In many families there is that “angry” kid who just seems mad so often. S/he is defiant, particularly with authority figures, often lashing out. This dynamic within the family is stressful, and occasionally dangerous. This type of be behavior is called Oppositional Defiant Disorder. (ODD) The American Psychiatric Association describes this mental disorder in this manner, “A recurrent pattern of developmentally inappropriate negativistic, defiant, and disobedient behavior toward authority figures.” It adds that these children “will often have substantially strained relationships with their peers, teachers, parents and other family members, and frequently also experience attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and mood disorders.”
Gary Sytsma has written an excellent article on ODD. I quote him and add my own commentary. ‘ODD children are essentially driven to maintain absolute control. They learn how to wield their power using anger. Meltdowns and tantrums become their modus operandi in order to get their way. An oppositional child often develops a mindset of having total say regarding what they are willing to do or not do. As a result, they often determine what will happen to them, as well as other family members. The parents take a secondary position in the family order. The oppositional child maintains power via defiance and authority.”
Parents with an oppositional child need training to cope with and learn how to effectively parent such a child. Such training should include helping parents use positive reinforcement instead of negative responses which usually cause the child to become angrier. It is important to look for and find some positive behaviors of the child — and tell him/her how pleased you are with that behavior. It is imperative that parents have control in these interactions. Ultimately such control gives the child a sense of stability, building trust.
Parts of parental control involve setting up goals and rules, concrete expectations and consequences, setting limits, being consistent, being accountable. A reputable Marriage and Family therapist can assist parents with this training. It is important for parents to realize that this is a long term process. If not the child will win, outlasting the parents who have run out of energy and given up. Most punishment attempts will end up as failures with this type of child.
It is important for both parents to be in sync — to be unified — as they work together to parent this challenging child. Such children like to “divide and conquer” Mom and Dad. They use various cunning strategies to keep the parents divided and off balance. Good parental communication is critical in such family situations.
Respected Reader, the oppositional defiant child is a huge challenge. If you have one, or know of one that you would like to help, may this discussion be of value. Such a child, like any child, deserves the best parenting possible in order to become his or her fulfilled self!