How should parents handle a violent child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Violent behavior in kids and teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can include a wide range of behaviors:
  • cruelty toward animals
  • explosive temper tantrums
  • fighting
  • fire setting
  • intentional destruction of property
  • physical aggression
  • threats or attempts to hurt others (including homicidal thoughts)
  • use of weapons
  • vandalism

Numerous research studies have concluded that a complex interaction or combination of factors leads to an increased risk of violent behavior in ODD kids and teens. These factors include:
  • Being the victim of physical abuse and/or sexual abuse
  • Brain damage from head injury
  • Combination of stressful family socioeconomic factors (e.g., poverty, severe deprivation, marital breakup, single parenting, unemployment, loss of support from extended family, etc.)
  • Exposure to violence in media (e.g., TV, movies, etc.)
  • Exposure to violence in the home and/or community
  • Genetic factors
  • Presence of firearms in home
  • Previous aggressive or violent behavior
  • Use of drugs and/or alcohol

ODD kids and teens who have several risk factors and show the following behaviors should be carefully evaluated:
  • Becoming easily frustrated
  • Extreme impulsiveness
  • Extreme irritability
  • Frequent loss of temper or blow-ups
  • Intense anger

Parents and teachers should be aware of the following tips for dealing with violent ODD children and teens:

1. Stop being intimidated by your ODD youngster. Many moms and dads are afraid to discipline an unruly youngster for fear that he will resent them for being an authority figure. Your youngster doesn't have to like you or even love you, but he does have to respect the parent-child relationship, and realize that there will be consequences for negative actions. Recognize that you don't have to be your youngster's buddy, but you do have to be his parent.

2. Seek treatment. Whenever parents become concerned about violent behavior, they should immediately arrange for a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. Early treatment by a professional can often help. The goals of treatment typically focus on helping the ODD youngster to:
  • accept consequences
  • be responsible for her actions
  • express anger and frustrations in appropriate ways
  • learn how to control her anger

In addition, family conflicts, school problems, and community issues must be addressed.

3. Maintain a unified front. Sometimes aggressive kids know that if they engage in "divide and conquer" tactics with their moms and dads, they will be able to get their way. Thus, parents need to be unified in their parenting. If you're together, if you're unified and if you're there for each other, then all of a sudden there's strength in numbers. Don't forget to close the ranks.

4. Every youngster has currency. Use it! There's not a kid born that doesn't have currency (e.g., toys, clothes, games, television, etc.). Access to this "currency" needs to be contingent upon proper behavior. For example, if an ODD youngster throws a tantrum in a crowded store, he should not be rewarded with a toy or a coloring book. He needs to understand the consequences of his behavior. Predict the consequences of his actions with 100 percent accuracy.

5. Don't get into a power struggle with an ODD youngster. Sometimes aggressive kids know that if they struggle long enough with their moms and dads (e.g., by yelling, screaming, throwing temper tantrums, etc.) that they will get their way. Don’t fall for these tactics. Be firm in disciplining your youngster, and let him know that there are boundaries that he has to observe.

6. Acknowledge your role. When an ODD youngster is acting out, the family will blame him for the family's dysfunction. Oftentimes, you will see a family that will present a disruptive youngster for treatment ... this is the sacrificial lamb for the family's toxicity. Moms and dads should examine their own behavior, and if need be, the entire family should seek counseling.

Help for Parents with ODD Children and Teens

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