How to Cope With Your Child's ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)
Spare Me the Diagnosis
This is for the parents who live, day in and day out, with this disability. If they are lucky, maybe they catch a break on the weekend—perhaps they have a good friend, family member, or paid respite worker to step in and shoulders some of the responsibility; If not, there is no break.
I find it interesting that people who do not live with this disorder, can read a book, spout some text and presto, they are experts. (Not including the psychiatrists and professionals who have studied and worked with these individuals.) Yet the ones who live in the trenches are looked upon as poor parents, uninformed, misinformed, and marginalized, simply because we are seeking information on how to deal with the constant upheaval this disorder causes.
I can tell you from personal experience, that coping with ODD is not as simple as reading about it.
On Its Own, or a Package Deal
Oppositional Defiant Disorder can manifest on its own, but generally ODD is diagnosed with attendant disabilities. Most often, it goes hand in hand with ADD, ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Aspergers to name a few. When discussing these disorders, keep in mind there are many levels of severity, from mild, to full-blown, over-the-top-I-hate-the-world symptoms.
Any parent who has a child diagnosed with these disabilities understands how difficult it is to obtain any kind of assistance regarding management and discipline. One of the most important steps a parent can take, is to be informed. Learn everything you can about the disability.
Take a Parenting Course - this can help you manage your child's behaviour. Seek counseling - individual psychotherapy sessions help to develop effective anger management for your child, and family psychotherapy will help all the members of your family improve communication. Every member of the family needs to be a part of the solution, otherwise it will feel like you are paddling a canoe against the current with no one to help you steer clear of the rapids.
Programs such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, can help you and your child with problem solving, and Social Skills Training increases your child's ability to associate with his or her peers.
Find a Support Group
Above all, a parent with an ODD child needs support. It can feel like you are alone in the world - no one understands what you or your child are going through. Friends and neighbours have no comprehension as to the amount of stress you live with on a daily basis, and you need support and understanding from others who are dealing with the same issues as you. (A great place for information, resources and support is the online community "One Small Step for Parents".)
Reducing the stress levels in your home is a consistent, on-going process, and one that is necessary if you are to maintain the level of care needed to help your child overcome the disability and strengthen the social skills necessary to be a part of today's society.
Some of the ways you can help your child, and yourself to build these skills are:
- Look for positives - reinforce good behaviour whenever your child shows co-operation or compliance. Find ways to praise the child for being good, instead of only disciplining the child for bad behaviour.
- Give yourself a personal 'time-out' if you are about to overreact or escalate a conflict. There are no winners in this situation, and you need to maintain a sense of calm in order to deal effectively with the situation. This is an excellent way to provide a good role model for your child, and gives a positive solution for negative behaviour.
- Pick your battles! An ODD child has difficulty with any type of authority, and avoiding power struggles. If you give the child a 'time-out' for misbehaving, don't add more time for arguing or additional rude behaviour. You don't want to be reinforcing bad behaviour by continuously disciplining.
- Learn your child's signs - don't force the issue when your child is tired, hungry, or sick. This only adds to your frustration levels, and is a no-win situation. This is the time for compromise.
- Be consistent - set up age appropriate and reasonable boundaries with consequences that can be reinforced consistently. The last thing you need is for the child to play the 'I'll-go-ask-dad (or mom) game'. Both parents need to be on the same page.
- Take some time for yourself - you need a break to recharge your batteries. Managing a child with ODD takes a lot of time and energy, as any parent of these bright, enigmatic children already know, so do yourself a favor - take up a hobby - paint, scrapbook, walk, write, learn to play an instrument - something that takes you away from the daily stress and revitalizes you. Trust me, it works!
- Respite care - If you don't have a friend or family member who can provide you with a break from managing your child, call your local Mental Health Association and see if they or someone else can provide you with respite care.
No Matter What—Be Consistent!
Every child will exhibit oppositional behaviour at times. This is especially true for children around the ages of 2 and 3, early adolescence, and again in the teen years, and is to be expected as a normal developmental stage.
This is one of the main reasons you need to pick your battles. It is hard to distinguish between normal development and ongoing defiance. When faced with continual opposition, parents can sometimes lose sight that some opposition is normal.
Many ODD children respond to positive parenting and good role models, and you have to remain consistent in your approach and discipline. Whereas all children need structure and guidance it is especially true for children with this disability. Leniency without consequences only reinforces negative behaviour, and a refusal to comply.
I know these guidelines appear simple on the surface, but truth be known, when living with ODD, ADD, ADHD, Anxiety Disorder, Aspergers, or a combination of disabilities, they are a lot of work when faced with what appears an insurmountable task. However, the benefits you reap from applying these principals far outweigh the additional workload.
Speaking from personal experience, both myself and my son have benefited from their implementation. I still pick my battles, and there is a fair amount of compromise, but overall being consistent with discipline and reinforcing positive behaviour has lessened the degree and frequency of his outbursts.
Don't give up - there is a light at the end of the tunnel.