If your child has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), chances are that you, the parent, are exhausted. Constant arguing, defiance, disrespect, and the lack of accepting responsibility have pushed you to your wit’s end. You may even be wondering if this is a sign of much worse things to come as your child gets older.
Even if your child doesn’t have the diagnosis of ODD, but you are noticing signs of extreme anger, disproportionate temper tantrums, defiance, and argumentativeness, you may be concerned of what’s to come. As parents, we all want the best for our children. We want them to grow to be successful adults, who are happy and healthy. So if you notice troubling behavioral issues in your child, or if they’ve been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, what do you do to help them be successful?
Develop a Schedule
Many of you have probably heard that children thrive with schedules, structure, and routine. This is true for every child, but especially those children with ADHD or ODD. A schedule allows your child to know what to expect and helps them feel safe and secure. Sometimes, defiance and conflict happens out of fear. Your child may fear that something bad will happen if they are not in control and making decisions (defiant or not). A schedule removes some of the unknown and allows your child to relax and let go of some of that fear. It’s important to note that this isn’t going to give you amazing results immediately. It’s going to take time for your child to get comfortable with the schedule and they may reject the change at first. Change is scary! It’s important to stay consistent and stick with the schedule, rather than giving up on it before you see the benefits.
One idea for making a schedule more acceptable to your child is to involve them in creating it. You can make a rough draft of your idea of a good schedule and then ask them if there’s anything they think needs to be added. You can also give them one or two less important tasks and ask them if they’d like to pick when those tasks happen in the schedule.
Develop Household Rules in Advance
Household rules and expectations are part of providing structure in your household. It’s important that these rules and expectations be discussed as a family and be made very clear. A family meeting to discuss these rules is often helpful, and putting them in writing isn’t a bad idea either. Identify what the rules of the house are and what consequences will be put in place if these rules are not followed. Remember, the household rules apply to you too. You are the model for adhering to rules and accepting consequences when you don’t.
In terms of consequences, when you have a defiant child, it’s important to use consequences that are “fail-proof.” This means, utilizing consequences that you control entirely. It’s pointless to make a consequence that your child can refuse to adhere to. For example, many parents use their child’s phone as a consequence—if you break this rule, I take your phone away for a certain amount of time. Parents that I have worked with have told me that this is sometimes does not work because their child will either refuse to hand over the phone or will throw the phone and break it. Rather than taking the phone, I often talk about developing a “fail-proof plan,” such as shutting off service or turning off the wi-fi. This way, your child does not need to comply but the consequence is still carried out because it is 100% within your control.
Maintain the Boundaries & Rules
Now that you’ve set household rules and consequences, it’s important to maintain them. Do not bargain with your child, give in to their defiance and demands, threaten, or scream at them. Stay calm and avoid power struggles. If your child breaks a rule or fails to meet expectations, remind them of the rule and the consequence that was already established in your family meeting and then follow through with the consequence. Your child will not be happy of this, of course. They may rage and scream and cry and threaten. Stay calm and follow through. You may want to use a three-time system, especially in the beginning when you are first making these changes in your household. This means that the first time a rule is broken or an expectation is not being met, you remind your child of the rule and consequence, and if it continues you let them know they have one more chance to stop their behavior. The third violation is the immediate implementation of the consequence. If you use that strategy, it is important to make it clear during the initial family meeting that this will be the way that breaking the rules will be handled so your child knows that this three-time system is not you being inconsistent and unable to follow through.
Again, please remember that the household rules and expectations apply to you as well. This means that you will have to implement the same consequences for yourself if you do not follow the rules and expectations. You are your child’s model for appropriate behavior, respect, and for taking responsibility when rules are not followed.
Teach Skills to Help with ODD
Children with ODD often don’t have the skills to successfully regulate their emotions or behaviors. They have difficulty solving their own problems and get frustrated by that difficulty. You play an important role in helping your child learn skills that will help them be successful in the short-term and for their entire life—skills to solve their own problems, as well as to identify and communicate their thoughts and feelings. So how do you help them learn these valuable skills? When you notice your child getting frustrated, point out what isn’t working. Use empathy by naming the emotion you see them expressing and identifying the situation you think is contributing to their emotion, and then listen. Let them tell you if what you think is going on is accurate. From there, help them come up with solutions to the problem. Remember, your child with ODD may react out of defiance, so you may need to let them cool down and discuss ways to problem-solve in the future when they are calm.
Changing family routines and working to help your child change their behavior is not easy. It’s a difficult process and it may often seem like it’s not working. Things may even get worse before they get better. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate the success that you see. Reward good behavior. It may be helpful to consider using more rewarding of good behavior than punishment. One idea is to have your child work towards a privilege or reward by giving them some sort of small token every time they demonstrate good behavior, such as not arguing when asked to do something or for other things you identify as a sign of your child’s progress. After they collect a certain number of those tokens, they earn a reward or privilege. When they earn a token, be sure to show your excitement and happiness for your child. Praise their hard work and effort, and acknowledge how hard it is to change and how proud you are of your child for doing that hard work.
Are you interested in finding out more or think that your family might benefit from individualized counseling to address behavioral difficulties with your child? Call me at 503-405-9773 to schedule a counseling appointment or schedule online HERE.