How to Reduce Oppositional Defiant Behavior in Children With ADHD

Boy playing with his food at the dinner table

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Family life can be frustrating and exhausting when you have a child who often displays challenging oppositional behaviors. But there are ways to make the situation better. The key is to understand where the behavior is coming from and to be prepared to handle hostile or defiant actions.

Studies have even found that anywhere from 45 percent to 84 percent of children and adolescents with ADHD meet the full diagnostic criteria for oppositional defiant disorder. These children are more likely to disobey parents, act aggressively and be impulsive. They often have difficulty managing and regulating emotions and become easily frustrated and angry.

In order to be able to deal with these behaviors daily, parents need to be prepared. This way you can respond to your child’s defiance in a way that is helpful rather than reactive and you can avoid saying or doing anything that will escalate the hostility between you and your child.

Steps to Help Lessen a Child's Oppositional Behaviors

Below are some steps you can take to help reduce your child’s oppositional behaviors and improve your parent-child relationship.


It may seem odd to put self-care first in this list of steps for improving your child’s behavior, but parenting a child with ADHD can leave you feeling exhausted, stressed, or depressed if you don’t take care of yourself. In that state, you are more likely to react to your child in a way that will make the situation worse.

By keeping yourself strong, you’ll be in a better position to help your child.

Delay Your Response

Defiant behavior can take a toll on even the most patient of people. In moments of frustration, it can be easy to say something we will regret. Instead, get into the habit of taking a deep breath and counting to 10 (or higher!) before reacting.

Use the delay in order to gather yourself and carefully consider the best way to respond to the situation. When your son or daughter is acting out of control, he or she needs you to be the calm in the storm.

Catch Your Child Being Good

Shape your child’s behavior with praise. Catch him or her being “good.” Label the positive behaviors you see (“Thank you for being cooperative.”). Set up rewards systems that reinforce these positive behaviors. It is always more effective to use rewards and incentives before punishments.

Know that for a child with ADHD, you may have to use larger, more powerful rewards in order to help motivate. You may also have to switch up the rewards periodically in order to keep your child interested.

Be Patient and Understanding

Sometimes kids who have experienced repeated frustrations or failures will begin to balk at circumstances where they fear they will once again fail. In these situations, it becomes an automatic impulse for a child to respond with the opposition in order to avoid further hurt.

Be aware of this coping strategy and consciously work to provide your child with opportunities for success. Sometimes tasks that seem simple to us are extremely difficult for a child with ADHD. Reward hard work, effort, and progress, rather than focusing solely on the outcome.

Offer Acceptable Choices

Offering choices allow your child a certain level of control over situations and help to encourage compliance. If you think about it, much of a child’s day is filled with directions from adults. When someone is constantly told what to do—especially a child who tends to be rather oppositional in the first place—he or she may automatically begin to respond with an argument.

Look for situations in which you can empower your child by providing choices instead of a command. So instead of saying, “It is time to do your homework right now,” try: “Would you like to start your homework now or after you have a snack?”

Clarify Expectations

Have clear and consistent rules and make sure they are understood by your child. State the behavior you expect to see not the negative behavior.

Maintain Daily Routines

All children respond well to routines, and for kids with ADHD, a consistent daily routine is vital since knowing what is going to happen next helps keep things fairly predictable and less chaotic.

Schedule One-on-One Time

As parents, we are so often in the enforcer role, but it is also important for us to build in regular time just to be with our children—listening and enjoying and relaxing together. Make an effort to schedule special time.

So often kids with ADHD experience negative social interactions because of their provoking oppositional behaviors. More positive activities with you can have a powerful effect on their overall behavior.

When to Communicate With Your Child’s Doctor

If oppositional behaviors are becoming problematic, be sure to talk with your child’s doctor. It is important to reach out for help and support, especially when things begin to feel as though they are unraveling. With support, you can begin to make changes, help your child find greater success, and make family life much more satisfying.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Russell A. Barkley, PhD. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents. Guilford Press. 2005

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.