Does it ever seem like everything your child does has the sole purpose of making you crazy? Of course it does, you are a parent. Even the most well behaved child can have periods of defiance. When this behavior is consistent for long periods of time and markedly interferes with functioning, it is known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder. ODD is a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures. This disorder is more common in boys than in girls. Some studies have shown that it affects 20% of school-age children. However, most experts believe this figure is high due to changing definitions of normal childhood behavior. It is important to distinguish ODD from defiant behavior that is considered within a range of age-appropriateness when diagnosing a child with ODD.
Treatment for ODD is usually a combination of individual psychotherapy sessions for the child and parental meetings with a mental health professional in order to work on behavioral techniques. Medication is sometimes helpful to manage other co-occurring disorders such as ADHD or depression.
One important parenting strategy with children who have ODD (and also just in general), is remembering to "pick your battles." Children will not consistently conform to your ideas of what their behavior should look like. This is perhaps a massive understatement. Many times it seems as though the exact opposite of what you are asking is what children will do. One fun idea is to pretend that perhaps today is Opposite Day. "Don't you dare eat those vegetables!" Children will usually respond to this with some humor. This idea also allows you to keep some humor in a difficult situation. Your attitude and demeanor as a parent is extremely important. Not only to children mimic your behavior and moods, but these things are what you have the most control over.
A rule of thumb in picking your battles is to ask yourself if safety is a concern in what you are trying to have the child do (or not do). If the answer is yes, you of course have to stick to your guns and ride out any difficult behaviors and objections. If the answer is no, then perhaps you do not need the child to be doing exactly as they are told in that instance. You can certainly ask yourself the follow up question of how important adherence to your demand is to you personally. Every parent has a different set of values in this regard. Just remember that if you identify something as important to you, you have to be able to put in the time and energy of dealing with a potential push back from your child. It is critical to be consistent in your follow through.
If you have questions around ODD or parenting in general, feel free to contact me.
Your Defiant Child; 8 steps to Better Behavior, by Russell A. Barkley PhD ABPP ABCN and Christine M. Benton PhD (Hardcover - Oct. 6, 1998)
Photo courtesy of http://adoptive-parenting.adoptionblogs.com
Stephen Quinlan is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker who practices in Dover, NH