By Bradley A. Post, LCSW, CADC, with Chapin & Russell Associates
The school year is nearing an end and some parents may be breathing a sigh of relief after a difficult semester of challenges and defiance from one of their more oppositional children. While all children can be oppositional from time to time, particularly when tired, hungry, stressed, or upset, openly hostile behavior deserves more serious consideration when it is so constant that it stands out from other children of the same age. Children who occasionally argue, talk back, disobey, and defy parents, teachers, and other adults, behave in a manner that is often a normal part of development for 2- to 3-year-olds and even early adolescence. However, openly uncooperative and hostile behavior needs to be addressed when it seriously affects the child’s social, family, and academic life.
Symptoms of ODD can include: frequent temper tantrums, excessive arguing with adults, questioning rules, active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests, deliberate attempts to annoy people, blaming others for their misbehavior, being touchy or easily annoyed by others, frequent anger outbursts, mean and hateful talking when upset and spiteful attitudes, or revenge seeking. ODD symptoms may be observed in multiple settings, but they can also appear in just one area like home or school. Depending on the research, up to 16 percent of all school-age children meet the criteria for ODD. The exact causes of ODD are still being studied but physiological, psychological, and social factors may have a role.
Caring for a child who displays symptoms of ODD can be very difficult and draining for parents. Traditional parenting approaches often make matters worse, but parents can improve their influence on their child with ODD by using some of the following techniques:
- Communicate expectations in the form of choices not demands
- Build on the positives — affirm your child when they show progress, flexibility or cooperation
- Don’t just give your child time-outs — take one yourself if you are about to lose your temper and make the conflict worse
- Pick your battles — your child has trouble avoiding power struggles so prioritize the discipline you give — when you give a consequence, don’t add time for arguing. Just say “your time will start when you go to your room.”
- Set up age appropriate limits with consequences that can be consistently enforced.
- To avoid burn out in parenting maintain interests other than your child with ODD and manage your stress with healthy life choices including exercise and relaxation.
- Work with and obtain support from the other adults (counselors, teachers, and your spouse) dealing with your child
If your child displays symptoms of ODD, they first need a comprehensive evaluation to screen for other disorders which may be present such as: attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mood disorders (anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder), or trauma. The most effective interventions for ODD include parent management training programs to help parents and others work as a team to manage the child’s behavior, individual counseling to teach the child more effective anger-management, family counseling to improve communication, cognitive problem-solving skills training and social skills training to increase flexibility and frustration tolerance with peers. Children with ODD often respond well to positive parenting interventions. For more assistance, seek consultation from a qualified mental health professional who can diagnose and treat ODD and any coexisting psychological conditions.
For more information or to make an appointment, call 309-681-5850 or go to www.chapinandrussell.com.