“I’m not eating that!”
“I can leave class anytime I want to. You don’t own me.”
“No. Make me!”
Do you have a child who is consistently negativistic, argumentative and hostile? Does it seem that every little issue in your household turns into a major battle? If so, you are probably exhausted! Parenting has turned out to be a struggle rather than the pleasure you expected it to be. And you are probably also confused – why is your child acting this way? Is there something you have done wrong? Or is there something wrong with your child?
There are many reasons why your child may be this way, ranging from normal temperamental issues and periods of intense emotional stress all the way to various mental health diagnoses. In this article we will examine one possible cause of consistent defiant behavior: ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
Why Do Kids Misbehave?
Misbehavior is normal for any child; part of the natural developmental process involves testing parental limits. In addition, stress can make kids irritable and less able to control their behavior or their mouths. Sick, overwhelmed, hungry or tired kids disobey, talk back, argue or even deliberately trample parents’ authority. Sometimes, simple lack of knowledge or inexperience is the culprit behind misbehavior.
However, when a child defies authority regularly and consistently – across all situations and independent of other factors like stress, fatigue and so on – it is possible that he or she is suffering from a condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD.
What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a chronic, pervasive pattern of being uncooperative, defiant and hostile to authority figures like parents, teachers and most adults. ODD symptoms are far more intense than ordinary misbehavior, impairing a child’s ability to function well at home or school. Sibling relationships and friendships are also affected.
Children with ODD have frequent temper tantrums and other dramatic displays of displeasure, engage in excessive arguments with adults, constantly challenge or question rules, and deliberately attempt to annoy or upset other people. They’re also prone to blaming others and exhibiting vengeful behavior. Symptoms usually occur at both home and school. ODD most frequently occurs along with other diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mood disorders and anxiety disorders. ODD is estimated to affect 3 to 16% of the population of children and teens. It can manifest as early as a child’s toddler years.
What Causes ODD?
Experts point to a combination of factors including biological (e.g. an impairment on the area of the brain that manages impulse control and emotional management), social (e.g. harsh and punitive parenting techniques, stressful family transitions, difficulty relating with people) and cognitive (e.g. poor problem-solving skills, irrational thinking) issues. It is recommended that interventions for a child diagnosed with ODD are also holistic, addressing the whole child.
What Can Parents Do?
If you suspect that your child may have ODD, consult a pediatric mental health professional for assessment, and if necessary, a treatment plan. Once a diagnosis has been made, there are strategies that parents can employ to help their child with oppositional behavior. Management of ODD may involve therapy, medication and behavior management programs to be carried out at home and school. Positive parenting styles have been found helpful as well in the treatment of children with ODD. In particular, taking the power struggle out of parenting can lessen the tendency for the child to fight authority. When parents don’t offer strong emotional reactions to provocation, kids lose interest in trying to provoke them. Parents of ODD children can take specialized parent education training.
Although many children with ODD will benefit significantly from medication, parents can also experiment with Bach Flower Remedies instead of or along with psychotropic medication. Behavioral and psychological interventions will still be required. The remedies Vine (for defiance and hostility), Chestnut Bud (for disregard for authority), Heather (for drama and the need for attention) and Cherry Plum (for loss of control) can be added together in one mixing bottle and offered 4 drops at a time, 4 times a day until the defiant behavior has significantly improved. You can find more information on Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site. Before starting your child on the remedies, note how many times a day he or she currently engages in tantrums and arguments. Record the child’s behavior for a month while the child is taking the remedies. If there is a positive effect, continue as is, but if no difference is noted, be sure to consult with your doctor and/or psychiatrist for proper assessment and medical treatment.