Children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) have an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with their day-to-day functioning. These children can be a challenge!
The oppositional child has learned to manipulate people to obtain what they need desire. This may or may not be a conscious or premeditated decision on the part of the child. “Blaming” the child for their behavior is a common mistake. The child is simply responding to their environment in a way that has worked for them in the past. Instead of getting caught in the “blame trap,” explore the child’s motivations and the underlying/unconscious beliefs that control the oppositional behavior.
Symptoms of ODD may include:
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Excessive arguing with adults
- Often questioning rules
- Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
- Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
- Blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
- Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
- Frequent anger and resentment
- Mean and hateful talking when upset
- Spiteful attitude and revenge seeking
Here are some interventions for the child diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder:
- Work with your child’s therapist and Bair Foundation worker. They can help you with specific tips regarding behavior management and parenting techniques appropriate for your child.
- Keep it positive. Give the child praise and positive reinforcement when he shows flexibility or cooperation. Focus more on the times the child cooperates or the child does what you want, rather than on the times he or she doesn’t. Often, if the relationship is stressed there will be a lot of negative interactions. The goal is to have many more positive interactions than negative.Click here to get a great list of 100 ways to say “I love you!” to a child
- Your job is to radiate love to the children in your care.
- Stay calm and in control. Take a time-out or break if you are about to make the conflict with your child worse, not better. This is good modeling for your child. Support your child if he or she decides to take a time-out to prevent overreacting. This is often how kids, especially teens, “save face.”
- Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff. Since the child diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder has trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the things you want the child to do. If you give the child a time-out in his room for misbehavior, don’t keep adding time for arguing. Simply say: “Your time will start when you go to your room.”
- Set good limits. Set up reasonable, age appropriate, limits with consequences that can be enforced consistently.
- Be aware. Control the timing and content of interactions by understanding when you’re getting emotional or when your buttons are being pushed. Don’t have a discussion until you know you can remain calm. Although it’s usually best to give consequences right after the behavior occurs, when working with oppositional children, it’s better to delay the discussion until both parties are calm.
- Use emotion labeling. This can be a helpful in deescalating confrontations because it helps the child acknowledge his or her current feeling rather than continuing to communicate it indirectly through acting-out. A foster parent who sees a child slamming their backpack down, mumbling under their breath as they get home from school might say to the child: “You seem kind of angry. Tell me about your day at school…” Once the emotion is labeled, the foster parent and child can then talk about it, figure out what may have triggered it, and together find solutions. Emotion labeling should generally be done tentatively, in a way that is both asking and telling (“Hector, you sound nervous…”, “Asia, you seem frustrated…”). This sets up a win-win situation. No one is a mind reader, so you can’t know completely what the child is experiencing. Asking in this “not quite sure” manner invites the child to correct your assumption if it’s off the mark; communication happens and we have a “win.” If, on the other hand, you get it right, communication still happens, the child experiences you having empathy with them and you gain valuable insight while possibly avoiding a blowup later driven by unexpressed emotional distress.
- Talk with the child, but mostly listen. Listen and take what they have to say seriously. Spend time listening to them about their day and withhold any negative or critical comments.
- Don’t expect miracles. Odds are things will get worse before they get better. The oppositional child has well-learned and established ways of interacting with the world and change will not happen quickly or easily. The child will attempt to hang on (like a pit-bull with a pork chop) to their previously successful behavior. The child will likely become increasingly frustrated when you change the effectiveness of their oppositional attempts. Be patient and persistent and celebrate the little victories.
- Manage your own stress. Use respite care and other breaks as needed. You can’t take care of the child if you’re not taking care of yourself.
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