Why is my pupil so angry and defiant?
Have you ever come across a pupil who was angry, defiant, vindictive, and spiteful – and you couldn’t put your finger on the cause?
There are some pupils for whom a person on authority – such as a teacher – is like a red rag to a bull.
They could be suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
What is ODD?
This is when a child shows an ongoing pattern of persistent argumentative behaviour, irritable or angry moods, and shows vindictiveness to people who are in authority.
Some behaviour like this is to be expected from toddlers as they assert themselves on their parents in the ‘terrible twos’. ODD, however, goes on when children are older and lasts for more than six months.
Many children with ODD also have other behavioural issues like attention deficit disorder, mood disorders, anxiety, or learning difficulties.
The symptoms include repeated temper tantrums, arguing with adults like parents and teachers, deliberately trying to annoy their classmates or siblings and getting very annoyed by them, refusing to follow the rules, seeking revenge, being spiteful, swearing, and saying upsetting things when angry.
The exact causes are unclear. Factors can include damage to the neurotransmitters in the brain, genetic links to family members with behavioural or personality disorders or mental health problems, or a difficult home life.
Typically, it begins by around the age of eight, and it’s estimated that between 2% and 16% of children and teenagers have ODD.
Treatment options are decided on depending on the age of the child and the severity of their symptoms. Treatment often involves cognitive-behavioural therapy which helps to reshape the pupil’s thought patterns, and family therapy. Behaviour management contracts between parents and children are often also used to help reward positive behaviour.
If untreated, though, ODD can become a more serious conduct disorder.
What impact can a child with ODD have on a class?
Difficult behaviour can be very disruptive in a classroom. Not only can their learning be impaired by their actions, it becomes more difficult for a teacher to help classmates to learn. It can be a challenging atmosphere for any teacher.
A child with ODD can face rejection from fellow pupils because of his or her behaviour – other pupils may find it aggressive and annoying. The classroom becoming a difficult place for a child can also lead to truancy, with all its dangers of children being drawn into crime or anti-social behaviour.
One ODD expert in the USA reported working with a pupil of 12 who appeared to be working well on an essay, only to rip it up in front of the class at the end, claiming another pupil had written on it. Then, he began eating the crumpled-up and ripped paper.
The expert said when she talked to the pupil, he would not make eye contact, but she noticed that he was producing finely-detailed architectural drawings. She began a conversation with the pupil which went well, and the pupil told him her wanted to be an architect. The pupil drew a house he’d designed for her.
Yet, he remained aggressive and uncommunicative with his class teacher and classmates. The expert visited the boy’s home and found that the boy’s father was domineering. The boy was frightened of him.
Despite that, the father agreed that the expert could work with the boy, using his love of architecture to help his other studies. There were successes, and there were problems. The boy made false accusations against the expert to cover up acting violently, which the boy’s mother knew were not true as he often made the same accusations against his brother and his classmates.
Slowly, as the therapy continued for six months, the boy began to realise the atmosphere at home was not his fault. Slowly, he allowed the expert into his world and talked about his love of architecture. Finally, he made eye contact.
The pupil recorded his feelings in a journal, and the boy’s grandparents stepped in to help. He went to live with them. Now, the teenage boy works with his grandfather in the construction industry. He handles any lingering anger management problems with the help of ongoing therapy.
So what can you do?
Firstly, a teacher needs to recognise the signs of the disorder and help towards their pupil’s diagnosis – raising the issue with their headteacher and parents. The diagnosis has to be made by a qualified professional who can draw up a treatment plan with the pupil’s parents.
Understanding the causes of a pupil’s mood, the ‘triggers’ which spark off defiant or angry behaviour, is vital. It’s important to avoid power struggles and help any pupil with ODD to find more productive ways of releasing their anger and frustration.
Teachers of pupils with ODD can put structures in place to help them develop good, pro-active relationships with them. Realistic routines can help pupils with ODD avoid their ‘triggers’, and positive praise is important.
It’s also important to develop a rapport with the pupil so that he or she doesn’t see their teacher as just an authority figure. Good communication is key.
We have a one-day course which teaches the techniques to helping pupils with ODD in London and Birmingham in October. Find out more here: https://www.nsmtc.co.uk/courses/. The course will involve role play and using anonymous, real case studies.
The course will help teachers deal effectively and compassionately with pupils with ODD and assist in having conversations with their parents or carers.
NSM Training & Consultancy provides expert training for headteachers, teachers, and school staff. Read more about the work here:https://www.nsmtc.co.uk/
The company was established by international education consultant and teacher Nicola S Morgan. She developed a reputation for excellence in dealing with the most difficult pupils and now runs training courses for schools and parents and is a published author in the field.