I read a very interesting article on oppositional defiant children a while back that I thought I’d share with you: http://www.child-psych.org/2010/04/oppositional-defiant-disorder-what-type-o.html#more-1073. We all know how difficult it is to get ODD kids to behave. Not only do they know what they want to do, but they are so darn persistent about it they could drive you crazy and back. It sure seems like no matter how much you punish them, they are back up and ready for more; when I was kid they used to call it being “hardheaded.”
So, researchers wanted to find out exactly what ODD kids do respond to, if not punishment. In order to do that, they presented the ODD kids and a control group of non-ODD kids with three possibilities. One, play a game where you have a chance of winning small rewards with small consequences (advantageous). Two, play a game where you have a chance of winning small rewards but big consequences (disadvantageous). Three, play a game where you have a chance of winning big rewards but also big consequences (seductive). If you’re the parent of an ODD child I bet you can guess which one the ODD children took!
The researchers presented these games in two frameworks: in the first one, the severity of the punishment (bigger consequences) went up, while in the second one, the frequency of the punishment went up.
In the first framework, both groups stopped choosing the disadvantageous scenario at about the same time. Interestingly enough, however, while the non-ODD kids continued by mostly choosing the advantageous game, the ODD kids chose the seductive and advantageous situation equally. This is even though they were getting serious “punishments” for the former.
What that means for those of you not out on the battlefield is that where the payoff is high, ODD kids will continue to engage in an activity even if it is dangerous, they get punished, or worse.
Now for the interesting part. In the second situation, where the frequency of the punishment was increased, an astonishing thing happened. Not only did the ODD kids quickly choose the advantageous situation over the seductive one, they showed a greater preference for it than the non-ODD kids! On top of everything, it didn’t even matter what the size of the reward was, only that the consequence was frequent.
I started thinking about this, and tying it into the discipline method that I suggest for my clients’ most difficult kids. Keep an eye out for a more detailed blog on this method, but basically it involves three things: 1) Be sure to comment on as many positive things your child does as you can 2) Give the child a time-out for every little thing wrong they do, without showing any anger or annoyance whatsoever, and 3) have them state why it is they had a time-out, and apologize for what they did.
As I said, I’ll write later on exactly how this method is done, because there are some key details that are important to know about before you do it, but the main point to notice that I recommend EVERY TIME your child does something wrong he gets a time-out.
Now some people imagine that kids don’t really know what it is they did wrong. This is simply untrue and the most unhelpful bit of psychobabble that I have possibly ever heard. If you only knew how many parents tell me this- heck, argue with me about this- and then are simply shocked when kids as little as three tell their parents what they did wrong before coming out of time-out.
Generally the reason kids won’t admit to what they did is because they don’t want to get a punishment, and/or want to continue arguing for whatever it is they feel they should be getting at that moment.
If you don’t believe it, I suggest that you try it. Choose one small thing that your child has done, and a few hours later, after tempers have cooled and you are back on good terms again (hopefully), ask your child in an off-handed manner why he did what he did. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just say you were just wondering. You’ll probably be quite surprised!
It can sometimes be tempting to just let ODD kids slide when they don’t follow the rules, because their behavior can be so difficult when they don’t get their way. But this is clearly the worst thing you could do, because eventually they will break the rules big time. Then you’ll find yourself pulling out the heavyweights…only to find out that your child doesn’t respond.
The good news about this piece of research is that these kids can and do respond to rules, but it needs to be frequent, consistent, and carried out calmly.