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.