Anyone who has been a parent for a while understands that children will most likely display imperfect behavior from time to time. But how do you determine if your child has a serious problem with her/his behavior, one that is more than just a passing phase of rebelliousness? And once you’ve properly assessed the condition, how do you go about treating it so that he/she can become a respectful and productive member of society?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a child or teenager has ODD if he exhibits a pattern of negative, hostile and defiant behavior for at least six months. The anti-social behavior of youngsters with ODD would include at least four of the following behaviors: often losing their temper; often arguing with adults; often refusing to comply with adults’ requests or rules; often blaming other people for their own mistakes or aberrant behavior; often deliberately annoying people; often acting touchy or easily annoyed by others; often being angry and resentful; and often behaving in a spiteful or vindictive manner.
In a child with actual Oppositional Defiance Disorder, these difficult behaviors would occur at a rate and intensity much greater than among the child’s peers, and would be on such an exaggerated level as to create noticeable problems in the child’s social, academic and occupational functioning.
In order to know how to handle a child with ODD, a parent first needs to be aware of how the child’s thinking works. For one thing, a youngster who has this personality disorder actually believes that he is able to defeat all authority figures, and will defy or negate what he is told by his elders despite repeated punishments from them. Furthermore, this type of child operates with the firm conviction that elders such as parents or teachers must behave with total fairness towards the child regardless of how unfair the child may behave toward them.
Additionally, oppositional children believe: that if they ignore parents for a long enough amount of time, the parents will run out of strategies and they will win; that they are truly equal to their parents and thus have the right to do whatever they wish; and that they are not responsible for any behavior they engaged in.
After parents have come to understand the thinking process of their ODD child, the parents must recognize the importance of maintaining a proper and balanced level of structure with which to surround the youngster. A healthy structure is one wherein the parents convey reasonably strict expectations for their child’s behavior, while allowing some flexibility for the child to have a certain amount of independence.
There are a number of points that parents must keep in mind about their own behavior when they wish to successfully address and ultimately resolve the turmoil created by a child who consistently behaves in an oppositional and defiant fashion. The parents must not get too emotionally involved or overly angry when interacting with their child. Instead they must let their child know, in unambiguous terms, that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated, and that repeated negative behavior on the part of the child will result in the parent taking strict measures in response.
Parents of children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder must make it clear that, in spite of what their child may think, that the child does not have the same authority as their parents. Moreover, the parents must not hesitate to act on their warnings, in order to reinforce their authority over the child.
It is important to note that before parents take this type of strong action, they should first discuss their plans with the defiant child. The parents should make the youngster realize the destructive effect of their behavior and offer their child suggestions of “replacement” behaviors that would reduce any consequent animosity and make the child’s life easier as a result.
Once these actions have stabilized the situation and you have gained basic control over your child, it is necessary to engage in longer-term strategies to train the child to act in a successful manner. These strategies include informing your child that she has to take responsibility for her actions and that she must anticipate real consequences for the things she does, and teaching your child that she can receive rewards from you, only by earning them through proper performance.
Furthermore, the parents need to insist on certain routine types of behavior from their historically oppositional children. These expected behaviors include exhibiting a positive attitude around the house; maintaining eye contact when speaking with their parents; avoiding negative nonverbal communications such as slouching, making derisive facial expressions or grunting noises while you are talking to them; offering appropriate verbal reciprocation when you are engaging them in conversation; guiding them to choose appropriate friends that will not serve as negative influences on them; training them to respond in a truthful and empathetic fashion when other people communicate with them; and insisting in a fair but firm manner that they must live up to their academic potential.
When you finally reach the point where you have successfully managed to control your child’s behavior, there are a number of methods you can use to ensure that this hard-earned progress will be maintained. To reinforce a child’s new spate of positive conduct, the parents can: “catch” their child doing a particular desirable behavior and “reward” them with verbal praise; give a younger child physical reinforcement through a warm hug or similar act of affection; or grant the youngster increased access to appropriate items and activities that give him or her special pleasure.
It is certainly not easy to have to endure an extended period of time wherein your child has Oppositional Defiant Disorder and routinely makes life difficult for others in the in the family, school or social situations. But through careful application of the methods outlined above – and with a lot of patience and faith – you as a parent should expect to eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel, and enjoy the change as your child transforms into a well-behaved young person who will be on the road to success in life.
Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS (Strategies for Optimum Success), servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. She is a well-known and highly regarded educator, having served the community for close to 30 years. As a kriyah and reading specialist, she has successfully set up reading labs in many schools and yeshivas. In addition to her diversified teaching career she offers teacher training and educational consulting services. She has extensive expertise in the field of social skills training and focuses on working with the whole child. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 (KIDS).