How To Parent the Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Little girl yelling

If your child is belligerent, mouthy and downright disobedient, it's time to take a closer look at the reasons why. All children go through times when they just will not obey but the child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is one who will never obey and one who will always push the family's boundaries. The child with ODD is an instigator. He loves to poke and prod and do all the tiny things behind the scenes to get his siblings in trouble. He is the child that challenges everything you say. Most often this child will not have friends.

He may or may not have trouble in the classroom. Many children with this disorder do fine in school but act out at home. This is generally thought to be because the child, understanding at an early age that his behavior is not socially acceptable, can hold it together during class hours but at some point, that child will need release. At home, he feels safe and knows he is loved. There is no longer any need for him to hold it all in. When your child arrives home from school, he will often scream the entire way from the bus to the house. Once inside, the meltdown escalates until you as a parent find yourself wishing he were still at school.

Thus begins the cycle that every parent of ODD children can relate to. You feel you are to blame. You doubt your parenting. You feel guilty for wishing the child had somewhere else to go. You find yourself depleted, angry and unable to cope. Following are a few things you can do to cut down on the meltdowns and take control again.

  1. Establish a secure and supportive environment. A child with ODD needs to have security. He needs to know that mom and dad will always be there for him. He needs to know that no matter how uncontrollable he becomes, you will still love him.
  2. Create a schedule and stick with it. Children need a schedule. This is especially true of the child with ODD. He needs to know what comes next in his day. The surest way to a meltdown and uncontrollable behavior is the lack of a schedule. These children want to know that everything follows a certain order. You may want to give your child his own calendar so he can track his own appointments. Use a schedule for chores and schoolwork. Your ODD child craves organization.
  3. Set up clear and concise boundaries. Your child must know what will happen if he pulls his sister's hair, or breaks all the toys in his bedroom in a fit of rage. Determine the behaviors that cause the most strife in your household and write them down. Choose three or four of them to work on. Sit down with your child and have him help you draw up a plan. The plan should state the unwanted behavior and then the consequence of engaging in that behavior:
    • Kicking: 10-minute time-out.
    • Biting: 10-minute time-out.
    • Breaking toys: Favorite toy gets taken away for three days.
    • Temper tantrum: Half hour in bedroom to get control of himself.
  4. Be consistent. You will need to mete out the exact same discipline every time your child breaks the rule. If you carry through one time and you don't the next, the child will feel that he is in control. The most important thing to a child with ODD is to control those around him. If you let him have control, you will have lost any chance of him obeying you. Consistency is key!
  5. Never shout or get angry with your child. A child with ODD literally shuts down when being yelled at. He cannot hear you. This phenomenon is discussed at length in The Explosive Child. Keep your voice gentle but firm, soft but authoritative.

Remember that ODD is a disorder. Your child may want to obey and he may try very hard to obey, but he just can't summon up that sort of self-control. You can help him control his behavior by controlling his environment. Your child is not out to get you or to make your life miserable. When you can see ODD as a disorder rather than blatant defiance, it may be easier to put the tools in place that will help your child and your family live in harmony.


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