Monday, October 28, 2013

When Your Child Has Oppostional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

If your child has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), you are all too familiar with the chaos and daily struggle this issue can bring to your family and home life.

Children with ODD struggle with frequent, angry outbursts, persistent difficulty following rules or directions, and can be downright mean and spiteful on a repetitive basis.

Every child tantrums or melts down now and then.  For a child living with ODD, tantrums and meltdowns are a daily-and sometimes hourly-occurrence.  The acting out behavior disrupts the household and interrupts the parent-child relationship.

In really dark times, parents will identify that as much as they love their kids, it can be really hard to like them. As a result, these parents become more and more isolated as they avoid public outings that could put their child's behavior and their parenting on display.

ODD is about control.  The child feels out of control of their environment and uses conflict and struggle as a way of gaining control.  Parents will often be deceived.  They think their child wants to win the argument.  In actuality, the child just wants the argument!! It's not about winning for the kid.  It's about getting a reaction out of others around him/her.

So, how do you deal? By controlling your reactions.  If you know your child is looking to instigate or antagonize you, your best recourse is to not visibly react.  Stay calm and be matter of fact.  Deliver the direction and consequence without yelling, cajoling, bargaining, or exaggerated body language. 

It may be mystifying given your child's behavior but he/she is looking to engage with you when acting like that.  You want to teach your child that he/she needs to seek positive attention in order to engage with you. When your child is behaving, listening, being nice, and following directions, you engage with emotion and praise.  When your child isn't seeking your attention positively, you disengage emotionally and focus on correcting the behavior.

Given that it is often the conflict that an ODD child is seeking, you want to work on eliminating and reducing control battles.  This does not mean that you don't have rules.  On the contrary, your child should know the family rules and should be held accountable each time a rule isn't followed.

However, tacking on time to a time out or extending the punishment further with each subsequent offense is pointless.  Focus on the first direction and follow through of that consequence. Make room for face saving or antagonistic behaviors following a consequence.  It'll annoy the heck out of you, but you're just going to have to ignore them.

Again, your child is using your reaction as a way of getting a connection.  Multiple consequences in a single, acting out incident signifies a loss of parental control for the child. You can't pick every battle. When you do, the ODD is winning and neither you nor your child are in control.

I know from the parents I work with how isolating it can be to have a child with ODD.  You sigh and feel a pit in your stomach just thinking about a trip to the grocery store or to a restaurant with your child.  Be careful not to give the ODD that much control in your lives. 

You can and should live publically.  You just need to have a plan.  Your child needs to know the rules before leaving the house and you need to know what you'll do and how you'll respond if your child acts out.

It won't be comfortable and may be embarrassing but you are the parent.  You are at the top of this family and your child needs to know and learn that consistently.  Mastering ODD is about maintaining a structure, being consistent, and controlling your reactions. 

This is by no means easy or simple.  It is exhausting and frustrating but I know relief can be found.  If you are struggling with this issue in your family, it is hard to manage on your own without professional support.  I may like blogging but no blog is so good that it can offer all of the necessary support, tools, and tips needed to get a handle on this maddening condition.

Is this you?  Your child?  Your family life?  If so, I am sorry for that.  I know you are scared and overwhelmed. I also know that there are tools and skills that can help each of you in this

At Fresh Start Parenting, I offer straightforward parent coaching services.  I will provide you with clear answers to your parenting dilemmas so you can regain control over your family and restore your relationship with your child.
Call today.

Until next time,


  1. This sounds like a willful child acting out against parents who cave in. Why is this a disorder? Is there some sort of spectrum disorder? I've never heard of this.

    1. Thanks, Greg, for asking the question with an open mind. Yes, it is an actual behavior disorder that is listed in the DSM. Kids who have ODD have a problem with accepting authority in general, not just parents.

      Kids who have had inconsistent parenting or upbringing never learn to trust that adults can keep them safe so they rebel against the behavior with tantrums and other forms of acting out that can become verbally and physically violent.

      So, kids are at risk for this when they've been abused or neglected and yes, that can include by parents who easily cave.