If your youngster is belligerent, mouthy and downright disobedient, it's time to take a closer look at the reasons why. All kids go through times when they just will not obey but the youngster with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is one who will never obey and one who will always push the family's boundaries. The youngster with ODD is an instigator. He loves to poke and prod and do all the tiny things behind the scenes to get his siblings in trouble. He is the youngster that challenges everything you say. Most often this youngster will not have friends.
He may or may not have trouble in the classroom. Many kids with this disorder do fine in school but act out at home. This is generally thought to be because the youngster, understanding at an early age that his behavior is not socially acceptable, can hold it together during class hours but at some point, that youngster will need release. At home, he feels safe and knows he is loved. There is no longer any need for him to hold it all in. When your youngster arrives home from school, he will often scream the entire way from the bus to the house. Once inside, the meltdown escalates until you as a parent find yourself wishing he were still at school.
Thus begins the cycle that every parent of ODD kids can relate to. You feel you are to blame. You doubt your parenting. You feel guilty for wishing the youngster had somewhere else to go. You find yourself depleted, angry and unable to cope.
Following are a few things you can do to cut down on the meltdowns and take control again:
1. Establish a secure and supportive environment. A youngster with ODD needs to have security. He needs to know that mom and dad will always be there for him. He needs to know that no matter how uncontrollable he becomes, you will still love him.
2. Create a schedule and stick with it. Kids need a schedule. This is especially true of the youngster with ODD. He needs to know what comes next in his day. The surest way to a meltdown and uncontrollable behavior is the lack of a schedule. These kids want to know that everything follows a certain order. You may want to give your youngster his own calendar so he can track his own appointments. Use a schedule for chores and schoolwork. Your ODD youngster craves organization.
3. Set up clear and concise boundaries. Your youngster must know what will happen if he pulls his sister's hair, or breaks all the toys in his bedroom in a fit of rage. Determine the behaviors that cause the most strife in your household and write them down. Choose three or four of them to work on. Sit down with your youngster and have him help you draw up a plan. The plan should state the unwanted behavior and then the consequence of engaging in that behavior:
o Biting: 10-minute time-out.
o Breaking toys: Favorite toy gets taken away for three days.
o Kicking: 10-minute time-out.
o Temper tantrum: Half hour in bedroom to get control of himself.
4. Be consistent. You will need to mete out the exact same discipline every time your youngster breaks the rule. If you carry through one time and you don't the next, the youngster will feel that he is in control. The most important thing to a youngster with ODD is to control those around him. If you let him have control, you will have lost any chance of him obeying you. Consistency is key!
5. Never shout or get angry with your youngster. A youngster with ODD literally shuts down when being yelled at. He cannot hear you. This phenomenon is discussed at length in The Explosive Child. Keep your voice gentle but firm, soft but authoritative.
Remember that ODD is a disorder. Your youngster may want to obey and he may try very hard to obey, but he just can't summon up that sort of self-control. You can help him control his behavior by controlling his environment. Your youngster is not out to get you or to make your life miserable. When you can see ODD as a disorder rather than blatant defiance, it may be easier to put the tools in place that will help your youngster and your family live in harmony.
My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Parents