Are you a parent who feels like you’ve tried everything—and failed—in an attempt to manage your oppositional, defiant child? You’re not alone. Parenting an ODD kid can be one of the most frustrating things any parent faces. The good news is that there is hope. You may be thinking, “Yeah right, nothing can help my kid!” While it’s true that ODD kids don’t follow normal rules, there is an effective way to defuse their defiant behavior.
Typical children know that there are boundaries and consequences for their behavior, and even though they try to test parents, they also know when to back down. Oppositional, defiant children don’t respect authority or boundaries. They simply don’t think rules apply to them. That’s why parents are often at their wits’ end—they feel helpless and powerless against their child’s negative behavior. ODD kids thrive on emotion and chaos, and seeing their parents in a weakened state just gives them an increased feeling of power and control. If you, as a parent, are experiencing this regularly now, you may be asking yourself, “What did I do wrong?” You’re afraid that others are judging you—parents, teachers, society—and are trapped in a very lonely, emotional place.
The secret to effectively managing your ODD child is through “Fail-proof Consequences.” This means establishing consequences that are uncomfortable for your child and that you have total control over. For example, a regular consequence might be telling your child he can’t use the Internet at home. This isn’t fail-proof because he could always sneak it while you are sleeping or out of the house. Instead, make it fail-proof by suspending the Internet. You are in control because you pay the bill, not him. Another example would be cancelling your teen’s cell phone service. Again, you have complete control. Even though they have the phone, there’s no way they can use it. If your child has any control over the consequence or if you can’t follow through with it, then it’s not fail-proof.
Remember that your ODD child will resist new consequences as much as they can. They will argue, blame, guilt-trip and flat-out refuse to comply. This is normal ODD behavior. In order for your child to learn how to function as an adult, you must commit to enforcing fail-proof consequences. Your child needs to understand that negative behavior results in a consequence happening, just like in real life. They may not necessarily change their behavior, but at least you’ve done your part as a parent. Know that you’re doing everything you can, and don’t be hard on yourself.
Please note that if your child is extremely hostile and destroying property or using drugs, they may have moved from Oppositional Defiant Disorder into Conduct Disorder. If you feel like they are violating the rights of others, contact your local police or a professional therapist for help. You don’t have to try and deal with this alone. Don’t give up—stay hopeful and know that many ODD children have gone on to lead better lives.
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 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. Their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.