It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Digest (September, 2010)

ODD Management Digest

(September, 2010)


The September, 2010, issue of the resource for parents, teachers and counselors, the ODD Management Digest, has been published to the web. For a complimentary (free) subscription, CLICK HERE. (If you miss the September, 2010, issue, subscribe anyway. Any current Digest will direct you to past issues.)

Here’s what in the September, 2010, issue:



Noncritical Noticing: Here’s an excellent approach for affirming a son or daughter without their fear that we are being critical or judgmental.


“I’ve Got Your Number:” A teacher in California shares an excellent strategy for a nonverbal and non-embarrassing method for redirecting a student back to a task.


The Apple Tells the Story:  A guidance counselor in South Carolina shares how a shiny apple can be used to teach youngsters the damage put-downs can do. This strategy is so visual and strong, it easily opens discussion on reasons and ways to be considerte to others.


Finding a Counselor or Therapist (Part Two): This is the second of two parts of an answer to a father’s questions about what makes a good counselor or therapist for his child, and where does one find them.


(New Video) Finding a Counselor or Therapist for Your Child or Teen: Using the material from the August and September, 2010 issues of the Digest, Dr. Sutton put together this short video on the topic.


New Anger Training Program: Dr. Sutton’s lastest training program, Practical Stategies for Managing the Angry, Aggressive and Impulsive Student, is now being scheduled for educational service centers, schools, and seminar companies. A schedule for the 2010-2011 school year is included.


2%–The Winner’s Edge:  Winning in life and successfully achieving one’s dreams is often built around slight advantages in effort. Sometimes only 2% more brings a tremendous payoff, but the 2% has to be there. Don’t miss this piece.

For a complimentary subscription to the ODD Management Digest, CLICK HERE. The Digest will appear monthly in your email as long as you want, and you can cancel it at any time.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Digest (August, 2010)

ODD Management Digest

(August, 2010)


The August, 2010, issue of the resource for parents, teachers and counselors, the ODD Management Digest, has been published to the web. For a complimentary (free) subscription, CLICK HERE. (If you miss the August, 2010, issue, subscribe anyway. Any current Digest will direct you to archived issues.)

Here’s what in the August, 2010, issue:



Take a Moment: Three things are discussed for bringing back a more hopeful perspective regarding a difficult and defiant child.


“Before I Get Mad” Poster: A teacher in West Virginia shares a fun and effective way to teach students how to control emotional outbursts.


The List:  What do you do if a youngster comes to counseling or therapy with a list of items they want to cover during every session? Interesting.


Finding a Counselor or Therapist (Part One): This is the first of two parts of an answer to a father’s questions about what makes a good counselor or therapist for his child, and where does one find them.


(E-Book) The Behavior Modification Trap: This 18-page e-book is actually the sixth chapter from Dr. Sutton’s latest work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book. In this e-book, Dr. Sutton addresses why tangible rewards and incentives often fail with some youngsters, and what can be done to defeat the “trap”.


Digest Archives: Dr. Sutton discusses how back issues of the Digest are still being archived, and shows readers how to access them.


How Long? This is Dr. Sutton’s tribute to the late Art Linkletter, who passed away this summer at age 97. Included is “My Best Introduction”, Linkletter’s contribution to the book for grandparents, Grand-Stories.

For a complimentary subscription to the ODD Management Digest, CLICK HERE. The Digest will appear monthly in your email as long as you want, and you can cancel it at any time.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Management Digest (July, 2010)

ODD Management Digest

(July, 2010)


The July, 2010, issue of the resource for parents, teachers and counselors, the ODD Management Digest, has been published to the web. For a complimentary (free) subscription, CLICK HERE. (If you miss the July, 2010, issue, subscribe anyway. Any current Digest will direct you to archived issues.)

Here’s what in the July, 2010, issue:



Discipline Problems at School, Part Two: This is the second part of a two-part series on discipline issues at school. In this issue, a “collaborative” approach to intervention is discussed.


Celebration of Learning Day: A teacher in Kansas shares how her husband encourages achievement in his classroom by getting everyone involved.


Ask! We can learn a lot about a youngster by simply asking. Three suggestions for asking are discussed.


The Kid Who Wants to STAY Angry, Part Two: This is a second part of an answer to a parent’s concern. This part offers ideas for intervention into the four most typical reasons why children and teens elect to remain angry rather than resolve it.


A Special Interview: The “freebie” for this issue is a strikingly candid and informative interview with the author of the bestselling book, The Defiant Child.


Digest Archives: Dr. Sutton discusses how back issues of the Digest have been archived, and shows readers how to access them.


How Long? This is Dr. Sutton’s tribute to the late John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins. Included is a wonderful great-granddad story Coach Wooden sent to Dr. Sutton for inclusion in the book, Grand-Stories. Don’t miss this one!

For a complimentary subscription to the ODD Management Digest, CLICK HERE. The Digest will appear monthly in your email as long as you want, and you can cancel it at any time.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Healthy living, Parents, Self-esteem, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Your Child Too Defiant?

Is Your Child TOO Defiant?

by Carolyn Jabbs

Webnote: Here is an article by Carolyn Jabbs. I was one of the individuals she interviewed as she was writing the piece. It is a bit dated, but this article continues to rank very high in search engines on the topic of Oppositionl Defiant Disorder. Since it is an excellent article, we’re including it in It’s About Them (Dr. Sutton’s blog). –JDS

This article appeared in the March, 1999 issue of WorkingMother magazine


At school and with friends, Brian behaves like a perfectly ordinary nine-year-old.

But at home, it’s another story.

Brian tests every limit: He often swears at his parents, harasses his siblings and refuses to do even the most routine chores without extensive resistance. In fact, communication with his parents amounts to one long argument, leaving them all exhausted, angry and tense. Lately, Brian’s parents have even begun to feud with each other about their son, each blaming the other for his abrasive behavior. They are sick of hearing advice from well-meaning friends, who are sure all Brian needs is a firmer hand.

Brian’s case is a familiar one to therapists who deal with difficult children. The official diagnosis: Oppositional Defiant Disorder, also known as ODD. The symptoms include chronic anger, blaming others for mistakes, being touchy or easily annoyed and vindictive. In plain English, ODD kids talk back, refuse to do chores, use bad language and say things like “You can’t make me” nearly every day. “All kids display this kind of behavior from time to time, ” says Kenneth Wenning, PhD, a clinical social worker in private practice in Hamden, Connecticut, and author of Winning Cooperation from Your Child (Jason Aronson). “With ODD kids, the symptoms continue for six months or more. Parents feel they are always struggling with their child.”

Even more confounding, conventional discipline strategies usual fail. Kids with ODD refuse to go on a time-out from an early age, and claim not to care about losing privileges. If their exasperated parents shut them in their rooms, they may destroy their own belongings or go out the window. When adults resort to spanking, the kids focus on the parents’ behavior—”I’ll report you for child abuse—instead of their own. “Oppositional children actually believe they are equal to adults,” says Douglas Riley, PhD, child psychologist and author of The Defiant Child (Taylor Publishing).

Experts say it’s typical for parents with an ODD child to feel isolated. “You don’t know anything about kids like this until you have one,” says Ross Greene, PhD, director of a cognitive behavioral psychology program at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of The Explosive Child (HarperCollins). “Until people have been in your shoes they have no idea.”

The notion that parents are to blame is often reinforced by the fact that some ODD kids are model citizens away from home. Many, though not all, get good grades at school, cooperate with coaches and are polite with their friends’ parents. Some are even able to convince therapists that their problems are caused entirely by their parents.

Newly Identified Disorder

No one knows exactly how many kids have ODD because it is a relatively new diagnosis and tends to overlap with other problems. The best estimates are that 6 to 22 percent of all school-age children have ODD. Parents often seek help for ODD kids around five or six, an age when most kids become more social and start to be more cooperative rather than less so.

So what causes ODD? No one knows for sure. Most experts think that a child’s inherent personality and disposition contribute to the syndrome, and it may be heightened when parents aren’t educated about how to handle it. ODD often coexists with other problems, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), learning disabilities and mood disorders. Greene notes that it is sometimes more effective to treat an ODD child once some of the related problems, such as hyperactivity, mood disorders or anxiety, have been treated with medicine.

In many cases, the problem is evident almost from birth and only grows more pronounced over time. Even as a baby, one mom says, her son could be difficult. When he was mad, watch out. We used to affectionately call him our Angry Little Man.” These kids are simply “more rigid, more demanding,” says Wenning. “They have a heightened need to be in control, right from the beginning.”

In other cases, the disorder is latent—only triggered during a crisis in the child’s life such as divorce, illness or death of someone close to the family. “Sometimes ODD is more like a fever than a disease,” says James D. Sutton, EdD, a consulting psychologist in private practice and author of If My Kid’s So Nice … Why’s He Driving ME Crazy? (Friendly Oaks Publications). “It’s symptomatic of something else. I always ask if anything happened within the past six to eighteen months,” Sutton adds.

In any case, many parents find they do best with their kids when they start to think of ODD as a disability and not a willful act. “My daughter isn’t simply spoiled,” says Marissa of her nine-year-old. “She is fighting her own demons and often she’s scared to death. Understanding that made it easier for me to provide the structure, patience and consistency she needs.”

How to Cope

Marissa’s approach is a good one, according to the experts. ODD kids are essentially handicapped in their ability to be flexible and handle frustration. “These kids maintain an oppositional attitude even when it’s clearly not in their best interest,” says Greene, “so we have to assume they would be doing well if they could, but they lack the capacity for flexibility and frustration management that ordinary children develop.”

Thus, expecting perfectly compliant behavior from a child who may not be able to deliver the goods is unrealistic. Instead, you have to remain as patient as possible, and try to teach your child skills that help him deal with frustration, irritability, inflexibility and other difficult feelings.

So where do you start? It may help to consult a therapist, who can not only check to see if your child has ODD, but also give both of you and your child some coping strategies. Whether you use a therapist or not, you’ll most likely begin where other parents leave off. “We’ve done all the stars and the charts and the rewards,” says Carol. “And we’ve tried isolation and loss of privileges. Sometimes I think our child doesn’t even make a connection between what she’s done and the consequences.” With such children, you have to learn how to manage your own reactions—then teach your child the skills she needs.

Don’t take it personally. That’s a tall order when a child is screaming at you or calling you names. Often parents can’t help feeling a child could control his ODD behavior if only he’d try harder. But it’s critical to gain some distance. Realizing that “it’s not personal” makes it more likely that parents will respond constructively rather than vindictively to a child’s behavior.

“Before I start seeing the child, I work with the parents to get them to step back and use the same analytical abilities they would use at work,” says Sutton. “I ell them to pretend they are a child care worker and this is not their kid.”

Refuse to join the fight. ODD kids are masters at turning everything into a power struggle. The best way to avoid such struggles is to keep the focus of every conversation on the problem at hand. This is easier said than done, of course. In a typical fight with an ODD child, you might start by stating a simple rule—”No TV until homework is finished”—and before you know it, you wind up arguing about swearing and disobedience. In other words, you’re suddenly fighting about whether your authority is legitimate. To avoid this, calmly repeat the rule and the reasons for it.

Above all, keep your composure. “These kids crave a reaction from you,” says Tina Draper, a mother who runs an online support group. “So you have to learn not to react.” That doesn’t mean ignoring your child’s behavior—just deferring your comments until he’s able to hear them. “I used to get into shouting matches with my son,” says Rosie Linko, parent of a teenager with ODD. “Now I let things slide until he calms down. They I say “When you were angry, you did this and that’s not OK with me. What could you do differently?”

Ease up the controls. ODD kids don’t readily comply, so the more requests you issue, the more the opportunities for the child to get stuck. Greene recommends that parents divide the things they want their ODD child to do into three categories or “baskets.” Basket A holds a few mandatory rules, which are usually about safety—you must wear your seat belt in the car, siblings can’t hit each other, and so on. Basket B holds issues on which you are willing to negotiate when you think your child is able to do so. And Basket C includes rules that aren’t worth bothering with until your child can handle frustration. Every parent will put different behaviors in different baskets. Swearing, for example, is a Basket B issue for some parents and an ignore-it-for-now issue for others. “Work on one or two high priority behaviors at a time,” says Sutton.

Establish simple, enforceable consequences. Rules have no value unless they are backed up by swift, unambivalent consequences. ODD kids can make this difficult. They often provoke parents into escalating consequences. If you say “You’re grounded for the weekend,” and your child replies “Big deal,” it’s very tempting to respond by upping the ante. You might angrily threaten, “Well, then make it a month.” Remember that such a reaction will only inflame things. Instead, stick to consequences that are fair and dispassionately enforced.

Teach relationship strategies. Unlike typical children, who usually pick up essential social skills, ODD kids need them to be spelled out again and again. Rosie Linko remembers teaching her son to stop and count to 20 when he felt really angry. “Now,” she says, “I’ll see him do it sometimes. He’ll focus on getting himself together before he does something he’ll be sorry for.”

Use the back door. Because oppositional kids react so vehemently to direct commands, many parents get better results when they rethink the way they communicate with their child. Instead of issuing a direct command, such as, “Clean up your toys,” say something more neutral, such as “The toys need to be picked up before the TV goes on.”

For older children, some parents sidestep an argument by putting what they want in writing. One working mom leaves her ODD son a list of after-school responsibilities next to his snack. “He usually does what’s on the list,” she says. “If I called to ask him to do the same things, we’0d have a fight.”

Give your child genuine choices. ODD kids want to be in charge, so give that responsibility whenever you can. Instead of arguing with a school-age child about whether he needs a jacket, tell him the weather forecast. If he comes home shivering, don’t lecture. Instead, sympathize with the fact that it must have been colder than he imagined. Gradually, he’ll take responsibility for his own choices—instead of blaming you when things go wrong.

Praise your child whenever possible. Changing the ODD reflex is hard for your kids, so parents need to notice and appreciate even small instances of cooperation—”It was really a help to me when you pitched in with the cleanup after supper.” Kenneth Wenning recommends even creating as many opportunities for positive reinforcement as possible. If, for instance, you’re working on a household repair, ask your child to hand you a tool. When he does what you ask, thank him specifically for his willingness to help out. If he doesn’t, move on without comment. “The idea is to make your request so easy that your child will comply without thinking about it,” says Wenning. “Then, for just a moment, he’ll experience the positive feelings associated with cooperation.”

Connect with what you like about your child. Parents of ODD kids are keenly aware of the problems their kids cause. “CJ just tests us and frustrates us so much that it is difficult to want to be with him,” says one mom. But that’s only half the picture. “These kids are often bright, vigorous and very creative,” says psychologist Sutton. “I try to help parents appreciate the strength that’s attached to the oppositional drive.” He recommends a simple technique he calls affirmation. When your child is reading in bed or watching TV, sit down beside him. If he says “Mom, why are you sitting here?” simply answer “Things get so hectic. Everybody’s going in every direction. I just missed being with you.” Don’t try to have a heart-to-heart or hash over a problem. “Just honor the child with your presence,” says Sutton. “You’d be surprised how powerful this can be.

Take care of yourself and your mate. Remember that ODD is not something you, your partner—or for that matter, your child—has chosen. So take time for things that will relieve stress—exercise, have lunch with a supportive friend, watch funny movies—and treat your partner as your ally. Go out together and talk about anything but your ODD child. “Although ODD does put a child at risk for more serious future difficulty, it is a problem that can be resolved by parents who may work collaboratively with therapists and the child’s teachers,” says Wenning.


Carolyn Jabs writes frequently about family issues for many national magazines.

June 1, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Bad Behavior Developmental Delay?


First of all, allow me to apologize for not attending to this blog as I should. A LOT has been going on. I hope to be a bit more diligent in the future.

Here’s an email I received recently. It brings up a very interesting issue.

I read somewhere that bad behavior is a symptom of developmental delay. What does this mean? I’m not certain I agree.

Developmental delay is one theory, and it’s a good one. There is plenty of research to back it up. It’s important to realize, however, that behavior in young people can stem from a number of issues and concerns.

For certain, developmental delay can be at the core of bad behavior. More specifically, developmental delay results in immature emotional, social and cognitive functioning. Bad behavior can be viewed as a defense, a cover-up for these deficits. A child who doesn’t know how to play with others can become so obnoxious no one would want to get close to him. A child with no tolerance for frustration will act out at the slightest provocation. The same holds true for youngsters who are academically challenged; they buckle with the slightest frustration.

If developmental delay is at the heart of the difficulty it is assumed that the youngster’s emotional, social and cognitive development were affected early on by stressors in the family system, such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, prolonged illness, or harsh or “misattuned” parenting. Often, the parents suffered the same circumstances themselves. Adopted children can be at risk for developmental issues.

Too often a youngster’s behavior brings on short-term relief. This actually serves to prolong the problem.

Here’s a scenario: A youngster becomes frustrated trying to do a math assignment in class. In exasperation he throws his textbook across the room. This lands him in the office, or at least in a time-out. Guess what he doesn’t have to do then … MATH! This behavior is “programmed” to be repeated.

This youngster isn’t proud of his loss of control; he doesn’t want to look so “needy”. He knows he has a short fuse, and it scares him as much as anyone else. This is good because the boy can be receptive to redirection and help that can make a better outcome for him, his teachers and his peers.

When skills improve, behavior improves.

Although oppositional and defiant behavior also can be attributed to developmental delay, it’s most often a characteristic of youngsters who have the skills; they simply select when and where they choose to use the skills or the defiance. Besides, if the siblings of an oppositional and defiant youngster are consistently doing well emotionally, socially and cognitively, how could we pin the trouble on developmental delay? 

Note: This article was posted in the May issue  of the ODD Management Digest. For a complimentary subscription to this excellent publication for parents, teachers and counselors of difficult children and teens, CLICK HERE.

James D. Sutton, Psychologist

May 28, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fixing Desperate Behavior (Part 2 of 2)

This is the follow-up video to the first one, What is Desperate Behavior. In this video, psychologist Dr. James Sutton offers insights and strategies for managing chronic and extreme behavior in young people.

James Sutton, Psychologist

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ODD versus “Just Stubborn”

Stubbornness is a personality attribute while Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a diagnosis of a psychological condition. Although there’s a case for saying that both exist on a continuum of defiance, they can be dramatically different.
Stubborn youngsters know when to give it up. They might be a challenge to authority, but they seem to know when it’s finally time to comply. Stubborn students have the ability to excel in all aspects of school. Sometimes stubbornness can be a “righteous” attribute, as might be the case of a student who refuses to try drugs with her friends, and does not fold under the pressure to do so.  
ODD, by definition, can wreck a youngster’s present and future.  It’s sometimes seen as a switch they can’t turn off. Early diagnosis and intervention should be a priority.
James Sutton, EdD 

March 7, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family | , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Desperate Behavior? (Part 1 of 2)

Here is a new video recently posted. This material comes from my newest book project, Beyond Behavior. –JDS

James Sutton, EdD

February 11, 2010 Posted by | Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Difficult Behavior Doesn’t Change

WHY DIFFICULT BEHAVIOR DOESN’T CHANGE:  Obviously, parents are quite concerned about difficult behavior in their children, especially with every intervention they can think of doesn’t seem to work for them. It’s easy to give up, isn’t it?

How many times have you heard a well-intending person say, “Well, he’s just doing that for ATTENTION.” So? Everyone needs and wants attention. They want to be affirmed and feel like they matter in some way. A deeper question would be, “Why do some youngsters engage in extremes of behavior in order to secure the attention other children obtain easily with appropriate behavior.” Let’s consider four reasons: Ignorance, Fear, Thinking and Payoff.

IGNORANCE: How could any of us possibly know what we don’t know?  I’ve met very few youngsters whom I believed actually schemed and planned to have their lives fall apart with everyone at school and home upset with them. No emotionally healthy person invites pain and misery. They don’t have a clue as to how to change, even if they wanted to. (This is the premise of cognitive behavioral therapy.)

FEAR: Change involves the unknown, and the unknown can be scary. Even poor behavior brings with it a comfort zone, and getting out of that comfort zone, as bad as it is, can be terrifying. Add to this the fact that authentic change involves recognizing and expressing one’s vulnerabilities. That can send fear off the chart. Who really wants to talk about that stuff? Kids don’t; to them expressing something makes it more real and more scary.

The big problem with fear-induced behavior is that, most often, only the behavior is addressed. (And that makes sense because it’s the behavior that’s creating the trouble.) But fear hangs around, sets up residence and orders new curtains. Nothing changes.

THINKING: Our own thoughts can beat us up plenty every day. Kids who find themselves “stuck” in inappropriate behaviors often feel they are fulfilling a role they rightly deserve, that somehow change is not an option for them. (If you’ve studied the roles youngster’s can play in dysfunctional and compulsive family systems, you’ve discovered that a child can be reinforced for negative thinking. This is tough to change.)

PAYOFFS: Poor behavior can fulfill a definite purpose. If it does, it will continue over and over again. Youngsters who are uncomfortable around others, for instance, might engage in behavior that keeps peers at a distance. Although isolation hurts, the distance the behavior creates provides some relief. This is an example of how bad behavior feels good. It’s not right, but why wouldn’t it keep happening?

In future posts, we’ll look at what parents and caregivers can do to address these change-inhibiting issues.

(Note: If this topic interests you and you’d like to be notified when Dr. Sutton’s book encompassing this topic becomes available, email him at the address provided on the right, putting CHANGING BEHAVIOR in the subject line.)

James Sutton, Psychologist

January 27, 2010 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teleseminar on ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)

NOTE: This teleseminar has already been conducted and is now ready for download. CLICK HERE to download the program in an mp3 file suitable for use in an iPod, mp3 player or computer.


TELESEMINAR: “WINNING THE BEHAVIOR GAME”: We have recently set up a telephone bridge for conducting live teleseminars, and are excited about the possibilities of using this dependable and effective medium of training. We will be coordinating the telephone with a printed handout delivered by email.

The date of the teleseminar is Thursday, August 27th, 2009. It will be held at 8:00pm Central Time (Dallas and Chicago time). The teleseminar will be 60-70 minutes in length.

Dr. Sutton will be the presenter on this first teleseminar. His topic, Winning the Behavior Game, is a timely one in the management of difficult behavior in young people. Here’s what the program will cover:

1. The concept of how inappropriate behavior is often reinforced inadvertantly.
2. What a youngster attempts to achieve with inappropriate behavior, and how to manage it directly.
3. The concept of patterns of behavior and why they are so difficult to manage.
4. The three powerful elements of a pattern.
5. Strategies and interventions for breaking down patterns and redirecting behavior.
6. The value of NOT “Stirring the Pot” in intervention.

The teleseminar will allow time for questions and interaction.

We will archive the training and the handout on the web, where it will be available for download.

Registration is limited. To express your interest in participating in this first program at no cost, simply email Dr. Sutton at the email address in the section to the right of this post, and put “Teleseminar” in the subject line. We will contact you with the phone number and access code for the call and, of course, the file for the training handout.

Do remember that, when registration is full, the teleseminar will be closed.


James Sutton, Psychologist

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Healthy living, Parents | , , , , | Leave a comment