child’s teacher and school administrators are often just as frustrated and unsure about how to handle his behavior as you are. Try to remember that you are all working toward the same goal: for your child to become an educated, productive member of society. Keep a notecard handy that reminds you of this goal and pull it out anytime you have your phone or in–person contact with the school.

Keep Your Child Responsible. As adults, we can do everything in our power to offer educational opportunities to our children. Transportation, supplies like books and pencils, support in understanding the classwork, clearly communicating rules and expectations are all things we can control as adults. However, in the end, it is up to your child to take advantage of those opportunities.  Short of putting the textbook on his head and hoping the information just seeps into his brain, there is no way to force a child to learn material when he is refusing. If he does refuse to complete the work, he will still learn – he’ll just be learning that there are natural consequences to his choices.

Make Your Child an Educational Partner. Remember, this is your child’s education, not yours. You have already gone through school. Perhaps you graduated, perhaps you did not. Perhaps yours was a good experience, perhaps it wasn’t. Particularly as he or she gets older, your child should be an active partner in her educational experience. What does she want? Are there alternative education opportunities that meet her needs better and still meets society’s legal expectations? Be open to your child’s ideas on what needs to happen for a successful education.

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Try Not to Predict the Future


Most of us get frightened – even terrified – when our kids begin to struggle in school. If my child is struggling in the second, fourth or sixth grade, what will happen down the road? The worst-case scenario: they may not graduate. That thought strikes fear and disappointment into the hearts of many parents. But what’s the worst-case scenario here? Many people succeed in life even though they decide to take an alternate route. Jobs in the trade and service industries are no less valuable than those that require college or even high school diplomas. Many, many successful people chose not to take their parents and the school system up on the opportunity for a formal education: Ansel Adams (famous photographer), Bryan Adams (singer/songwriter), Nora Roberts (bestselling author), Carl Lindner (self-made American businessman and billionaire), Kevin Bacon and Johnny Depp (actors), Sonny Bono (singer and politician) are some names that come to mind. And remember, just because a child doesn’t take advantage of formal education now doesn’t mean he or she won’t return to it later in the form of a GED, night school or a college placement test. Having said this, there’s no way to predict that your child won’t successfully graduate despite struggles in school. But fear can lead us to react as parents in a way that contributes to our child’s negative school experience.

Opportunity and Responsibility

In today’s world, parents and educators sometimes put more effort into a child’s education than into the child himself. Education is about more than “book learning.” It should be the time when our children begin to learn about the real world and how they will navigate through that world successfully.

It’s our job as parents, educators and as members of society to offer every child the opportunity to have a formal education. It’s our job to provide a safe environment and ensure that our children have the tools to support them in their learning. If a child is struggling, we need to look at what may be going on. Is there a learning disability? Is he or she being bullied? Is there something interfering with his or her ability to do well in school? As long as you’re doing your job, it’s your child’s responsibility (and ultimate choice) on whether or not to take you up on those opportunities - and to deal with the natural consequences that may result in an alternative path.

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