Many young children at certain stages of their development, appear to be strong willed, defiant and always ready to throw temper tantrums, to the dismay of their often exhausted parents.
Consequently, it may be difficult to recognise the difference between a child exhibiting “normal” behaviour, and one suffering Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
While ODD may have similar characteristics to typical childhood tendencies, all symptoms are magnified significantly, something like turning up music from low to the highest volume.
For a diagnosis of ODD therefore, the frequency and intensity of these behaviours must be outside the typical range for a child’s developmental level, gender and culture.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder impacts on the whole family, and becomes upsetting and exhausting for parents.
It is a persistent behavioural pattern where children ignore or defy requests from adults, and refuse to follow rules. Such children:
- have a low frustration threshold, being quick to lose their tempers and to blame others for their mistakes and misbehaviours;
- can become resentful and vindictive, and refuse to take responsibility for their own behaviour;
- deliberately try to annoy or aggravate others, behaviour which only worsens if they notice the adult reacting and becoming upset or angry. The child with ODD will then use the adult’s responses to his or her advantage in family, school or social environments (or all situations if the condition is severe).
- thrive on large amounts of conflict, anger and negativity from others and frequently ‘win’ in battles of negativity against others.
Why is my Child so Defiant?!
The goal of your child with ODD is to gain and maintain control by testing authority (eg parents, teachers) to the limit – and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to gain power, for example by breaking rules, screaming, insulting, distracting, provoking and prolonging arguments at home and in the classroom, and generally refusing to co-operate.
In the classroom, this behaviour is very distracting and challenging for teachers and students alike.
Behaviours become noticeable from pre-school and gradually escalate to teenage years.
Generally, the child with ODD has academic difficulties, loses interest in school, has poor relationships with their peers, with increases in chronic lying and stealing as they reach teenage years. Truancy from school is common and they tend to run away from home or school, eventually dropping out or being excluded from school. More and more they isolate themselves from family and peer groups and involve themselves with delinquent groups.
It is easy to see that if this condition is left untreated, it can lead to more serious issues such as alcohol and substance abuse, crime and other serious mental illness. The child or young person with ODD may suffer problems with low self-esteem and confidence, and experience depression.
Medication is not usually given to children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. However, often, ODD is accompanied by other conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and, in particular Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) where medications are provided to reduce the symptoms and help these young people respond more effectively to their behaviour therapy.
Parents (and teachers alike), need support and strategies to help children and teenagers with ODD.
Parenting your Child with ODD
As has already been stated, children with ODD seem to enjoy power struggles and like you to get angry – the angrier the better!
They consistently work at provoking negative reactions in others; therefore, it is vital to try not to show any emotion when responding to them. Reacting emotionally to their negativity will just not work. Never raise your voice or argue with a young person with ODD; instead, work calmly to avoid becoming their enemy. It is important for parents to model the behaviour they want from their child.
Parents may also find it helpful to see a psychologist, to develop a management plan and plan in advance what behaviours to target and what strategies to implement before they occur, even working on one behaviour at a time. It is not possible to solve all the negative behaviours at the one time. And, don’t forget to praise your child when they do respond positively!
If you are a parent struggling with a child with ODD, please make an appointment to see me. We can work together to develop a plan of action including developing appropriate strategies to help you to support yourself and your child, and eventually improve harmony in the household.
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
As a registered teacher and psychologist, Dr Jan Philamon has a wealth of experience with children, however she enjoys helping individuals and couples at any stage of life. Jan aims to help people to be the best they can be and find success: improved wellbeing, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows them to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129