The Reality of ODD: Are some kids just bad?

By Melvin Hayden


I was talking with a student and he was telling me about the consequences he receives and about his temper when he gets mad. As he was talking, he stated, “when I’m bad…” and continued the conversation about his consequences. When he was done, I asked if he thought he was a “bad” kid. He said no. I was glad to hear that because I think overall, we are inherently good. Yes, there are people out there who would fit more in the “bad” category, but that is not being addressed in this article for now.

As educators and disciplinarians, we try to shape our kids to make wise decisions so the negative consequences can be few or needed when necessary. When a kid gets angry and has tantrums and it happens repeatedly, it can be very frustrating to deal with. When the kid understands the consequence of his behavior but continues to still get angry and throw tantrums, educators may not be sure of what else to do. Educators slip. Administrators slip. The slip is telling the child that he is “bad” even though the behavior that he is doing may be more the focus of “bad.” I do not think that educators or even teachers slip on purpose and telling the kid that he is “bad,” but we are human and make mistakes, and it happens. Repeating this slip affects the child’s self-esteem. Over time, these children may see themselves as “bad” because they keep repeating the “bad” behavior, receiving the consequence, and having educators become frustrated, and a negative self-image begins to form. I know that is not what we as educators want for our kids. We want them to have a good sense of self and know what “bad” behavior is. So, how can this happen?

Here is an idea: How about getting away from “bad” and “good” behavior. I know it’s hard to do because “good” and “bad” has been around for a very long time; it’s habitual and creating a newer way can be difficult.

What I am suggesting is to name what is “bad.” For example, your child is hitting a younger sibling because the sibling did not want to share a toy with the child. Instead of saying, “that’s bad,” point out that “hitting is bad.” Tell the child, “It’s not okay to hit when you are angry.” When we point out the behavior that is not okay, it helps us to not get into the “good” versus “bad” cycle.


Another example: When your child is standing in a long line and waiting patiently, and you tell him “way to go.” Point out the WHAT the student is doing: standing and waiting patiently. When a child knows, what they are doing that makes him a “good”, the student will be able to associate that behavior in other areas and they will know what doing well looks like.

Objectifying the behavior takes away the “good” or “bad” titles, which decreases the opportunities for us educators to accidentally say that the child is “bad.” Remember when you first met your students and you were telling him what type of person, they could become? If not, it is okay. What I am getting at is when a kid is younger; educators may encourage the child a little more than at an older age. We encourage young children to try new foods, feed themselves, and use utensils, and we teach/show them how to do it then praise them for what they learned, even if it may not turn out well. Somehow as the child ages, the cycle of “good” or “bad” begins or replaces the encouraging aspect of teaching. Yes, kids do need to know right from wrong AND they still need to know that they can do great things.

Objectifying the behavior can help start a different way of helping alternative Ed students to know how to make healthy choices. Continuing to encourage our students to try new things or to keep trying something can also help. Asking children what they think about their behavior and maybe what they could have done instead of receiving a consequence can also help. The asking can helps our students learn how to see the cause and effect of a behavior. This can be a great learning and shaping tool for preparing the child to see more cause and effect as he or she ages and matures. Reminding the child that he or she is a wonderful child, has great possibilities, and is loved unconditionally can also reinforce a positive sense of self, regardless of whether the child has made a mistake or chooses wisely.

The goal of alternative education is to help shape a child to have a good sense of self, to know how to behave appropriately, and to be able to self-correct or recognize when he or she does not make a good choice. When the “bad” behavior is directly addressed, it takes away from educators accidentally slipping and saying that the child is “bad” when the focus needs to be more on the actual behavior.

It takes awareness and practice to create a new way of responding. I hope this article will enlighten, and small steps can be made to get out of the good/bad cycle and help the child to still have a good sense of self, even when he or she makes a poor choice.