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Being at Odds with a Child with O.D.D.

Oppositional defiance disorder is an often misunderstood mental disorder. it is perceived to be a child being a brat because they didn’t get their way. I get that, but there is always more to these fits and it’s all about a child’s inability to regulate, filter through and communicate their feelings. YES! O.D.D. Is selfish just like most mental disorders and illnesses are. These kids do act like brats and as parents we are pulling our hair out to figure out the fix to the problem.

If you have ever dealt with a child having an outburst and sat as they screamed at you ‘I wish you weren’t my mom!’ Then you might understand this illness more than you think. If you’ve ever been cussed out by a ten year old as they slam their fists into the wall then I feel your frustration. If you’ve ever sat and cried wondering what you did wrong to end up with a child acting this way then I know your pain. I too have sat silently biting my tongue as I wanted to throw a fit that matched the ferocity of my child. I also have looked in her eyes as she stared blankly at me as she told me that she wished I was dead. I’ve cried the tears of hurt from those words and fought against my feelings of anger towards my child for being so spiteful and disrespectful. I’ve also held the child as she cried after and loved her through the crash of the comedown. It’s not fair.

As a mom to my threefold who all suffer from mental disorders and illnesses, I know the pain, fear, challenge, and chaos that comes from Mommin’ mental illness. It ain’t easy! You are THAT mom. Being THAT mom means you deal with the judgment, scrutiny, and guilt that results from your child’s illness. You are also THAT mom who is willing to try just about whatever to take away the pain your child experiences and find a path to peace for all of you. Being THAT mom means going above and beyond for your child, advocating for them, seeking help, and learning about the issues they are experiencing and how to mom mental illness better.

Oppositional defiance disorder is just one disorder that two of my threefold suffer from. It also may be one of the most difficult that I manage. Due to its aggressive and volatile nature and the violent behaviors that come with the uncontrollable anger it is often difficult to find the right way to parent this problem. At the end of the day I always try to find solutions that will help us shorten the outbursts and maintain safety during these situations. If I can pass along advice to other parents who are trying to find a way to manage mental illness by telling our story I will. The following will hopefully shed a little light on what oppositional defiance disorder is and how you can manage the meltdowns.

Understanding & Parenting Tips for Oppositional Defiance Disorder

What is O.D.D.?

Oppositional Defiance Disorder is a mental health disorder in which children are unable to regulate their emotions properly and display those behaviors through outbursts. These outbursts are often aggressive, violent, destructive and are marked by angry and vindictive actions. The behavior displayed is usually seemingly disproportionate to the situation that triggered the reaction and their age.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder is a disorder that affects roughly 16% of school aged children according to NAMI. Oppositional Defiance Disorder ranges in severity from mild to severe and the severity is dependent upon how many areas of life are affected. These different areas are family, social, and school environments. The severity is also determined by the frequency and intensity of the outbursts.

Diagnosis

Determining if your child has O.D.D. requires a diagnosis from a mental health professional after an assessment of their behavior and a thorough history of the behavior from parents, teachers, and if possible the child exhibiting the behaviors. Usually a history of one or more outbursts per week that are not age or situation appropriate is the largest determining factor in a O.D.D. diagnosis.

A thorough family history of mental health disorders and illnesses along with any other behaviors or symptoms the child may display can help the evaluation to find the proper diagnosis for your child. O.D.D. is often linked to others disorders and illnesses that need treatment and to be addressed in addition to the anger. Childhood trauma, parenting, stress, bullying and lack of control of environmental factors can also be found to be root issues that have your child unable to express or comprehend the complex emotions they are having. Mental illnesses such as mood disorders, ADHD, anxiety, and PTSD are also linked to oppositional defiance disorder. Therefore an evaluation would bring more understanding as a parent to what factors are playing into your child’s behavior.

What is an Outburst?

If you don’t know what an anger outburst is then you probably don’t have a child with O.D.D. A child with O.D.D. can get irrationally angry and aggressive when a parent denies the child’s request for candy before dinner. They could react in a violent manner when asked to complete simple tasks. Disrespectful and vindictive behavior can be shown when a teacher redirects the child from continuing talking out of turn. A rage fueled argument could arise with a friend of when the child feels that the friend is not following their interpretation of the rules. This emotional ineptitude is expected in children younger than five, but beyond that age they should have began to filter their emotions and communicate them in a healthier way.

If you think of a toddler who throws a tantrum when you remove a toy from their hand or say no that would be similar to how a child reacts who has O.D.D. ‘Don’t take candy from a baby’ comes to mind as the type of fit a small child has. While it’s understandable that a two year old throws themselves on the floor, hits, screams or cries in response, it is not acceptable for a ten year old to throw a fit like that in response to a similar undesirable outcome. ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’ would be a good example of the triggered response of a child with O.D.D. has to unwanted outcomes and minor inconveniences.

Outbursts consistent with those seen in oppositional defiance disorder often involve the following characteristics:

  • Extreme anger out of proportion to the situation.
  • Yelling, screaming, and crying.
  • Destruction of property
  • Cursing or other obscene language
  • Hitting and kicking objects or others in their space.
  • Throwing objects at others or in the vicinity.
  • Berating the person who has redirected, reprimanded or refused the child.
  • Manipulative, spiteful, and vindictive behavoids exhibited.
  • Self harm or threats of suicide.
  • Lack of care of consequences given or stated.

Parenting the Problem and Seeking Support

I know how challenging parenting any child can be at times, but it’s a completely different ballgame when you have a child who suffers from any form of mental health disorder or illness. An explosive and potentially violent or aggressive child is anxiety inducing for everyone involved and can feel hopeless for a parent who is trying to handle this behavior. It’s important that you are aware of the possible triggers, the surroundings for safety and how you can help to deescalate the outburst quickly and effectively.

As a mom to two children who were diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder at the age of eight and nine, I am going to give you my do’s and don’ts for managing the meltdowns that come with oppositional defiance disorder. These are merely my experiences, my understanding, and the suggestions I was given from articles, books, therapists, and parenting coaches.

What DIDN’T Work

I would’ve tried just about anything to stop the spiral that consumed my daughters and I multiple times each week. I didn’t want to feel like the failing mom who couldn’t control her kids. I would’ve paid anyone to step in and just ‘fix’ the issue. I was tired and nothing seemed to be working. I tried to find the fix, but everything I was doing seemed to trigger my child. I would beg for a quiet day and walk on eggshells in my own home to keep the peace at home. Many of the things I tried didn’t help but instead only intensified or lengthened the outburst. I felt like I had a tiny tyrant in my home who was holding my family and I hostage. She expected us to all bend to her will. I don’t recommend the following actions when trying to overcome the outbursts of O.D.D. :

  • DON’T give in! Don’t give your child what they want to avoid the outburst. Doing so will only cause them to use these outbursts to get their desired outcome quicker.
  • DON’T threaten without follow through! Do not threaten to ground them from electronics for a month knowing that’s a consequence you won’t uphold. Threats are empty and lead to lack of consideration of consequences.
  • DON’T scream or yell back. Do not engage in an argument. Do not match their behavior. Doing so will likely not only throw fuel on the fire but it will also demonstrate the behaviors you are trying to deter.
  • DON’T take it personally. Do not allow the spiteful words of your child become your truth. Your child doesn’t hate you or wish you weren’t their mom. They just want you to hurt as bad as they are in that moment.
  • DON’T leave your child unsupervised or with someone unprepared for the possibility of an outburst. Do not allow others who are uneducated about your child’s disorder to care for your child. Do not leave them unattended for lengthy amounts of time {more than 30 minutes} and not at all when experiencing an outburst.
  • DON’T react with aggression or physical punishment. I don’t disagree that you can protect your child from himself but don’t use corporal punishment to have the child comply with your commands during an outburst.
  • DON’T give them the attention for acting badly. Do not react or respond to their every distorted reaction, aggressive advance or their requests for you to do or stop doing whatever they are demanding of you in the moment. Giving attention to the negative behaviors will give them a sense of control over you. Attention whether positive or negative is still rewarding to a child with O.D.D.

What DID Work

Now that we have discussed what we shouldn’t do we can move on to the tips that may help you calm your child while having an outburst from O.D.D. I’ve tried these and although we haven’t completely eliminated the outbursts, I can say my ability to control myself and my reactions and understand the root cause has been extremely beneficial in managing the meltdown when it arises. I’m not going to pretend that O.D.D. is cured in my threefold, but it’s makes Mommin’ this mental illness a little more manageable than it was previously.

  • DO give your child consequences that you plan to uphold. When giving consequences make sure to speak to your child after the situation has calmed down. Ask your child ‘what consequences do you think you should get for acting this way?’ Take into consideration their age and the root cause and be firm that this is unacceptable behavior.
  • DO make sure to let them know that you love them. You don’t have to like their behavior, but you always love them.
  • DO let them know when they have hurt you. If they said something particularly nasty during the height of their anger then tell them later. You will most often hear them say they didn’t mean it. This will help them to see their behavior hurts you, but also their response can ease the sting of the words they said to hurt you.
  • DO attempt to keep the child away from other members of the family during the outburst. Safety is key for not only your child but anyone who could be impacted intentionally or unintentionally by the outburst. Keep other children in an area out of sight and earshot of the child having the outburst. One triggered child is enough, adding another could intensify the outburst making it even harder to manage.
  • DO cut yourself some slack. You’re there, trying to support them and help them through this. It takes a lot of patience and love to be the parent they feel safe to express the good, bad and ugly emotions to. It’s hard being the safe parent sometimes.
  • DO encourage open communication instead of acting out. Brainstorm ways you and your child can deescalate the situation together. Ask your child how you can help them best during their outbursts and if you can’t oblige offer an alternative.
  • DO promote healthy coping mechanisms for when these big feeling arise. What can your child do to calm down when they feel tgat they are becoming agitated?
  • DO hug your child and comfort them after they have calmed down. You don’t have to understand the behavior to offer compassion. They are still just a child who needs your comfort, because the guilt will be heavy for their behavior and they need to know you are going to love them through the hard parts.
  • DO tell your child what they did that was unacceptable and how you don’t reward bad behavior. Come up with ideas together of rewards for positive behaviors and talk about ways to earn those rewards.
  • DO set routines that your child can adhere to. Chores, homework, bedtime, and other obligations the child has should be scheduled along with the free time. Once the child becomes accustomed to a routine then they can mentally prepare for what they are supposed to do and when. This structure will allow your child to feel like they know what to expect as well as what is expected of them.
  • DO seek support from teachers and therapists, partners and siblings as you navigate. Communicate warning signs and solutions that work well for calming your child.
  • DO seek therapy as a way to help your child learn to better process and communicate their emotions. A therapist can help give you insight into the child’s behavior and also act as a safe place for your child to release troublesome emotions. The therapist can also help your child to develop coping mechanisms that they can use when they have intense emotions.

It’s important to understand that Mommin mental illness isn’t a one size fits all parenting style. You are the person who knows your child best. I would love to hear your tips and tricks for taming down the tiny tyrant who is terrorizing your home too! Share in the comments or send me an email at mythreefold@gmail.com

Mommin’ mental illness ain’t easy! Finding the balance between permissive parenting and authoritative parenting while maintaining awareness of mental illness is difficult to fine tune. Trauma informed parenting teaches us to be mindful of our children’s mental health and their current stressors while maintaining an authoritative approach. As a trauma drama bipolar momma bear I am uniquely familiar with how mental disorders like O.D.D. can make home sweet home leave a bitter taste in your mouth. It’s not going away, but staying consistent with your child is key. Stay patient and stay positive. You’ve got this! ☮️❤️😊~M

Resources:

  • NAMI.org
  • AACAP.org
  • Childmind.org

One response to “Being at Odds with a Child with O.D.D.”

  1. I have a friend who is raising her ten-year-old great grandson who exhibits this behavior. I’ll have to send her a link to this post.

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