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Violence/Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Violence / Opposition Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Frequently Asked Questions

My 9-year-old son is violent at home and school. What should I do?

The first thing you should do is examine his influences. Is he being exposed to violence at home in the form of media or other's behavior? Most parents I've met would not let their 9-year-old watch rated R movies, but many parents did not grow up with video games and do not understand video game ratings. One game many children play is called Grand Theft Auto.


In this game, you get paid to mug, assassinate, kill police, torture, cause mass casualty events, and buy strip clubs. This game producer has been sued for $20,000,000 for having a secret mini-game in which players directly control a sex scene. This game was even banned outright in Brazil. In the game, one way of making money quickly is to have sex with prostitutes and then murder them for their money. I've surprised no less than 20 horrified mothers of boys under 13 with this information, as they had no idea this was happening in the game their son had been playing. Another popular video game is Counter-Strike.  The only objective of this game is to kill the opposing special forces team with a gun or knife. If your child is threatening others, it is likely not a good idea to allow them to play these games that glorify violence. 

Movie Ratings and Video Game Ratings Explained

R (Restricted) = M (Mature 17+)

PG-13 (Parental guidance, 13+) = T (Teen, 13 and above)

PG/G (Everyone) = E (Everyone)


If your child has seen either of his/her parents hit someone when they are upset, then he/she will most likely model this behavior and hit others when he/she is upset. Studies have shown that spanking or physically hitting children leads to more aggression and worse behavior. If Charlie gets spanked when his parents are unhappy, then why shouldn't Charlie hit or kick Sarah when he gets upset? A study has shown that corporal punishment in children increases the risk of physical dating violence, and children who are spanked are 4.3 times more likely to bully other children.


I know I shouldn't spank my child but nothing seems to work. What should I do?

In general, I believe behaviorism works best. This is the use of rewards for good behavior and punishment or consequences for poor behavior. I try to consider how society will reward and give out consequences for adults. If you don't go to work (school) then as an adult you won't be able to buy that new TV you want. If you physically attack someone then you will go to jail (timeout). Here are some tips on how to control your child's behavior without violence.

1. Establish consistency in punishment - When the child acts out, does he know what the consequences will be? I've seen many times when a child is assigned a punishment by one parent, only to be undermined by the other parent.  For example, if the mother takes away the phone for a few hours and then father gives back phone immediately then the child learns when the father is present, mom does not need to be obeyed.


2. Give the child something to gain or lose - Some parents are very strict and take away privileges for days to weeks at a time. Three days is a relatively long time when you are 9-year-old. A child needs to feel they have something to lose or gain by behaving well. All of us know someone who has gone on a diet, and many have tried ourselves. Many adults struggle to go 1 week without cheating on a diet while at the same time, expecting a 10-year-old to act perfectly for 1 week.


Depending on their age, I would establish short intervals of removing privileges for bad behavior that can eventually be lengthened.  For example, if an 8-year-old yells at her mom, then she will lose her phone for 1 hour as opposed to 5 days.  It is also important that her mom doesn’t yell back at her daughter, as doing this will actually reinforce that yelling is the appropriate behavior in that situation.


3. Don’t allow over-escalation - Many families are stressed, having multiple children and competing responsibilities. It frequently seems there is just not enough time or energy in the day. Sometimes it also may seem easier to appease little Johnny than discipline him. This may work in the short-term, to stop the bad behavior at the moment, but in the long-term, this is detrimental to Johnny’s behavior.


Recently, I was at a park and a dog kept barking at a tree. The owner kept yelling at the dog to be quiet, but the dog kept barking. After about 4 minutes of the dog continually barking, the owner said "Fine!," got up, and ripped a branch off the tree. The dog then happily played with the owner, chasing the tree branch that he had just told his owner to rip off the tree. I would describe this behavior by the owner as counter-training, or in other words, the dog is training the owner.  It teaches the dog that if it barks a little, it doesn't get what it wants, but if it barks a lot, it gets what it wants.

If the owner didn't give the dog the tree branch after 4 minutes of barking, then the dog would likely continue barking for 7 minutes. If the owner gives in at 7 minutes, then the new rule is 7 minutes of barking will get the tree branch.

The same can be said of children with temper tantrums. If a child gets what they want through temper tantrums, then you can expect more temper tantrums. For more information on temper tantrums and parenting help in general, check out the Parenting page.


4. Assign rewards - Make the things your child enjoys into a reward. If Sarah does her homework and does not fight with her brother, then she gets to play with the phone for one hour. If Sarah does a good job at school for the week, then she gets a new app or game. Assigning rewards is often more difficult than punishing, because many parents feel they should not need to reward normal behavior. This perspective is easy to see, but we also have to realize that this belief has not led to the child’s behavior normalizing, so we must try new techniques. 

Temper Tantrums

If you are a parent, you have experienced the dreaded temper tantrum. Many parents come in asking why their children have temper tantrums and how to make them stop. Temper tantrums that happen in public places can be highly embarrassing, and it’s very easy to give the child what they want to relieve this discomfort. But ultimately, giving them what they are screaming and yelling for will simply reinforce that this behavior is what they need to do next time they want something. Here’s a short story I use to explain how this works.


Dr. Ganz went to the local Mercedes dealership in search of a fancy new car. Before he made it ten steps into the lot, he had his eye on a brand-new red Mercedes. He walked right into the sales office and said, “I want that red Mercedes sitting outside.” The dealer happily responded with “I would love to help you with that! Prices for that vehicle start at $80,000.” Dr. Ganz frowned. “Well I don’t want to pay for it!” he snapped. The dealer calmly responded, “Well sir, we can’t just give it to you.” Dr. Ganz lost it. He started screaming, yelling, and calling that dealer all kinds of nasty names. Feeling very startled and embarrassed, the dealer quickly calmed him down by saying “Ok, ok, ok, if you’re quiet, I’ll go ahead and give you the red car.” Dr. Ganz suddenly stopped the racket and a large smile spread across his face. “You’re the best!” he exclaimed, and off he drove with his shiny red car.

Several weeks later, Dr. Ganz was driving past the same dealership, and this time spotted a brand-new yellow car right out front! He quickly ran inside and was met by the same dealer. He demanded the yellow vehicle, this time throwing things and threatening the staff with what he would do if he didn’t get the car. The dealer quickly caved and handed over the yellow car. He didn’t want things to get too out of hand, was a little worried about the safety of his work buddies and knew this would set things back to normal.

Well by this time, Dr. Ganz didn’t even need to see a car to decide he wanted something. He drove to the dealership one day and demanded a rainbow hatchback with spinning rims and color changing underbody lights. They said, “Dr. Ganz we don’t even sell that!” He screamed “I don’t care! I want one!” He screamed and cried, threatened and broke things. They really didn’t make this car, and all they could do was say “We’re sorry sir. You can scream and break as many things as you want, but you aren’t going to get one of those here.” The chaos went on for a while, but eventually, Dr. Ganz got tired. He retreated to his boring yellow Mercedes, being sure to break a few more things on his way out. From that day on, he never visited that dealership again. He knew they wouldn’t meet his demands any longer.


This is a silly story, but what I’m trying to explain here is that yes, if you don’t give your kids what they want during a temper tantrum, it’s going to get worse when you tell them they can’t have something. They will try to over escalate the tantrum to make you break and eventually give in. And yes, it will probably be very embarrassing.


But if you put your self-esteem aside, stick it out, and stand strong in your decision, the next time it will be a much shorter tantrum, and will continue to decrease in intensity with repetition. This “training” or teaching your child the proper way to behave (or not behave) when they want something is called conditioning. You can learn more about conditioning and gain some additional tips on parenting here.

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