Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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How to Get Oppositional Children and Teens to Cooperate

Since kids pass through many developmental stages as they mature, it is important to understand the differences between normal childhood attempts to defy authority and symptoms of full-blown Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Oppositional defiant kids share many of the following characteristics:
  • The ODD youngster is socially exploitive and very quick to notice how others respond. He then uses these responses to his advantage in family or social environments, or both.
  • These kids tolerate a great deal of negativity – in fact they seem to thrive on large amounts of conflict, anger and negativity from others, and are frequently the winners in escalating battles of negativity.
  • They possess a strong need for control, and will do just about anything to gain power.
  • They typically deny responsibility for their misbehavior and have little insight into how they impact others.

Besides ODD, these kids may also have another psychiatric disorder. ODD is frequently a co-morbid condition with ADHD. It can also be diagnosed along with:
  • Anxiety and mood disorders
  • Asperger’s
  • Language-processing impairments
  • Nonverbal learning disabilities. 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Sensory integration deficits
  • Tourette Syndrome

Some researchers believe that many of the symptoms of these disorders may share common neurobiological mechanisms. If your youngster is affected by one of these disorders, it is critical to keep in mind that ODD can create additional problems for you and your youngster.

Many authorities on parenting have indicated that oppositional behavior is more prevalent when structure in the home is out of balance (i.e., when there is either too much structure or not enough).

In an overly structured environment, the parenting is rigid and inflexible. These moms and dads “micromanage” and come down hard on their kids, controlling every aspect of their lives. This particular style of parenting only serves to create more opposition and defiance.

On the other hand, structure that is too loose can also cause difficulties. Kids can exhibit oppositional defiant behavior when moms and dads do not provide enough structure by setting appropriate boundaries, or establishing and following through with consequences for misbehavior. These moms and dads usually give in to all of their youngster’s demands, either out of fear of the youngster, or in an effort to keep themselves in the youngster’s good graces.

In order to prevent or reduce oppositional defiant behavior moms and dads should aim towards a firm and loving parenting style in which the structure is balanced. Moms and dads must take charge, and place themselves at the top of the family hierarchy. They must use their authority as moms and dads and, at the same time, make the youngster feel protected, loved and soothed.

How well the moms and dads get along, whether married or divorced, is another factor to consider in preventing oppositional behavior. When couples are unhappy or oppositional in themselves, they frequently disagree on parenting issues, significantly limiting their success in changing the behavior of their youngster. ODD children are experts at dividing their parent’s authority, and will most certainly take advantage of exploiting rifts between the parents. Couples counseling may be in order to decrease the hostility and conflict between moms and dads and set the stage for united, successful parenting.

Another factor to consider is how the family is affected by ODD. This can be one of the most stressful conditions a family faces and, when it is secondary to another neuropsychiatric disorder, that stress is compounded. Family counseling may be helpful to resolve family difficulties. The family therapist can provide a controlled environment which offers support and skills training to weary moms and dads.

Once marital and family issues are addressed, moms and dads can begin to train both themselves and their youngster. If parents continue to respond to quarrelsome behavior as they always have, the ODD child will continue to tune them out, escalate the arguments, and push parent’s buttons.

Most adults engage in an argument with concern for the outcome. The adult’s goal in an argument is to come to a resolution. In other words, what transpires as a result of the conflict is most important. As a parent, from your perspective, if you have determined the outcome of the argument, you are the one in control. For the oppositional youngster, the process of creating an argument is more meaningful to him than the outcome of the conflict. These arguments over insignificant issues may seem pointless however, with such a strong need for control; it is your oppositional youngster’s goal is to escalate the conflict until you are no longer the one in control.

What is important to the ODD child is not the issue being argued over as much as what is going to happen during the argument. In order to control the process of the argument, the oppositional defiant youngster attempts to determine the topic and direction of the conflict and seems to instinctively know when parents are feeling most vulnerable and their energy is low.

The ODD child will bring up conflict-laden issues during these times, aiming towards pushing your buttons and diverting you from issues in which you are likely to be attempting to exert your authority over her. When your ODD youngster finally pushes your buttons, in his mind, he has gained control of you and your emotions. At this point, he has now successfully taken over your position of authority. Furthermore, when you lose control of your emotions, your youngster’s anxiety level rises along with his defensiveness. When his defenses increase, he becomes more oppositional, which is his main defense mechanism. As he becomes more oppositional, the situation escalates and parents are caught in an endless cycle of conflict.

Strategies for avoiding conflict are essential to de-escalate the situation. It is wise to change the subject if your energy is low, or you suspect that the topic of discussion will result in an argument.

Walking away from the conflict is another strategy to consider. If you cannot change the subject, or walk away it is important to keep in mind that the ODD youngster’s goal is to push your buttons. Think about your endurance, how long can you endure really oppositional button pushing? When you get to the end of your rope, what are your options?

It is critical not to take what your youngster says personally. As soon as you defend yourself, your youngster, by the rules governing arguments, has the right to defend himself against your attack. In turn, you get to defend yourself, and he has now pushed your buttons and gained power. You do not have to defend yourself or try to convince him you are right. Do not lower yourself to the level of your oppositional youngster. There are two options available for preventing him from drawing you in:
  1. Tell him, in an unruffled rational manner, that he has two choices. If he wants to stay around, he can change the subject and stop complaining – or he can go somewhere else in the house to complain if he chooses.
  2. Should your youngster choose to escalate, it is time to use two powerful words which can cut through any argument. These words are “regardless” and “nevertheless”. For example, “nevertheless, this is how it is going to be…” Using these words repetitively (like a broken record), in a calm unemotional manner will serve to de-escalate the situation without allowing your youngster to draw you into the power struggle.

Utilizing effective consequences for the oppositional youngster can be difficult since this presents one more opportunity for conflict in which you are likely to lose power. Discussing consequences while you are in the midst of their negative behavior will most likely result in more frustration for you. Therefore, it is critical to focus on consequences that do not require cooperation of the youngster.

Rules and consequences must be clear, and in writing to provide clarity for both youngster and parent before the conflict occurs. Begin by removing reinforcers and allowing your youngster to earn the items back as a reward for acceptable behavior. Reinforcers include items such as television, stereos, CD’s computers, video games, telephones, bicycles, skateboards, visiting friends, access to favorite clothing, favorite foods, etc.

Once you have successfully avoided having your buttons pushed and gained some control over your youngster’s behavior, it is time to go on the offensive to soothe him, and help him get back to an even place. Oppositional kids do not like being soothed by their caretakers. This places them back into the role of being a youngster and puts you back into the role as the parent. One of the driving forces behind ODD is that, for whatever reasons, a youngster is trying to grow up too quickly and considers himself to be equal to his parent.

The ODD youngster may feel less loved due to the amount of conflict going on, and it is difficult to simultaneously feel loved as a youngster and try to operate on an adult level. Your youngster may know intellectually that he is loved, but not feel loved. Moms and dads must be able to show love, and soothe and nurture their youngster. This is not always easy to accomplish, especially when previous negative behavior patterns have become ingrained.

Kids look to their moms and dads for a sense of security, belonging and identity. As our society becomes more complex, the need for our kids to develop a clear set of values is critical. Current research also has indicated that boys with ADHD and increased oppositional behavior are at greater risk for later antisocial behavior. With this in mind, the need for structure becomes particularly relevant in today’s world.

It is apparent that kids affected by a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders are at greater risk for oppositional behavior. Since this behavior will create additional difficulties for them as they pass through the various developmental stages, it becomes even more important to use the authority vested in us as moms and dads to establish consistent limits and consequences, and to distinguish boundaries within the family. This will form a family unit characterized by established guidelines, affording kids a secure backdrop in which they can grow and thrive.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Parenting Oppositional Defiant Teens and Pre-teens


Anonymous said...

As parents of a 16 year old son with ADD & ODD, we are ready to give up. He is constantly choosing friends who use him for what he can give to them plus he will do anything to gain a friend. He has destroyed high end family vehicles by giving keys to friends then joining them as they party and wreck everything we own. He is good for a period if we keep him away from everybody and only us. He is now in cyber school and has honor roll marks but we pay dearly for tutors to sit with him.

He smokes, uses w@#$$, steals, lies, and does everything to defy us. He is 16 and we dont know what direction to go to have our son lead a respectable life. What path do we follow to give him a normal life. He is also suicidal at times and low self esteem.

Anonymous said...

I have
an 8 year old daughter who was initially diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD
after she had problems following instructions and kept disrupting
class in school. We tried several different medications but I just
wasn't seeing the expected results, so I started having doubts she was
properly diagnosed. (I have friends with ADD/ADHD children, and when
their medications wear off, it's a night and day difference, like
someone just turned on a light-bulb. My kid's behavior didn't seem to
change perceptibly at all, by contrast.)

Finally, I had her tested at the Judevine Center for Autism in a 2-3
hour long session where they determined she had Asperger's. That made
more sense, and she's currently attending school in our Special School
District, in a small classroom designed to help kids with Asperger's
and other similar issues.

The thing I keep noticing though is that she regularly seems unhappy
or angry about things, and she constantly argues with me or my
girlfriend, when we tell her to do things (like getting ready for bed,
taking a bath, picking up something she dropped on the ground, etc.
etc.). At school, they claim she's slowly been improving over the
last 2 years or so. (We have an IEP they're working with, outlining a
number of key problem areas with her behavior.) But still, every
other day or so, the daily report they send home indicates she had
problems in at least one or two classes where she "refused to follow
directions", "couldn't use kind words", or "couldn't keep her hands to
herself" - and I get the occasional note about her getting "angry"
(often for "no understandable reason") and having to be sent to a
"refocus room" to calm her down and re-direct her.

On the other hand, an aspect you outline that indicates ODD speaks of
"having no remorse for behaviors", and she doesn't fit that
description at all. If she misbehaves, most of the time she'll
apologize for it later or express sorrow/regret for it. Plus, with
her, it really varies. There are times she's a really sweet, nice kid
and happily does what she's told - even going over and above what's
asked. But other times, she just gets in one of those moods (which
I'd say happens at least 2-3 times per day) and she just wants to
argue and refuse to listen.

She seems to do best when she's in "one on one" situations and gets
100% of people's attention. It's when she's told to wait, or someone
else is being addressed first that she's more likely to have an
outburst or start interrupting. (My mom takes care of her for a few
hours each day after her school lets out, before I get home from work
and can pick her up from there - and the interesting thing is, my mom
claims she doesn't really have many problems with her at all. I get
the idea she "bottles up her frustrations" with my mom though, out of
some sort of fear of misbehaving around her - and takes it out on us
shortly after we get home.) Of course, from my mom's point of view,
we're just "not as good at disciplining or handling her" as she is....

Anonymous said...

My 14 year old daughter is having some troubles and it is causing a lot of problems for my ex wife and I. My wife and I recently divorced after 20 years of marriage. I have moved out of the family home and my daughter and ex are living together.

My daughter has always been and A/B student, but this year her grades have plummeted.
She has also began to use foul language towards her Mom and yells and curses at her constantly.
Last weekend she got into a verbal shouting match with her Mom and left the house and walked over 2 miles to an ice skating rink (without permission). Her Mom called me to try and find her. I went to the rink and found her skating with her friends. I told her to get in the car that I was taking her home.

Anonymous said...

I am at the end of my rope. I have a 12 year old(will be 13 in a few days) who has almost destroyed me. He is so disrespectful and rude to me. He basically thinks he rules the house. I feel that I have nowhere to turn. I have called the police on him several times for hitting me and they only talk to him which does no good. I have contacted DHR and they will not give any assitance. They all say counseling, we have tried counseling but it is just not working.

I have contacted several boot camps and other facilites but they are so expensive and I can't afford them. I am literally living my worst nightmare with this child. He is on a road of destruction and I am helpless. He has threatened me on several occasions. I fear for my own safety in my home and it seems that the law is not concerned with my safety.

Anonymous said...

Maddison is 13 years old and has been difficult since the womb. When I say difficult, I mean her behavior has always been a challenge and she does not respond to normal disciplinary actions.

Maddison is not a bad kid but she definitely has the potential for trouble in her future if I do not reign her in soon. Below is a brief history of some of her behavior...

From a young age, she has taken things that do not belong to her and hides them ( like a hoarding mentality) She does not play with them or enjoy them as far as I can tell, she just takes and hides. I have addressed this on many occasions and have recently discovered she is still doing it.

If she is told to do a certain task, there is always a period of refusal or complaining and in the end she more often than not does not perform the task, performs it very recklessly, or only performs it after you have reached your boiling point and stand over her lecturing all through out the chore. All the while she is protesting and insisting there is no reason for me to be so upset about it.

She recently cut school. Blatantly roamed around our neighborhood with 2 other classmates when she should have been in school and was caught by her father. I had to leave work and take her and her classmates back to school. I thought I handled it very well, but there was no real remorse or fear or any of the emotions you would expect Maddi to project in that situation which worries me.

I am forever telling Maddison what is expected behavior, what will not be tolerated, what consequences will be for certain acts. It is all out there on the table and yet she defies on a regular basis. And not in an angry way, she just chooses to.

Just last night, while searching her room for scotch tape to wrap a present, I found an unopened beer can (not her father's brand) in her dresser drawer and my husband's cigarette lighter in her desk (which she knows we have been searching for for days). when I calmly asked her about the objects, the excuses were very lame and she was annoyed that I did not believe her. Now, we have had the trust discussion several times, how she needs to earn my trust and her defiance of my small rules and request make it impossible for me to consider trusting with the big issues...
I honestly told her I did not know how I was going to address this latest discovery but it was by no means over.

I fear for her future everyday. I need to make the right decisions here and resolve her behavior before it escalates to more serious and permanent consequences.

Drowning Seahorse said...

Anonymous with the 8 year old daughter above, have you considered Pathalogical Demand Avoidance (PDA) instead of ODD? PDA is considered to be within the autistic spectrum and seems to fit the description of the behaviours you have mentioned. The book Understanding Pathalogical Demand Acoidance Syndrome in Children by Phil Christie has totally changed the dynamic in our home school and has been a total revelation. Otherwise read about it online and find very simple techniques to change behaviour, like instead of putting even basic demands on your child, by telling them or even asking them to do something, which makes them anxious that they are out of control, simply rephrase all your requests. I.e. Instead of asking my son to pick up his things from the floor, which he would refuse point blank to do, I say something like 'my arthritis is hurting today, can you please help me pick up these items'. Instead of publicly telling them of and humiliating them in front of peers, call them to one side, using another excuse like, please help me with something that I cannot do, then talk to them calmly about their behaviour. Teachers must do the same too. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I suggest looking into the Discovery School for Girls or the Discovery School for Boys, both located in Dillwyn VA. It is a Wilderness therapeutic boarding school that has helped many kids and their families restore healthy relationships and pushes the kids to grow in different areas while addressing behavioral/emotional issues and concerns. It is a long-term program averaging 13-15 months, due to behaviors taking a long time to change and replace. The program implements solid structure, a safe environment, and creates healthy peer and adult relationships. There are no distractions with cell phones, social media, tv.,and everything is earned (even school hours). They live in a group setting between 8-12 other kids ranging ages 12-18, with constant staff supervision. There are ways to get help with funding... reach out to your local community service board and ask about a FAPT team (a team that helps provide families financial support) or talk with Susan Lewis at the Discovery school to explore other financial options.

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