One of our child’s initial symptoms of juvenile depression was an increased frequency of angry emotional outbursts. Seemingly small things would set this otherwise nurturing and compassionate individual into a tailspin. She would scream, slam doors, throw things and physically lash out. She seemed down, uninterested in normal play and spoke badly of herself.
A visit to the pediatrician confirmed our suspicions that she was suffering from depression. Positive parenting, medicine, and counseling helped but over the course of the next five years things began to change.
For instance, the outbursts became more frequent and violent in nature. It took extreme planning to provide her with enough notice for upcoming transitions. I would often find her in corners breathing heavily, seething in anger. She refused to answer questions directed to her but would instead answer with grunts and groans and then stomp off in a huff. She withdrew and isolated herself.
How to parent a defiant teen
Homework time became a nightmare. Asking her to do a chore or complete a task was done carefully and with much trepidation. She experimented with self-harm and I was alarmed to learn that suicidal ideation was a strong and frequent occurrence.
Quite frankly, her sisters and I didn’t feel safe in her company. I became consumed with worry for her safety and ours. The pediatrician agreed it was time for a formal psychological evaluation. Our daughter was just as scared and frustrated with her emotions as we were and so, complied with the testing. In addition to depression, she was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD. Now, we had a name for the monster that was plaguing our daughter but were left wondering if this monster could be slayed.
We were armed with two tools in our arsenal: therapy and the book,Your Defiant Teen, Second Edition: 10 Steps to Resolve Conflict and Rebuild Your Relationship
by Russell A. Barkley, PhD and Arthur L. Robin, PhD.
Unfortunately, therapy has had limited benefits as our daughter simply slouches in the therapist’s chair refusing to answer any questions. The book, however, has proven to be an invaluable resource; it helped define the problem and provided a roadmap with which to manage the behavior.
I have learned that ODD is essentially a personality disorder. Doctors Barkley and Robin claim that defiance is characterized by the
Failure to comply with an adult’s request within a reasonable time, the failure to keep doing what has been requested until the task is finished and the failure to follow previously taught rules of conduct. (Barkley and Robin, pages 11 – 13)
I know a lot of children and teens who fall into that category so it’s important to note that the behavior displayed by an individual with Oppositional Defiant Disorder is extreme and life-disrupting. According to Dr. Barkley and Dr. Robin the defiant behavior is generally “much worse than it is for most other” peers making “it hard for [that individual] to function as expected,” risks “eliciting serious consequences from others,” and causes “emotional distress or harm” to the individual and/or those around him or her (Barkley and Robin, pages 12-14).
If you or a loved one is struggling with this then you understand just how exhausting it can be to guide an ODD child. In Dr. Barkley’s and Dr. Robin’s book you will learn the importance of behavior management in easing the struggles of everyday living. If their advice doesn’t work for you, keep searching.
It is also important to understand how scary this diagnosis is for the child. On one particularly challenging day my daughter, through tears, hollered at me that she hated ODD and depression. She didn’t care about therapy and was tired of the offers for help. She didn’t want help. She didn’t want medicine. She just wanted her “condition” to go away. She wanted to be “normal” right now and for always.
This was a wake-up call. I had made a grave mistake. I had been focusing on how to manage her behavior and not on helping her to understand her diagnosis and see the beauty in herself. When you dig deeply you find that ODD is not all negative; it has many positive and powerful traits. Understanding these traits not only eases behavior management but helps the child feel more in control of their situation as well.
Here are four distinctive superpowers of the ODD child and how they can help:
While one can easily get frustrated when an ODD child doesn’t comply immediately with a request, or even acknowledge that a request has been made, a pattern emerges. At the time of the request, they are likely already immersed in another task that is clearly important to them. Watching the child for a few minutes may reveal their focus, discipline and passion.
Consider for a moment how challenging it is to pull yourself away from something you are passionate about! Help them switch gears by getting your child’s attention and letting them know that you enjoy watching the intensity of their play. Then define what is expected and give a clear timeframe for the completion of your request, as in: “You have five more minutes to play the game before I need you to take out the trash.” Then busy yourself and wait. When you respect your child’s passion, compliance eventually follows.
An ODD child analyzes their surroundings thoroughly and can often weigh the pros and cons of any situation in a heartbeat. If the child senses that things are unfair or unjust, they simply will not follow through. Be willing to listen with an open mind to your child’s point of view and you will see things in an entirely new way. If you must, pull out the clipboards and paper. Write up a contract and make sure everyone signs.
When something is in writing, there’s no confusion as to the expectations and no arguing. Even if at first the child chooses not to comply with a previously agreed upon rule, you can point to the clipboard. Having had a say in the matter, they’ll likely come around.
An ODD child is usually very sensitive. Extreme behavior is a reaction to something. Look around you to discover how you can be of assistance. Perhaps a sibling has been practicing an instrument loudly for an extended period of time. While it might not bother you, it has been grating on their nerves for a long while.
Congratulate them on withstanding the irritation for as long as they have and help them express their needs in an acceptable manner. Their sensitivity can help you create an environment that is accommodating to everyone.
You might be tempted to decide that an ODD child is annoyed with everything and everyone all of the time. Because the child is so focused on the behavior of those around them they are also keenly aware of how that behavior might affect others. You might be surprised to discover that a pending outburst is due to their concern for the welfare of another.
I’ve described here four ODD superpowers. There are countless others which you can find and share with your child. Congratulate them as you witness them put their powers into practice. Work together to find solutions to their issues and although you may not divest yourself of all the struggles inherent with ODD, you will certainly help ease the burden.
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