This is a guest post by Kimberly Abraham, LMSW and Marney Studaker-Corder, LMSW with Empowering Parents.

If you're the parent of an oppositional, defiant child, you know that sibling fights in your home escalate quickly. What begins with an argument and a child yelling, "Mom, make him stop!" could quickly end in a physical fight and a child with a bloody nose. You're frustrated, exhausted and tired of playing the referee on a daily basis. So why do things get so heated, and what can you do as a parent?

Kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) have less tolerance for frustration than regular children. ODD kids will fight hard to gain control of situations. They will deliberately annoy or provoke siblings out of boredom or because they feel bad about themselves, but will refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Other children in the home sometimes resent ODD kids because of this. So when a sibling is hurt or angry and the ODD child refuses to give up control or apologize, things will escalate fast.

If you break up the fight but always make the sibling resolve the conflict, that just leads to even more resentment from the sibling. Parents like their kids to "work it out," but this normal way of parenting isn't effective when an ODD child is involved. Negotiating with an ODD child is impossible. Imagine how frustrated a sibling must feel when forced to resolve an issue that is unresolvable in the eyes of an ODD kid. It's up to you to step in and effectively deal with the situation. Here are a few ways:

Identify Triggers

Help your kids identify situations that make them upset. Then, help them think of healthy ways they can cope or avoid negative situations. Show them that by managing their emotions, they'll have more control than just by reacting to what their sibling does. Let them know that when they feel triggered they can walk away without getting engaged in a fight. This will help cut down on the amount of fighting.

Establish Consequences

Don't let your family live in fear. If your defiant child is running the household, it's time to create consequences that shut down that behavior. Kids need to learn that in the real world there are consequences for negative behavior. Create consequences that hold them accountable while teaching them a lesson. Make sure the sibling who is wronged is compensated. That way, there is justice instead of resentment.

Teach Your Kids to Create Boundaries

Walking away or telling someone to stop are great examples of having personal boundaries. Reinforce the idea that your kids have the option to say "No" or "Stop," and then remove themselves from a bad situation. Remind them of consequences. If their sibling ignores them and continues to provoke, then their boundary has been crossed and it's not OK. ODD kids like their own boundaries, but often will ignore those of others. If your children continue to cross boundaries, step in and enforce consequences.

Praise Problem-Solving

When your children make an effort to resolve their issues in a positive way, praise them. If a sibling diffuses a fight by walking away, then make sure you acknowledge them. Good problem-solving on their part shows maturity and growth as an individual.

It may take time for your children to learn how to handle their emotions. Don't be surprised if you're met with resistance, especially if you have an oppositional, defiant child. Keep enforcing consequences and make it clear that you are there to help them work out their problems, not be caught in a crossfire.


Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with oppositional defiant and conduct-disordered children and their families for more than 25 years. Kim works closely with inner city schools, runaway shelters and court systems. She is the mother of a son with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, has been a clinical therapist for 15 years. She specializes in at-risk youth and has worked with teens court-ordered into Day Treatment/Night Watch programs. She has personal experience in the area of step parenting and has raised four children. Kim and Marney are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline, a specialized, step-by-step program for parenting children, teens, and young adults with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.