Helping Parents Handle Children with ODD

All children are prone to throwing tantrums, getting angry, ignoring the rules, and even hitting others around them. However, children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) demonstrate these same behaviors in an extreme form for at least six months.

Learning more about ODD can help you cope and improve your ability to help your child. Whether your child has a recent diagnosis of ODD or you suspect that they have undiagnosed ODD, the disruptive behavior can take a toll on every family member.

What is ODD?

A behavior disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, is most often diagnosed in early childhood.

There are several key signs that a child has ODD, including:

  • Defiant and uncooperative behavior
  • Hostility toward peers
  • Hostility and aggression toward parents, teachers, and others who may have a position of authority
  • Anger and irritability, very often without an obvious trigger or cause.
  • A refusal to follow the defined rules at home or school.
  • Quick to lose their temper and quick to overreact.
  • Open defiance and seeking to argue with adults or anyone perceived to be in a position of authority.
  • Deliberately annoying peers, siblings, and even parents and teachers.
  • Refusing to take responsibility for things they’ve said and done. Prefer to blame other people for their mistakes.
  • Breaking or throwing items, either with the intent to hurt someone or break the item.

It’s an important developmental milestone for children and teens to push boundaries and display some signs of defiant behavior. That said, when extreme forms of these behaviors are seen over a period longer than six months, it can be considered ODD.

Children who have ODD will be quick to anger, and the levels of anger may not match the severity of what is making them angry. For example, a child with ODD may fly into a rage because he didn’t get the right type of milk with his lunch. He may also throw tantrums without any clear trigger.

What is most concerning is that children who have ODD could potentially hurt other children who are smaller than them. This deliberate aggression can be potentially dangerous for younger children.

As any parent who has a child with ODD can tell you, a serious consequence of this behavioral disorder is its emotional toll on other family members. Parents and siblings may find it challenging to cope between frustration, arguments, and fearing the next unexpected tantrum or angry outburst. Everyone else in your home may even feel afraid of the child with ODD.

You and your co-parent may also find that you’re reacting to the child’s poor behavior in extreme ways. As an example, you may not typically raise your voice to your children. But you may find yourself yelling at your child with ODD and your other children.

It’s also possible to find yourself changing the household rules for one child and giving in to the tantrums. While it may buy you a moment of peace, it’s teaching the child that he can throw a fit to get his way.

So, what should your next steps be so that you can find a way to restore a sense of calm and normalcy in your house?

How can parents help kids with ODD?

While the child with ODD must get the correct type of treatment to address his needs, it is just as crucial that every member of the family gets into treatment. ODD does not only impact the child living with it. It will take work and effort from everyone in the family to learn how to live with, respond to, and help the defiant child.

Early intervention can ensure a better outcome. It can help your child avoid facing much more serious issues as he grows up. A defiant child is one thing. A defiant teen and adult are more likely to face legal troubles.

As a parent, there are several steps that you can take to help your child as you start to address ODD:

  • There can be a lot of appointments to keep up with once your child starts therapy. Be sure that you and your co-parent can keep up with the scheduled appointments. Staying on top of treatments and appointments can help your child see results better than if the appointments are sporadic. If need be, get help from older siblings and grandparents to help ensure the appointments aren’t missed.
  • Follow updates and recommendations given to you from your child’s care team. There could be a dozen people on the care team, between social workers, psychiatrists, counselors, and more. Every person on the care team will have an important role in helping him on the road to recovery.
  • Make sure that every member of the family goes to family therapy sessions. ODD takes a toll on the family as a whole. It’s important every member of the household feels as though their voice is being heard during therapy.
  • Get your child’s teachers and school administrators involved with your child’s care. They will have a key role to play in helping your child learn new boundaries. And of course, they will help your child to keep up with his schoolwork.
  • Find support groups that can help you connect with other families with a child who has ODD. Knowing you’re not alone can make a world of difference as you navigate ODD and treatment for it.

Remember that there are often different types of therapies that will work best for your child. You may find that some don’t help him while he thrives with others.

What treatment methods are available for ODD?

There needs to be a multi-approach to treatment for children who have ODD. To be effective, treatment needs to focus on more than helping just the child. Treatment should focus on helping to restore and improve the parent-child relationship and the relationship that your child has with siblings.

Effective treatment will help ensure that your child has a better future, one in which he can interact with peers, teachers, and those in a position of authority. Some children may grow out of their ODD behaviors, even without treatment. But that said, the behavioral concerns may also accelerate. Children could find it challenging to maintain friendships, struggle with relationships, and there may be serious fractures within the family itself.

Children who don’t get treatment for ODD, and do not grow out of the behaviors, can be at an increased risk for facing serious concerns as adolescents and adults. They may find it difficult to focus on their studies and the pursuit of a career. Some may also go on to develop conduct disorder, which is a much more serious behavioral disorder. This can potentially lead to an increased risk for criminal activity.

Taking an active and involved role in the ODD treatment for your child will be an important part of ensuring that treatment is successful. The best treatment approach will empower parents to learn and integrate parenting strategies designed to address their family dynamics.

Some of the strategies include:

  • Learning how to create an environment that offers the routine a child with ODD needs. This could include consistency, structure, and support with a predictable schedule.
  • Understanding best practices for establishing clearly understood household rules.
  • Focusing on how to identify the triggers for and manage problematic behavior.
  • Determining how to respond to tantrums and outbursts appropriately, and how to manage the behaviors.
  • Learning how to repair any damage that has been done to the relationship between child and parent.
  • Finding how to best focus more on praising and rewarding positive behaviors.
  • Learning how to pay less attention to negative behaviors and outbursts.
  • Understanding the importance of setting and following through with consequences for negative behaviors.

There are several treatment options to consider. It could take some time to find the right treatment plan for your child, but with a dedicated care team on your side, it’ll be well worth the effort.

What’s next?

If your child has not yet been diagnosed, work with professionals who have experience with ODD to get the diagnosis. A diagnosis will help your child’s care team provide the resources needed.

With your diagnosis, you can get the correct type of treatment for your child. While outpatient therapy options can prove beneficial, in some situations, it may be better for everyone in the family to consider an inpatient option.

A residential treatment center can offer the structured environment that your child with ODD needs. In this safe and structured space, your child can better focus on learning new behaviors and approaches to situations with peers and adults in positions of authority.

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