Search What-Is-Oppositional-Defiant-Disorder.com

Loading...

Ask - Don't Tell: Tips for Parents with Defiant Children

Autonomy carried to its extreme gives rise to defiant behavior where a child refuses to be controlled by anybody. Parents often get locked in conflict cycles with such children.

Defiant behavior is developmentally appropriate at three stages in a child’s life:
  1. age 2 - when the youngster is going from infancy to childhood
  2. puberty - when the young person is going from childhood to adulthood
  3. old age - when the individual is going from self-sufficient adulthood to needing supportive care

What is similar about these developmental stages is that each is a time of intense transition when the person feels "out of control" regarding his or her circumstances. Some people get stuck in a defiant stage. This type of behavior is especially strong when teenagers feel that they have no control over a life situation (e.g., divorce, separation, moving, death, change in school, etc.). The reaction is to fight for control.

Parents need to recognize that any child can exhibit defiant behavior without having enough symptoms to qualify him or her for a specific diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Although children who are defiant appear to know the difference between right and wrong, they are confused and frustrated by the fact that the rules keep changing from one adult to the next. They want to see the world in black and white terms, because transitions are disturbing to them. As a result, they constantly test the limits. Telling such a child what to do is synonymous with drawing a line in the sand. When limits are set or directives are given, oppositional defiant children feel as if someone is controlling them, and they retaliate.

Generally, these children do not have problems with their friends unless they are in a position of authority (e.g., captain of a sports team, head of a safety patrol). In fact, the child who is defiant can be viewed as a leader by his or her peer group and, especially at the junior- or senior-high school level, can be seen as a champion for all kids' rights. Young people who are feeling the need to assert their independence can view the defiant peer as a hero. For the most part, the oppositional child’s "enemies" are parents and teachers.

An oppositional defiant child or teen has great difficulty being told what to do (e.g., “clean your room” … “feed the dog” … “get off the phone” …etc.). Defiant kids function much better under systems in which they are given the opportunity to “self-motivate,” because it gives them a feeling of being in control. Mrs. Howard, a middle school teacher, implemented some of the suggestions made for dealing with students who are defiant. Her challenge was a young boy who refused to comply with whatever she told him to do. When the problems approached a boiling point, she had tried moving his desk closer to her, and his behavior got even worse. She had escalated disciplinary consequences, and he said he didn’t care. She eventually decided to move his seat away from her, and she started making a conscious effort to “ask” him what he needed to be doing, rather than “telling” him. She related the following story:

One day I asked him in the morning what he needed to do before he could have recess. He said, "Clean my desk." I nodded and went about teaching the morning activities. About an hour later he came up to me and said, "I’m almost done." "Almost done with what?" I asked. "Cleaning my desk," he replied.

The teacher went on to say that she was totally shocked. She had forgotten all about the desk cleaning, but he hadn’t. Until that point, she had argued with him about desk cleaning – he hadn’t done a thing she told him to do all year. Just changing her approach from "demanding" to "asking" made all the difference. "I wish I’d known this back in September," Mrs. Howard stated. "He’s like a changed person as long as I remember to ask rather than tell."

Parenting Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Tricks To Getting Compliance From Defiant Children

Children and teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) talk back, refuse to do chores, use bad language, and say things like "You can't make me" nearly every day. While all children display this kind of behavior from time to time, with Oppositional Defiant Disorder children, the symptoms continue for six months or more. Thus, moms and dads feel they are always struggling with their youngster.

Even more confounding, conventional discipline strategies usual fail. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder refuse to go on a time-out from an early age, and claim not to care about losing privileges. If their exasperated mother or father shut them in their rooms, they may destroy their own belongings or go out the window. When parents resort to spanking, the ODD child focuses on the parent’s behavior (e.g., "I'll call the police and report you for child abuse") instead of his own. Defiant kids actually believe they are equal to their parents.

It's typical for a parent with an Oppositional Defiant Disorder youngster to feel isolated. You don't know anything about children like this until you have one. Until people have been in your shoes, they have no idea.

The notion that moms and dads are to blame is often reinforced by the fact that some Oppositional Defiant Disorder children are model citizens away from home. Many get good grades at school, cooperate with teachers, and are polite with their peer’s parents. Some are even able to convince therapists that their problems are caused entirely by their mother or father.

No one knows exactly how many children have Oppositional Defiant Disorder because it is a relatively new diagnosis and tends to overlap with other problems. The best estimates are that 6 to 22 percent of all school-age kids have Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Mothers and fathers often seek help for Oppositional Defiant Disorder children around five or six, an age when most children become more social and start to be more cooperative rather than less so.

Most experts think that a youngster's inherent personality and disposition contribute to the disorder, and it may be heightened when moms and dads aren't educated about how to handle it. Oppositional Defiant Disorder often coexists with other problems (e.g., ADHD, learning disabilities, mood disorders, etc.). It is sometimes more effective to treat an Oppositional Defiant Disorder youngster once some of the related problems have been treated with medication.

In many cases, the problem is evident almost from birth and only grows more pronounced over time. In other cases, the disorder is latent, only triggered during a crisis in the youngster's life (e.g., divorce, illness or death of someone close to the family, etc.). Sometimes Oppositional Defiant Disorder is more like a fever than a disorder (i.e., it's symptomatic of something else).

Many moms and dads find they do best with their children when they start to think of Oppositional Defiant Disorder as a mental disorder – and not a willful act. Oppositional Defiant Disorder children are essentially handicapped in their ability to be flexible and handle frustration. These children maintain a defiant attitude even when it's clearly not in their best interest. So we have to assume they would be doing well if they could, but they lack the capacity for flexibility and frustration management that ordinary kids develop. Thus, expecting perfectly compliant behavior from an ODD youngster who may not be able to deliver the goods is unrealistic. Instead, you have to remain as patient as possible, and try to teach your youngster skills that help him deal with frustration, irritability, inflexibility and other difficult feelings.  It may help to consult a therapist who can check to see if your youngster really has Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and can give both you and your youngster some coping strategies.

Here are some tricks to getting compliance from your defiant child:

1. Because defiant children react so vehemently to direct commands, many moms and dads get better results when they rethink the way they communicate with their ODD youngster. Instead of issuing a direct command like, "Clean up your room," say something more neutral like, "These dirty clothes need to be picked up before you leave to go to your friend’s house." For older ODD kids, some moms and dads sidestep an argument by putting what they want in writing.

2. Changing the Oppositional Defiant Disorder reflex is hard for these children, so moms and dads need to notice and appreciate even small instances of cooperation.  Create as many opportunities for positive reinforcement as possible. If, for example, you're working on a household repair, ask your youngster to hand you a tool. When he does what you ask, thank him specifically for his willingness to help out. If he doesn't, move on without comment. The idea is to make your request so easy that your youngster will comply without thinking about it. Then, for just a moment, he'll experience the positive feelings associated with compliance.

3. Don't take the ODD child’s behavior personally. That's a tall order when a youngster is yelling at you or calling you a “bitch.” Often, moms and dads can't help feeling that their ODD youngster could control his Oppositional Defiant Disorder behavior if only he'd try harder. But it's critical to gain some distance. Realizing that "it's not personal" makes it more likely that you will respond constructively rather than vindictively to your youngster's behavior.

4. Mothers and fathers with Oppositional Defiant Disorder children are keenly aware of the problems their children cause. But these children are also often bright, vigorous and very creative. Appreciate the strength that's attached to the defiant drive. A simple technique called affirmation can be quite helpful. For example, when your ODD youngster is reading in bed or watching TV, just sit down beside him. If he says, "Why are you sitting here?" …simply say, "We’re always so busy around here. Everybody's going in every direction. I just missed being with you." Don't try to have a heart-to-heart talk. Simply honor your son or daughter with your presence (you'd be surprised how powerful this can be).

5. Oppositional Defiant Disorder children are masters at turning everything into a power struggle. The best way to avoid such struggles is to keep the focus of every conversation on the problem at hand. This is easier said than done, of course. In a typical disagreement with an Oppositional Defiant Disorder youngster, you might start by stating a simple rule (e.g., "No playing video games until your homework is finished"), and before you know it, you wind up fighting about your child’s cussing and defiance. In other words, you're suddenly in conflict about whether your authority is legitimate. To avoid this, calmly repeat the rule and the reasons for it. Above all, keep your composure. These children crave a reaction from you. So you have to learn not to react. That doesn't mean ignoring your youngster's behavior – just deferring your comments until he's able to hear them.

6. Oppositional Defiant Disorder children want to be in charge, so give that responsibility whenever you can. For example, instead of arguing with your ODD son about whether he needs a jacket, tell him the weather forecast. If he comes home shivering, be sure not to lecture. Instead, sympathize with the fact that it must have been colder than he imagined. Gradually, he'll take responsibility for his own choices instead of blaming you when things go wrong.

7. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is not something you, your spouse, or your youngster has chosen. So take time for things that will relieve stress (e.g., exercise, have lunch with a supportive friend, watch funny movies, etc.), and treat your husband or wife as your ally. Go out together and talk about anything but your Oppositional Defiant Disorder youngster. Although Oppositional Defiant Disorder does put a youngster at risk for more serious future difficulty, it is a problem that can be resolved by moms and dads who may work collaboratively with therapists and the youngster's educators.

8. Rules have no value unless they are backed up by swift consequences. Oppositional Defiant Disorder children can make this difficult. They often provoke moms and dads into escalating consequences. If you say, "You're grounded this evening," and your youngster replies, "I don’t care" ...it's very tempting to respond by upping the ante. You might angrily threaten, "Well, then make it a week." Remember that such a reaction will only inflame things. Instead, stick to consequences that are fair and dispassionately enforced.

9. Unlike typical kids who usually pick up essential social skills, Oppositional Defiant Disorder children need them to be spelled out again and again.

10. Oppositional Defiant Disorder children don't readily comply, so the more requests you issue, the more the opportunities for the youngster to get stuck. Divide the things you want your Oppositional Defiant Disorder youngster to do into three categories:
  • Category #1 holds a few mandatory rules, which are usually about safety (e.g., wear your seat belt in the car; siblings can't hit each other; no using drugs, etc.).
  • Category #2 holds issues on which you are willing to negotiate when you think your youngster is able to do so. 
  • Category #3 includes rules that aren't worth bothering with until your youngster can handle frustration.

Every parent will put different behaviors in different categories. Using profanity, for example, is a category #2 issue for some moms and dads, and an ignore-it-for-now issue for others. Only work on one or two high priority behaviors at a time.

Parenting Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder