The “Magic Words” that Stopped an Argument with My O.D.D. Teenager

Posted July 21, 2010 by

My teenage son has O.D.D. — Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

I have just learned that I have to retrain myself as a parent. I get frustrated and tired of fighting with him all the time. During a session with his counselor I learned that I am partly to blame for the reason we fight.

Let me explain.

My son’s counselor suggested that he attend a summer program at the counseling center. He has to go at least two days during the week. He started questioning me as to why he has to go. I explained that it gets him out of the house and gives him something to do, plus he is with his counselor and is able to get group therapy. It helps him because he won’t be keeping himself locked in the house all day and getting on everyones’ nerves.

He said he still didn’t understand but he left it alone. The next week, same question. I gave the same response, but this time he didn’t leave it alone; he kept arguing, and I argued back. The next week the same thing happened. By this time I was so frustrated that I automatically had that frustration tone in my voice. That only made things worse… so we fought more.

The counselor said that I need to stop re-explaining everything and simply say, “You already asked that question; I already answered it and the answer didn’t change.” So I tried it her way. Wow, I was amazed! That stopped him from arguing — which stopped us from fighting. So now, every time he has a question about something, I only answer it once. I just let it go. And things have changed a lot.


LeeAnn, mother of three girls and one boy, aged 16, 14, 12 and 6. Each of the children except the youngest has issues, including ADHD, ODD, poor impulse control, major anger and depression.

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  1. Robyn Report

    Wow, why do we always seem to stumble onto these helpful sites just when we’re about to give up on our child?? I don’t know how many times I have said to his dad (we are divorced), that he needs to live with him as I can’t take it anymore.. His siblings are at their whits end, the school holidays are a nightmare for all of us. But it’s funny but I understand that I need to change myself and my reaction in order to have a happier home, but it’s so hard when you feel so disrespected every day. I also have a mild mood disorder but as long as I eat gluten free I’m fine. I know I should try him on a gluten free diet but the ‘too hard basket’ is always my excuse. I am definately going to try the suggestion about telling him that he already knows the answer each time he continues to harass me with the same question. I agree that giving him consequences, removing privileges and toys and everything doesn’t do a bloody thing, he just says ‘ I don’t care’, and then I’m in deeper because I created a bigger hole for myself lol.. I’m lucky that I have two other children without disorders and are very well behaved otherwise it’s only natural that I would assume I was doing something major wrong as a parent.. I’m also lucky that, even though I am divorced, his dad has shared care our our children and plays a big part in his life. If he had a ‘dead beat’ dad… Anyway, will try this today and see how we go, the more help and guidance we can get can only help us. Good luck everyone, I know exactly what you’re going through and have a lovely day
    Robyn 🙂
    ps-I’m also lucky that he is only 12 and have stumbled onto this info now and not later like a lot of parents

  2. D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To “Colleen”: Thank you for sharing your story and your personal experience dealing with the juvenile justice system. Parenting a child with ODD can feel like an uphill battle. As James Lehman points out in his article Why the Word “No” Sets off an Oppositional, Defiant Child, this can often leave parents feeling hopeless and alone. There isn’t any one answer that is going to work for every child. What it comes down to in the end is finding what is going to work best for you and your family. Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner offer some great suggestions for parenting a child with ODD in their articles Parenting ODD Kids: Advice from Two Moms Who’ve Been There and Defiant Child Behavior: Is Your Child’s Bad Behavior Escalating? We wish you and your family luck as you address these challenges. Take care.

  3. Colleen Report

    Oh gosh, I’m right there with so many of you! What is the answer? Is there anything that any of you have found helpful? Our daughter is 16 and we have been searching for help since she was 14. Joann is correct about getting the courts involved will cost you, at least in the state of WA. We started a Youth at Risk Petition until we discovered that we would have to pay attorney fees for our daughter. And if the judge hands down a ruling, and the kid violates it and is thrown in juvie, I’m sure we’d have to pay for that too.

    Getting the kid into counseling is such a challenge. In this state, once the child is over age 13, they have to agree and be cooperative in order to be seen. And then finding an effective counselor experienced with ADD and ODD, whom your child can relate to and develop communication with, within your insurance plan, is another challenge.

    I’ve researched out of state treatment centers, which are expensive and/or require a more “serious” mental health assessment, especially if you try to get it covered under your insurance. But I’ve also read some disturbing reports about many of these centers that make me doubt their effectiveness.

  4. ginalina Report

    Hi, my 22 yer old son is outside right this moment at 10:30pm. I locked him out 3nights ago. He has been ODD since before anyone really believed in that diagnosis. I know hes going to start knocking soon. I made my decision and I have to stick with it. There are many resources in our city. He just became very rude, bad language, grunting loud when angry, refusing to discuss feelings, telling me “f*** no”. He has improved throughout the years but only so long as I respect myself first. I’m thankful that hes no longer a minor, it was just a no way out situation. So to all parents “please use the advice on this site, it truly works. I am happy to have found this site, I didn’t find much help in the mid 90’s. There is a new book that I found in a supermarket that changed my world. Its titled “Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children”. I learner that now that he is 22, I am only handicapping him when I overlook his behavior as Ive been doing for the past month. Hahaha not mention the past 20yrs! It seems like someone has poisened our kids, do you ever feel that way? Lots of Love to you parents…..Sincerely gina

  5. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To Sandy: It’s completely normal to feel lost and worn out when faced with something like this. Feeling torn between your child and your partner is a horrible feeling. Whether you move out or not is completely up to you. It might be helpful to ask her what is going on for her when she withdraws and talk about some different ways she can cope with the situation instead (see this article on problem solving for more information). We have a couple other articles that have more information about sudden behavior changes: Sudden Behavior Changes in Kids, Part I: What Do They Mean? & Sudden Behavior Changes in Children Part II: 7 Things You Can Do Today. These articles will give you more helpful information and ideas. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this. Take care.

  6. Sandy Report


    I am at my wits end with my daughter. She has changed dramatically in the last year (she is 14 now). She isolates herself at home unless she wants something. She has run away from home twice, hangs out with a new group of friends who are all from tough backgrounds, has lost interest in school, doesn’t want anything to do with her old friends. Is very moody and defient, doesn’t show any feelings for others. The list goes on. I am a single mum, living with my partner and his kids (we have them 1/2time). He is a good support but she seems to love him and then hate him. Her father has passed away so she has has feelings of abondonment there. She likes my parter when his kids aren’t there, but when they arrive she distances herself. Should I move out with her and take her out of this environment? I feel completely lost and drained.


  7. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Terri: It sounds like you have been dealing with a lot of very challenging issues with your son. It is very normal to feel like you just don’t want to be him around anymore. We do not recommend putting him out of the house without first consulting with a legal counselor or your local police to find out what your legal responsibilities are here. In situations where stealing has become chronic and violent behavior has been the norm, it is helpful to look for additional local supports. You certainly have already done that in the past, and you have done well to hold your son accountable for his behavior, and yet you are still in a difficult place with him. We recommend contacting Boystown for support and referrals. The Boystown National Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-448-3000. By calling, you can talk to a trained counselor (at no charge) about what is going on. They offer crisis intervention and shelter information as well. Boystown frequently helps families with issues similar to those you’re experiencing and we are confident they can help you get moving in the right direction. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this.

  8. Terri Report

    I have just reported my 16 year old son to the police for stealing a large amount of valuable jewellry from the safe, this after a few months of continuous stealing of money, items that can be sold ie, PS3 games, controllers. I am at my wits end with him, since being born I knew there was something different about my child and when he was 5 he was diagnosed with ODD, ADHD, with a violent temper, he also has learning difficulties. I have been asking for help from the local authorities ever since he has been diagnosed, other than medication and the odd anger management and odd counselling, but no help of any substance. I knew from his early age, that he would be an teenager/adult with difficulties with the police because of how the modern day is. So I have tried to show him that his actions have consequences, I have grounded him, removed his TV, PS3, Wii, Phone – I have stop giving him pocket money – and it just continues, the verbal abuse and violent outbursts I have had to endure over the years as he has got older he has smashed things around the house, pulled a knife on me, spat on me. My family are of no support and I really don’t know where I go from here. Any ideas as I am ready for putting him on the street, though in my heart I know it is not the right thing to do, but I don’t seem to be able to cope with this anymore.

  9. scaredmom Report

    Our son is 16 yrs old and we have seen this behavior since he was 3. He is an only child and my husband and I have been married for 21 years. We have mood disorders that run in the family so for years and years we thought that it was that. He was diagnosed w/ODD several years ago and just recently w/anxiety. My concern is what kind of productive life will this kid have? He has been through several counselors and psyhiatrists and on every medication in the book. Like one of the comments above we are also bankrupt do to all of his needed medical care. He takes one class at the local H/S and has dropped every other class. Is there a school or camp or inpatient care service that can be more agressive for him? We are so afraid of what his life will look like after he hits adulthood. He is so smart and articulate and it is so sad to see so much potential go down the drain.

  10. Joann A. Report

    I wish something as simple as “magic words” would’ve helped with my son. He’s 18 now & has been causing me nothing but emotional distress & heartache for the last 4 years. I’ve been a single mom for the last 14 years of his life, with his so-called “father” being more detrimental to him than helpful. My son is intelligent, but chooses to make very stupid choices in his life, all of which ended up bankrupting me last year due to all of the court/probation fine’s, etc., that the parent(s) are obligated to pay. Someone above spoke of the Judge & juvie being options for changing their behavior, but that has done NOTHING to change my son. Also, juvie charges the parents for the time they’re in there, $45/day in fact, which adds up quickly. I’ve recently kicked my son out of my home because he simply would not respect me or my rules, which has literally broken my heart; I know it’s hurt me a lot more than it has him. I’ve tried everything… counseling, parenting classes, talking to the police, etc., but I’m still left feeling hopeless, worried & heartbroken for my son.

  11. babelcor Report

    I think they continually ask the same question is to wear the parent (authority figure) down in the hopes that they will get a different answer. It seems to me that staying out of that ploy, helps the adult maintain there dignity and most important their energy so that they can handle the next situation more judiciously. I do think though, there are times where we must make the choice to reexplain, in a different (and still calm way) to make sure the teen did get it.
    Thanks for the information.

  12. parent52 Report

    dear carol, Your head must be ready to burst. your daughter is a problem just like mine. my 18 yr. old is odd add and lies like mad. we have been thru hell trying to keep her safe she is extremely impulsive. she never is where she belongs and is boy crazy and the addiction to cell phones & internet is exhausting, we have been in therapy for 5 years and nothing changes,she is on focalin and tells us it doesnt help & she doesn’t know why she lies and sneaks and breaks every rule.we give consequences each time but she does the same things over & over again even though she suffered the consequuence before

  13. LeeAnn Report

    I know Carol how frusterationg it can be. We had to go to the juvinile courts and place what we call a fins on our son. It is like probation. The judge sets the rules and regulations that the teen must follow, if the child does not follow them then they go to juvie. It also forces them to go into therapy and get medications that are needed too. The judge can also put a restraining order stating that your daughter can not have any contact with this boy, I had to do that on my oldest daughter when she started sneaking out.

  14. carol Report

    Our sixteen year old daughter does not come home from school until late in the evening, takes off in the middle of the night, and returns whenever she feels like, lies constantly, and does this repeatedly. We have called the police and they tell us this running off is a parenting issue not a police issue; lawyers tell us we can not do anything to the boy that she runs off with, because she is not in harms way.
    We tried speaking to the boy who is 19,a ninth grade drop out, but we got charged with harassment by the police.
    As I write this she is gone with no info to us from seven am and it is now nine pm. She does go in to school and stays until the end of the day and then travels with this boy.
    We see one psychologist, one family therapist and one psychiatrist, and this is where we are.
    She follows no rules and if we lock the door and do not let her in, she will say that we kicked her out and use that as her excuse.
    She is ODD on steroids and we are old parents who have dealt with this since she was three years old.HELP HELP

  15. Dr.Smith Report

    I applaud this family for accessing this website, which i routinely recommend to my adult patients having trouble with parenting issues, e.g. for their “difficult” kids. Of course temperaments vary widely. but in my experience as a psychiatrist, with expert joint collaborative parenting, many if not most kids would ‘escape’ a psychiatric label, and many would escape the tragic albatross of an endless stream of psychiatric drugs which inevitably brings a very real risk of medical morbidity with it…not to mention stigma.
    Skilled parenting IS the way. Learn as much as you can. This website is a terrific source and place to begin. I have no business interest in this site/company.
    Dr. Stacey Smith in St. Louis , MO
    Trained at Washington University Medical School, here in St. Louis.

  16. Owen Report

    Wow! I thought I had learned a lot working at an SED center. These are good strategies for me to teach my moms in the GED class. Sometimes I think we let kids or others get to us with the same arguments because we, like them, want to vent our frustrations, like picking at a scab. We know we shouldn’t do it, know where it’s going to lead, but do it anyway. We need to be as conscious of our own motivations and triggers as well as those with whom we deal.

  17. Rkchard Report

    It’s been my experience with ODD teens that asking the same question over and over is a strategy that is used to annoy authority figures. The goal is to irritate, and nothing more.

    Voice tone, and tempo, is critical, and not ever appearing to be annoyed by behaviors shifts power away from the child and back to you. They will probe you with questions like: how are you today? If you say your having a bad day then game on, they will take advantage of it and make your day go from bad to hell on earth. It’s sort of a chess game where you have to play along, and try to not state the obvious (I think your trying to manipulate things here little johny).

    My heart goes out to all parents who have ODD children.

  18. Tracey Report

    Well written and very important to remember. I believe a lot of these defiant and oppositional teens need to be redirected: arguing is pointless. Obviously, we pick our battles (so to speak) with them, otherwise the conflict can be constant. So when it’s time to put the foot down keep it short, and sweet but firm. Credit their intelligence by saying just what LeeAnn suggested..”you asked that already, I answered it, the answer didn’t change.” I feel the more you invite the arguing the more you have allowed your authority to be challenged. This also affects your confidence in your ability to handle their difficult and challenging behavior.

  19. Iowa Mom Report

    Responding to Toni…

    As a parent, using the “We covered that” response in your own home with your own children makes a lot of sense.

    As a teacher, substitue or full-time, I believe “We Covered That” is inappropriate in a classroom setting. It is the teacher’s job is to instruct the students and make sure they understand the topic and the homework.

    Sometimes the child asking the question was listening but the children sitting around her are talking, rustling, making noise and preventing her from hearing the teacher. This has happened to my daughter several times.

  20. Lisa Report

    I love it! My 12 year old son has ODD too. He DOES have auditory processing issues, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t accountable or doesn’t have to practice by listening to me the first time. He will argue with me until the cows come home if I let him. Its his way of wearing me down. Sometimes I will say, “Why do you think?” when he asks me why. If he keeps it up I say, “Well you’re a smart guy, I’m sure you can figure it out. If not, I’ll tell you tomorrow.” He usually doesn’t want to broach the subject again when tomorrow comes unless it’s to ask why and argue again. In that case, rinse and repeat. 🙂

  21. JMC Report

    I tried this with my 16 year old daughter and works very well. I used to argue and belive me do not work.

  22. Toni Report

    I use this technique with middle- and high-school students who don’t listen to my instructions the first time. (I’m a substitute.) I tell them, right after calling roll, that I am performing an experiment today (sometimes I say that, sometimes I just tell them it’s my particular way of doing things) and that I will only be giving instructions ONE time. I tell them: If you have a hard time listening to instructions, you’ve now been warned, and you know you should listen EXTRA hard. Then I give complete instructions. Invariably I am asked a question that indicates the student wasn’t listening. Here is my answer — write this one down, folks:


    Let me tell you again:


    There you go. That’s it.



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