How do You Deal With Kids Who Are Defiant in Children’s Ministry? – Part 1 of 2

Tonya Langdon —  May 24, 2011

All children can be defiant, inflexible, argumentative, or talk back to adults when they are asked to do something that they do not want to do.  This is especially true when they are  stressed, hungry or overly tired.  As parents, teachers or leaders, we often associate these challenging  behaviors with  “toddlerhood” or with the teenage years.  There are many reasons that a child may act defiantly and/or be uncooperative (divorce, death in the family, family fighting, chronic illness, etc.).

However, life for families who have a child with a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) is very difficult as their child’s behavior is chronically  disruptive, belligerent, openly uncooperative, inflexible  and argumentative at home, school and church. This behavior is  greater than their peers of the same age. According to the Mayo Clinic , 1 in every 10 children will be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) and often have an additional diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity  Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety, Depression, Learning Disorders or Mood Disorders.  That means, if your ministry has 10 or more kids, you are likely to have children with ODD.

So, what are some of the behaviors associated with ODD?

  • Frequent and long temper tantrums
  • Excessive arguing with adults or authority figures in their lives
  • Actively refusing to comply with requests and rules
  • Often challenging rules or relentlessly questioning them
  • Deliberately annoying or upsetting others
  • Being annoyed by others behaviors
  • Blaming their mistakes, or why things did not work out for them, on others
  • Frequent outbursts of anger and resentment
  • Willful lying, often for no reason
  • Boys are physically aggressive.
  • Girls are verbally aggressive (putting people down, bullying) and passive-aggressive (pretending to like another child then turns on them as an act of aggression) towards others, often towards other girls.
  • Difficulty in maintaining friends
  • Chronically inflexible
  • Great at manipulating people and school systems
  • Difficulty transitioning  at school, church and other activities
  • Often have academic problems
  • Difficulty taking “no” as an answer

Recently, I had a new student come into my Sunday school class who had been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. Sally is a bright young lady, and when she lets her guard down, she can be very engaging. However, more often than not she walks in with an air of defiance written on her face.  It is evident in her mannerisms and even in her walk. When you try to start a conversation or greet her, she may retort back that she doesn’t want to be there or that you can not make her do anything.  Whoa! What a greeting! During lesson time, she often tries very loudly to derail the lesson to satisfy her own questions or to manipulate the time.  Obviously, this makes teaching  a lesson very challenging! During free time she does not integrate well with her peers playing computer games, Foosball, Wii or sitting and chatting.  Instead, she will proclaim with disdain that these are “baby games” and wonder why we have them.  Her peers don’t openly welcome her into their groups because of her behavior during class time and the negative way she reacts to other children’s behavior.

Sally’s behavior is very challenging.  Her behavior is demanding.  It has a way of leaving you feeling frustrated, and yes maybe even making you feel angry and resentful. How can we teach the other children in our class and still meet the needs of a child with ODD? In part two of this series, I will address some of the techniques and ways to minister to a child with ODD . In addition I will also offer suggestions on how to minister  to the family – because living with a child with ODD is difficult on the entire family.

Tonya Langdon

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Tonya is married with three children. Tonya currently spearheads The Agape Connections (special needs ministry), teaches the 4th & 5th grade Sunday school class and leads a support group for parents who have children with A.D.H.D. and Behavioral Disorders at Skyline Church in La Mesa, Ca. The Agape Connections work with families who have special needs children so the entire family is able to attend church services and age appropriate church activities. In Tonya’s “free time” she is studying for ordination, writes articles and co-owns an office products business with her brother.

3 responses to How do You Deal With Kids Who Are Defiant in Children’s Ministry? – Part 1 of 2

  1. Tonya…thanks for covering this important topic! Kids with this profile can be difficult to manage. I think it is so helpful for folks to have the background information you provided here. Looking forward to part 2! Have a great day~

    • Thank you Katie! As a parent of a child with ODD, I have a unique perspective to children with this behavioral problem.

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