Raising kids is a lot like riding on a monster roller coaster. Half the time you’re going up the hill, anticipating the drop on the other side.
The other half of the time you spend screaming your head off and wishing you could get the heck off – and whoever said this was fun anyway?
Sometimes trying to figure out what went wrong feels like Mission Impossible.
Sometimes it’s something that’s popped its ugly head out in the space of a day or so, kind of like the time I woke up and found a massive colony of army ants had invaded the girls’ bedroom. Other times it’s something that sort of crept up on you slowly, like mold in the bathroom shower. One day you wake up and decide that behavior has got to go.
Either way, parents are often at a loss when it comes to figuring out how to get their child’s behavior back on a (relatively) even keel.
In order to help you out, I’ve compiled a series of posts that will help you determine why your child is acting out, what to do about it, and more importantly, how to make sure that behavior doesn’t come back.
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.
Now that you understand why your ODD child is especially difficult, it's time to get down to brass tacks, by creating a behavioral program to implement with your ODD child.
The program is based on three main components: building a positive relationship with your defiant child, developing a point system, and establishing authority.
Let's focus on the first component, building a positive relationship. Usually it lasts about a week, and it is critical to the program's success. You'll spend this time noticing and commenting on the positive things your child does. That means that when you notice your child does something positive, however small, you will verbally praise him.
For example, if his little brother makes an obnoxious remark, and your ODD child simply ignores him, you could casually remark, "I like how you ignored what your little brother said. You could have hit him or said something back, but you didn't. You were really in control there. "
Sometimes a gesture, such as a smile, or a thumbs up, are enough to show your approval.There's no need to make a big fuss about it, and in fact you'll need to be careful not to overdo it. If you do your child will become suspicious, or feel manipulated.
This step is important since it's quite common for parents of defiant children to be stuck in a pattern where they spend most of their time nagging, berating, or lecturing their ODD child.This creates an atmosphere where your child expects every word you say to be something he is not interested in hearing.
At the same time that are working on increasing the positive things you say to your child, you will also work on reducing the negative things you say to your child as well. This doesn't mean, of course, that you're going to let your child do whatever they want.
It does mean, however, that you will pick one or two things to work on, and leave the rest for later. This could mean that you will choose to focus on reducing the amount of physical fighting, or verbal name-calling.
The next step involves changing how you point out your child's misbehavior. Instead of criticizing, making character judgments, or stating that this is the hundredth time you've warned your child not to do this, simply state the behavior that you see, and tell the child what behavior you expect to see next time.
For example ,let's say your child is swearing at his sister with language even a hardened prisoner would blush at. First, you need to defuse the situation. Remove the sister from the room, and if possible, the child. If the child refuses to leave the room-and this is entirely possible-you can make yourself unavailable to him. Go to the bathroom, go mow the lawn, start tackling that garage sale you've been thinking about.
The most important thing about this strategy is that you are removing yourself and other bystanders from the area, and you are absolutely not engaging in any arguments or discussions with your ODD child.
Take my word for it; this will be difficult. Defiant children are simply masters at drawing you into a discussion with them so that they can get what they want. This is exactly what you want to avoid. If they talk to you, you can simply say, "I will not tolerate verbal abuse in this house. I need to see people speaking respectfully to each other."
If your child persists in discussing the issue -and they probably will-you can add, "if you want to talk about it later, we can do it at (pick a time)." Whenever your child continues to bring up the topic, you simply repeat what you said earlier.
This is the broken record approach. Even if your child insists on coming back to discuss things with you, it ensures that you won't get entrapped in another argument with them.
At the appointed time, you should approach your child to talk about what happened. Explain to him that you have a limited amount of time you can speak to him, and that after that time the subject will be closed. Ten minutes is usually more than enough time, but if not you can always agree to meet with them the next day.
You should also explain that half of the time will be spent on hearing his version of what happened, and the rest will be spent on trying to make sure it doesn't happen again. Be careful not to let this situation turn into a gripe session. You want your ODD child to learn how to problem solve, not just complain.
During the problem solving component, you'll help your child focus on what they can do to. If they say, "Kiersey should stop touching my stuff and then I'll leave her alone," you'll respond: "I need you to tell me what you will do, not Kiersey." If they give you a response, even if it is a lousy one, just accept it and say, "okay, that's one possibility, let's think of one more." Then help them think what might happen if they carry through with both possibilities.
End the session by explaining that you expect your child to try out one of the solutions the next time the a similar situation occurs, and that you will meet with them and talk about whether or not it was a workable situation. Even if the session ends without any real workable solutions, your child will have learned that the situation does require one-and that they are responsible for finding it.
Defiant children are definitely not for the meek. Although there are many characteristics that define a defiant child, probably the one that makes your defiant child hardest to deal with is his incredible level of persistence.
For example, a typical child when told no would certainly argue with you, or otherwise attempt to persuade you to change your mind. They might bring up the issue two, three, or maybe even seven or eight times. After that, most children will give up, unless it concerns an issue especially important to them.
Children who are ODD, however, not only don't give up after the seventh, eighth, or tenth time, they are able to maintain the same level of energy at the thirtieth request as they had at the first. In fact, many ODD children, after they see their request has been denied, will deliberately up the ante by yelling, threatening, or worse. Many parents simply give up just so they can maintain their sanity.
A second characteristic of children with ODD is their seeming inability to learn from their actions. Defiant children seem oblivious to most punishments, whether they are smaller punishments like time-out, or larger ones like being grounded for a month. To the frustrated parent, they appear to be willing to "do the time." After the punishment ends, they often go right back to repeating the same behavior that got them into trouble only a day (or even a few hours) ago.
A third characteristic is the ODD child's tendency to seek excitement. The defiant child often complains of being bored. Some have even admitted to picking fights with parents or siblings just so they have a chance to liven up things a bit. They also tend to engage in risky behaviors in an attempt to satisfy their need for stimulation, which can lead to illegal or otherwise dangerous activities.
These three characteristics are the main reasons why ODD children not only are so challenging for parents and other caretakers, but they also explain why defiant children are at such a high risk for criminal behavior.
The question is, what can parents do in order to help their ODD child accept their authority, and learn from consequences? Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll discuss tactics you can use that directly address these issues.
Hi! I’m a parent of 8 children, 3 of whom have learning disabilities. I have over 20 years experience working with kids and adults of all ages. My specialty is disabilities on the autistic spectrum, and language delays.