My culture has no place for me.
the being to which the word “I” gestures
has no place in my society’s
language, institutions, behaviors.
People look at me, and
and see only the words inside their skulls
that they have already used to judge me.
Perform well = positive judgment.
Perform poorly = negative.
My future is a long dark tunnel of being invisible,
eclipsed by grades, resumes, so many markers of status.
The only thing left to do is stop performing
to be recognized.
I am defiant
because of the misguided hope that
one day I will be seen.
– S.H. Steele
The poem above is written from the perspective of someone dealing with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), someone who acts out and throws fits in order to be seen. What can we do for children with ODD to help them become visible? How can we better our lives and theirs? Before we get to those solutions, I’d like to share an excerpt from The Defiant Child: A Parent’s Guide to Oppositional Defiant Disorder, by Dr. Douglas Riley. Dr. Riley believes that we should not call ODD a disorder, but a spectrum. In reality, he says, everyone is defiant at some point. He continues:
“When mental health professionals talk about the term oppositional defiant disorder, the word of most concern to parents is typically disorder. It is a word fraught with negative connotations implying that the child has some sort of disease that parents are somehow responsible for. If I have the power to change the diagnostic labels we use in the field of psychology, I would change the term to oppositional defiant spectrum.
“Why spectrum? The reason, simply enough, is that every child and teenager displays oppositional, defiant behavior at some point. Some display it to a degree that is more reasonably termed an occasional irritation than a disorder. Others, however, display it with such frequency and intensity that it keeps them in constant trouble with parents, teachers, and legal authorities.”
To what extent is your child displaying defiance? If it’s simply irritation, then you should consider yourself lucky! If it’s more than that, it’s worth learning more about Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
Dr. Riley explains, “Children pass through several stages as they mature, stages in which they challenge your authority, in which they question your most cherished beliefs. It is appropriate for a child to push limits… It becomes important to understand what represents a ‘normal’ amount of oppositional behavior and where the boundary of ‘normal’ ends. In general, oppositional children have a drive to defeat adults that assumes absurd proportions. They are as relentless as gravity in their pursuit of proving adults to be wrong, stupid, or both.”
Below, I have assembled a few “rules” about the behavior of children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
- Oppositional children live in a fantasy land in which they are able to defeat all authority figures. Children with ODD believe that they have the ability to make their parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives do what they say.
- Oppositional children are optimistic. They believe they will succeed when they try to defeat those who have authority, even if this has not happened in the past.
- Oppositional children fail to learn from experience. Children who are defiant constantly think they are “winning” the battle against those in authority. Even when they don’t get their way and anger those around them, they don’t understand that they are really losing.
- Oppositional children seek revenge when angered. If defiant children feel that you have control of the situation, they will seek revenge in order to gain back the control they feel that they have lost.
- Oppositional children need to feel tough. Part of being in control and defeating authority figures is feeling tough and in charge. Children who are defiant strive to seem unfazed by even the harshest consequences.
Tips for Parents
I’ve included some general tips for parents, regardless of what part of the “defiant spectrum” your child might be on:
Praise the positives. Give your child praise and positive reinforcement when he shows flexibility or cooperation. This will encourage him to continue to practice his ability to be adaptable.
Time–outs. Both you and your child might need time outs when things get heated. Show your child that you are able to restrain yourself by taking a time-out in your own room when you feel out of control. This will teach your child that time alone can be restorative and is not a punishment.
Pick your battles. Since the child with ODD has trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the things you want your child to do. If you give your child a time-out in his room for misbehaving, don’t add time for arguing.
Social skills training. Working to increase flexibility and lengthen frustration tolerance can significantly help explosive children. Not only will they have more tolerance when things go wrong at home, but they will build acceptance for the behavior of their peers.
Enforce consequences. Set age-appropriate rules and consequences, but be sure to enforce them if the rules are broken. However, think carefully about the policies you will set – if you have unrealistic expectations, you are going to end up in a constant state of war. Pick your battles.
Dr. Ross Greene, the author of The Explosive Child, created three steps for Plan B, his method to help children with ODD: empathy, defining the problem, and inviting solutions. Below is a chart that outlines the different steps:
Step 1: Empathy – Gather information about the problem so that you can better understand what your child is going through. Try to approach the problem from your child’s perspective.
Step 2: Define Problem – Verbalize the problem out loud so that your child hears your empathy and understanding. Begin with something such as, “Your concern is…” or “You are frustrated about…”
Step 3: Invite Solutions – Now that the problem has been empathized with and verbalized, brainstorm realistic and mutually satisfactory solutions with your child.
Other solutions include cognitive problem solving skills training. This approach reduces inappropriate behaviors by teaching the child positive ways of responding to stressful situations. Some pediatricians even suggest medication, if all else fails.
Most importantly, I tell parents that they need to remember that there is a solution – and they are not alone! When supported, parents can help their children overcome ODD.