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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

ODD Children Who Hit Their Parents

The first thing a mother or father should realize is that aggressive behavior is common in children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). The young child suffering from ODD simply lacks the maturity to hold back his impulse to hit or kick. He may actually know that hitting is wrong, but can't control himself in the middle of his anger and frustration.

Anger and frustration are major issues for ODD kids. When the defiant youngster gets angry, he is expressing his utter frustration at the lack of control that he has over his world. Something happens that deeply troubles him, but he lacks the tools to express his frustration appropriately. This further frustrates him, and he explodes in anger. He may strike at parents with the only tool at his disposal – by hitting.

Growing up is hard work. Many times, kids who face mental health issues and are under a lot of stress go through an aggressive phase. This can be because they have less energy for self-control, or because the stressful event just pushes them over the edge and makes every little inconvenience seem so much bigger. The result is that such a youngster is more likely to resort to hitting.

Reasons ODD children resort to hitting:

1. To get attention: Your youngster needs your attention. Normally he would prefer to get it in a positive way. However, negative attention is better than nothing. An ODD youngster who is frequently ignored may quickly discover that he becomes center stage when he fights and hits others. If parents react strongly to their youngster’s violent behavior, they may be fueling a lot of future problems. Reacting strongly to negative behavior encourages the youngster to continue behaving badly.

2. To feel in control: We all need to feel like we have control of the world around us, and ODD kids are no exception. However, this youngster has very little control over what happens to him. Often hitting is his way of trying to control some aspect of his world. It can be his form of self-assertion.

What can parents do?

1. First of all, acknowledge your youngster's feelings. ODD kids hit because they can't communicate their feelings. When you acknowledge your youngster's feelings, you eliminate this reason for hitting. You can say something like, "You must be very disappointed that I won't let you do _______." This doesn’t mean you are giving in, but it will remove one of the causes of his anger by showing him you understand his feelings. It is alright for your youngster to feel angry. What you want to teach him is to express anger in ways other than hitting.

2. Be a good role model. ODD kids are much more likely to hit if they see their mom or dad hitting someone. If you are concerned about aggressive behavior in your youngster, then your youngster should not see you use spanking as a form of punishment. That means if you choose to spank another youngster, you should do it privately and in a way your aggressive ODD youngster does not see or know about it.

3. For most ODD kids, violent behavior is just a stage. Sooner or later, they grow out of it. Your job as a parent is to understand the cause of your youngster's hitting. When you know this, you can begin to help your youngster express himself in more appropriate ways.

4. Limit exposure to aggression. You should keep your ODD son or daughter from seeing aggressive images on television, in movies, books, video games, toys, etc.

5. Pay attention to your youngster's daily cycles. Is there a particular time of day that aggressive behavior increases? If your youngster loses control before dinner or after school, it may just be a sign that he is hungry. Healthy snacks like nuts, vegetables and fruits may take care of the problem. Does your youngster hit when he’s tired? Then quiet time might be the answer. If you pay attention to what is happening in your youngster's world, then you may find an easy solution to his aggressive behavior.

6. Redirect your child to another activity. Parents can get their ODD youngster to stop hitting by giving him another outlet to express his frustration. For example, parents might be able to channel the child’s desire to hit by giving him something appropriate to strike (e.g., a punching bag, doll or stuffed animal). One mother chose to teach her ODD youngster who had a biting problem to bite a doll.

7. Review the incident. After the crisis has passed, go back over the incident and talk it over with your youngster when he is calm and rational. Make lists of what might work when he gets angry or when there is something you need to tell him that he won't like. Now you are ready. When the next episode takes place, you can remind your youngster of your earlier conversation. For example, "You are getting upset again... remember what you and I have talked about? We wrote this down. We agreed that the next time you got mad about something, you agreed you would ________ (insert redirecting activity) instead of hitting me."

8. Teach communication through language. It is very healthy for an ODD youngster to learn to use words to express negative emotions. Teach him to say things like, "I am really angry right now!" or "I am starting to feel like hitting you right now!" Once the youngster can express his feelings in a more direct and mature way, the hitting will slowly stop.

9. Teach that hitting is wrong. Even though your youngster may not be old enough to help himself, it is important that he knows that aggressive behavior is wrong. ODD kids don't know automatically that hitting is wrong. This is something they have to be taught. When your youngster tries to hit you, grab his hands firmly, look him in the eyes and say something like, "You are not allowed to hit your mother."

10. Be patient with your defiant child as he learns less violent ways to express his anger and frustration.