A day with a child who has Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a series of
battles in an undeclared war. It starts when they wake up, continues at
breakfast, intensifies when they have to get dressed, and doesn't end until they
fight with you over bedtime.
Kids with ODD lose their temper quickly and often. They're easily annoyed and
frustrated by other people, resentful and hostile with adults, bossy and pushy
with other kids. They blame everyone else for their difficulties and make
excuses for their inability to cope. They gravitate toward negative peers and
tend to be the most sulking and angry of adolescents.
Unrestricted free time is a breeding ground for
aggressive behavior for these children. In an unstructured environment, they
become annoying, threatening or destructive to kids around them and to adult
authority figures. They will use this time to deliberately antagonize anyone
they see as "in charge."
As a parent, you can't satisfy a child with ODD, since their thinking is
irrational. They clamor for your attention and then tell you to leave them
alone. The sad truth is, kids with ODD are not very likeable. Parents often feel
guilty about the fact that they love their kids, but don't like being around
Parents get blamed for their child's oppositional behavior and tend to heap even
more blame on themselves. The parent of a child with ODD often feels incompetent
and isolated. They live with the self-imposed shame that other people think
they're bad parents, and the humiliation grows larger as their world gets
Left untreated, Oppositional Defiant Disorder can lead to Conduct Disorder, a
more serious pathology that is a precursor for anti-social behavior and
How to Stop the War and Restore Peace at Home
Because they lack the tools to deal with
oppositional defiance, parents generally respond to this behavior with a range
of responses that includes negotiating, bargaining, giving in, threatening and
screaming. The problem is when you scream, argue or negotiate, you are giving
your child's defiance even more power.
Everyone from the school psychologist to your mother-in-law will tell you what
this child needs is structure. But no one really shows you what kind of
structure and how to put it in place. It's not as simple as giving the child a
time out. A child with ODD won't use the time out to change his thinking. He'll
use it to plot revenge. Parents need to change their parenting style and method
of operation with the child.
Children with ODD need structure with a therapeutic component: learning how to
develop problem-solving skills. Your child becomes oppositional when he can't
figure out how to solve problems. The problem can be anything from not wanting
to get up in the morning to not wanting to do homework. When he learns a simple
way to solve the problem, the defiance subsides.
The focus of treatment should be on compliance and coping skills, not on
self-esteem or personality. ODD is not a self-esteem issue; it's a problem
solving issue. Kids get self-esteem by doing things that are hard for them.
Children with ODD need a lot of strong praise and support as well as realistic
rewards. They should be praised for doing things that are challenging to them.
Don't create false situations for which to praise them to make them "feel
Avoid senseless power struggles
Pick your battles with your child carefully and
win the ones you pick. Many times you can win fights with this child by not
arguing back. When you argue, his resistance gets stronger. Instead of arguing,
set limits in a businesslike way and expect compliance.
Have a plan for managing your child's behavior. When you're going to the mall,
know what you'll do when he acts out in the car. Have a plan you'll use if he
throws a tantrum in the store. And be willing to follow through on the plan
until the child learns defiance doesn't get him what he wants.
Parents dealing with ODD need a powerful mix of determination and strength. You
can have a child with ODD and a peaceful home. The key is to decide: Are you
going to change the world for your child or teach him to cope with it? It's not
practical or effective to try to change the world for your kid. But by setting
limits consistently, concisely and clearly, you will teach your child to cope
with the world and succeed in it. (Oppositional Defiant Disorder-The War At Home
reprinted with permission from
By James Lehman, MSW
For three decades, behavioral therapist James
Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled teens and children with behavior problems.
He has developed a practical, real-life approach to managing children and
adolescents that teaches them how to solve social problems. He has taught his
approach to parents, teachers, state agencies and treatment centers in private
practice and now through
The Total Transformation -- a comprehensive
step-by-step, multi-media program that makes learning James' techniques
remarkably easy and helps you change your child's behavior.