Kids who exhibit behaviors of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) are not your typical kids. They behave in ways that scream “I don’t care what you want me to do” and truly have little or no regard for what their parents or society expect of them.
Finding effective consequences for these kids is difficult. Unlike typical kids, ODD kids often act as if nothing matters to them, which can make it hard for you to know how to respond to their behavior and what consequences to give.
So, how can you possibly make consequences effective for kids who don’t care about consequences?
The good news is that you can make consequences work with an ODD child. But, you have to know what kind of consequences to use. And you need to know that consequences that work with a typical child just won’t work with an ODD child.
Read on to better understand how your ODD child thinks and the types of consequences that are effective with them.
Typical kids (who are not ODD) know there’s a line you just don’t cross and, except for testing limits sometimes, they generally follow your rules and respond to consequences.
In contrast, ODD kids cross the line all the time. They don’t respect limits. They break the rules daily. It can wear a parent down to the point of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
ODD kids also thrive on the chaos that comes from the battles you have over control. Sometimes they’ll even create those situations out of the blue. Maybe they’re bored, irritable, or having a bad day. Pushing a parent’s emotional buttons can be entertaining and gives the child a sense of power and control.
When you experience this regularly, you start to question yourself: “Am I doing something wrong? Is this my fault?” It leaves you feeling vulnerable, guilty, embarrassed, and ashamed. It feels like you’re being judged by others—and, indeed, parents of ODD kids are often judged harshly by society. It feels very lonely.
Typical kids will allow you, as a parent, to have some type of control over their behavior. If you ground them, they’ll stay home. ODD kids will climb out the bedroom window five minutes after you’ve grounded them.
Typical kids will change their behavior because they are uncomfortable with a consequence and don’t want to experience it again. ODD kids may indeed feel uncomfortable by a consequence but are committed to resisting it. They will always look for ways to get around the consequence.
And ODD kids are often very bright and creative when it comes to resisting consequences. One mom we know told us, “You know, my daughter would make an excellent lawyer someday—she can and will argue about anything!”
Why does it seem like consequences aren’t working with your ODD child? Probably because you’re using consequences you would give a typical child.
We usually expect a child will respond to consequences—loss of privileges or losing a parent’s trust—in a way that makes him uncomfortable, which will lead the child to change his behavior.
The problem is, ODD kids will stand there while parents are addressing an issue or concern, and the look on the child’s face says it all: “I don’t care.” And often they’ll come right out and tell you they don’t care.
Reactions like that can leave you feeling frustrated, furious, and desperate to influence your child in some way. Unfortunately, when emotions come into play, your logical approach to consequences goes right out the window. You end up in a power struggle, and ODD kids are masters at the game of control.
In our work with ODD kids and their parents, we use something called fail-proof consequences. Fail-proof consequences are effective with oppositional defiant kids because full control over the consequence rests with you, the parent. Much of our work involves showing parents exactly how to create and use this type of consequence.
If your child has any control over the potential consequence at all, it’s not fail-proof. For example, if you tell your child he can’t use the internet, do you have complete control over that? Not really. Your child can always surf the web while you’re asleep or at work or even in the same room. ODD kids are bold and think nothing of flaunting your consequence in your face, something a typical kid isn’t likely to do.
Now, if you suspend the internet service for a few days or weeks, do you have complete control over that? Yes. You pay the bill and your child can’t get it turned back on without your permission. It may mean you can’t use wifi at home, but you still have ultimate control over that consequence.
Alternatively, you could change your wifi password or unplug your router. You could even take the router with you when leaving the house so that he can’t use wifi when you are away. This may seem extreme, but it’s a way to make the consequence fail-proof and you have to think creatively at times to make a consequence fail-proof.
Your child may try to get around the consequence by going online at a friend’s house or somewhere else, but your consequence—that he isn’t allowed to use the internet at home—stands firm. Ultimately, you can only control what you control.
Another consequence parents often use is restricting their child’s phone use. Is it fail-proof? Again, not really. Your child can always sneak and use it when you’re not looking.
But, if your child has a phone and you suspend his service, is that fail-proof? Yes. You pay the bill and have complete control over the service. Your child may still have a phone, but its functionality is severely limited. It’s true that he could he use wifi-only apps, but it is very inconvenient compared with having a normal phone plan with voice and data.
In the end, you have complete control over whether or not you’re paying for his voice and data service. Therefore, in that respect, the consequence of suspending his phone service is fail-proof.
To test the effectiveness of the fail-proof consequence, ask yourself, “Will I be able to follow through with this in the face of my child’s potential out-right defiance and refusal to comply?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have complete control over the consequence.
Understand, though, that if you are unwilling to follow through on the consequence, then it isn’t fail-proof.
We tend to think of consequences as something that changes behavior. But that’s not always the case. Just because someone experiences a consequence doesn’t necessarily mean they will change their behavior. If that were true, everyone would drive the speed limit once they received one ticket. But we all know there are repeat offenders.
And your ODD child is likely a repeat offender. But know this: even though he acts like he doesn’t care about consequences, he probably does care. He’s not likely to thank you for giving him a consequence and he may not change his behavior right away. But by consistently giving and sticking to fail-proof consequences, you’ve done what you can as a parent. You’re teaching your child that when he or she does A then B will always follow. And that alone is important.
Look, our job as parents is to prepare our kids for the real world. In the real world, there are consequences. You, as the parent, are responsible for the consequence, not the behavior.
You may be reading this and thinking, “Yeah, but even fail-proof consequences won’t work with my kid. My child is aggressive and destroys my property. He steals from me and uses drugs.”
In those cases, you probably have a teen who has moved beyond ODD and into what is known as conduct disorder. In these cases, kids violate the rights of others and your fail-proof consequences will likely need to involve the police or the legal system. Parents often become frustrated dealing with those systems but it may be necessary to do so.
Related content: Intimidating Teen Behavior: Is It ODD or Conduct Disorder?
Each of us has a journey in this life—to decide who we are and what we want to be. ODD kids have existed since the beginning of time–they’re our rebels. They bring about changes in society because they simply will not accept the status quo.
We need our rebels. They often challenge us in uncomfortable, but useful ways. They possess strengths like determination, a strong will, and the courage to be different.
Many of our entertainers, inventors, and successful citizens were oppositional growing up. Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. and our own James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation® child behavior program, were both ODD kids who went on to positively impact the lives of others. If everyone was the same—what a boring world this would be.
When you’re the parent of an ODD child, it’s not easy. ODD kids challenge you and they don’t respond to the same kinds of parenting techniques that work with other kids. We’re here to offer you some new techniques that work, so you can hold your child accountable for his behavior and prepare him for the real world. Please keep reading—and don’t give up hope. We know what you’re going through and we can help you survive!
Related content: Is It Time to Call the Police on Your Child?
Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline® for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence™, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues (both programs are included in The Total Transformation® Online Package). Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are also the co-creators of their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, which teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.