When my son began to exhibit explosive behavior at the age of two, I tried using the skills I learned in college, as a volunteer, and as a professional. Guess what? It didn’t work! I found myself getting angry, frustrated, yelling, and basically doing exactly what I was taught not to do. But, here’s the thing — this was my child.
In first grade my son’s teacher had several “land mines” to get through each day. Clean up, finishing projects, and class activity transitions were all major challenges. I didn’t know what to say or how to help her, but the message was clear — I was a terrible Mom and he was an awful child. He could not be “controlled.” Sadly, his teacher was old school, so the power struggles ended with him shutting down until the principal and I had moved to another more creative class.
My son’s sixth grade teacher could not have been a worse choice. She was new to the district and so was my son after a move. She developed an instant dislike to him because of his lack of organization among other things. No matter how closely I worked with his teacher, it wasn’t enough. He didn’t become compliant, respectful, or get his work in on time, if at all. He would do it, not hand it in, or blow it off. These experiences were so painful and destructive to him. It was heart breaking for me.
In middle school, the principal came out of her office each time she saw me come into the school. She seemed to get some sort of satisfaction as I walked by, several times, with my arms full of old papers, snacks, and homework that wasn’t turned in as I emptied his locker…every month. Rescuing — yes. Over-functioning, yup. Enabling — absolutely. It was humiliating, and it didn’t change a thing!
From a mom’s perspective, I was fiercely determined to protect my son from any and all scrutiny. Elaborate excuses and reasons started spilling out of my mouth. Putting out fires became my full-time job. Breaking up fights or arguments with my son’s peers, his sibling, or teachers were constant and exhausting. Homework and chore reminders were an invitation to a power struggle or turn around, usually ending with it being my fault if it didn’t get done. Really?
It took many years, especially through adolescence, to give up feeling RESPONSIBLE for his behavior, academics and disappointments. I loved my son intensely through all the arguments, broken electronics, holes in the wall and insults, but, I hated his tone of voice, blaming and defiance. When he was not in an ODD state, he was the kindest, most affectionate, interesting, and funny person.
- Disconnect at the first sign of him/her becoming agitated to prevent an escalation — especially in public.
- Practice phrases such as, “Yeah, I don’t know why he/she chose not to hand that in” or “Let’s give him/her some space to calm down.”
- When the facts of a situation don’t match yours, try saying: ”That’s not the way I remember it, but I’m not going to argue about it.”
- Give a choice of two things to avoid making demands that could be rejected with
“NO!” Such as, “Do you want to do your homework now or in an hour?” Give them control when possible.
- When you are ready to explode, take a time out and drive, scream, or talk to a trusted friend.
- Get enough sleep! It is imperative to be able to cope with the constant barrage of opposition, defiance, and embarrassment.
- Cry in the shower because no one can hear you.
- The Total Transformation, The Calm Parent and The ODD Lifeline programs teach how to deal with the acting out behaviors as a parent and how to stay calm while doing it.
When you raise a child with ODD, remember that you are not crazy, cruel, unreasonable, or responsible for their choices. As the authors of The ODD Lifeline, Kim and Marney state: children with ODD are resistant to teaching, control, and thinking beyond now. Expand and rely on as many resources as you can to take care of yourself. The good news is, they do grow up, and with help, can learn alternative appropriate ways to behave.