You can bring order and healing to your family and troubled child. Have hope.
Margaret Puckette, CPSP
Contact me if you are interested in contributing an article.
You can bring order and healing to your family and troubled child. Have hope.
Margaret Puckette, CPSP
Contact me if you are interested in contributing an article.
The fantastic news about the brain is that it can heal itself by talking with someone! And there is ample evidence to back this up.
The therapist or psychologist who works with your child or teen will use a type of therapy or “modality” based on their symptoms or diagnosis, because some work better for mood disorders, some work better for defiant children, some work better for borderlines, and so forth. (In thought disorders like autism and schizophrenia, talk therapy has limits. Those on the autism spectrum need specialized interactions due to their processing issues. Those on the schizophreniform spectrum need medication to think logically before starting
Therapy models. Each type of therapy follows a model, and five are covered in this article. Your child’s therapist must be trained and practiced in any model they use. Why? It’s a matter of quality control. A therapist who has fidelity to a model (adheres to protocol) will help the most people most of the time, because that model has data to prove that the majority will benefit–the ones in the center section of the Bell Curve. (Therapists include psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists with MSW (Masters in Social Work), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and other licensure.)
CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT works when the child can examine their own feelings and make sense of them—the “cognitive” part. They learn to understand what affects them and why. The therapist will guide your child to create a list of options for themselves for when they face the next stressful situation that pops up in their lives. CBT helps a person think their way out of the confusion and have plans in place for appropriate actions. It works for mood disorders and anxiety, and some thought disorders if person has ‘insight’ (able to notice when they are behaving or thinking irrationally). CBT is one of the most widely used therapeutic models because it works for people who are relatively stable but enduring a difficult life situation (divorce, medical illness, job loss, and other big stressors).
DBT – dialectical behavioral therapy
DBT is unusual in that it can help anyone for any reason! The term “dialectical” describes how a patient learns to hold two opposing truths in their mind and respond effectively to the discomfort and emotions this causes. DBT is the one therapy model that can work for people with borderline personality disorder, who are considered the hardest to treat. It also helps those with mood dysregulation, those who’ve thought about or attempted suicide, or those with uncontrollable and negative responses to the world, such as oppositional defiant disorder. DBT relies less on personal self-examination and analysis, and instead concentrates on self calming, tolerating stress without overreacting, accurately perceiving the nature of a conflict, and communicating with others appropriately. Anyone can benefit from DBT. Notice how commonly people hear bad news and immediately expect the worst, then act to address the worst possible outcome? Does your child do this, only to extremes?
EMDR – eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
The goal of EMDR therapy is to help a person process extremely distressing memories of trauma and mitigate their torturous subconscious influence so children and adults can adapt and cope when memories are triggered in the future. EMDR is used for people with PTSD (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse) and other traumas such as from war, accidents, and major disasters. The therapy process uses rhythmic stimuli as a distraction during the precise moments when the person relives the traumatic memory—eye movement back and forth (by following a swinging object or a therapist’s hand), clapping, or listening to tones switching from ear to ear through headphones. The person does not have to talk about the horrible memory, so EMDR is less stressful—so important for a trauma survivor! EMDR works but there are no acceptable explanations. It is based on a belief that the memory and associated stimuli of the event must be processed to remove it from “an isolated memory network” where it creates havoc.
Parents as therapists
There are two proven models of therapy that are taught to parents to practice with their children in the home. Like the other models, they don’t work for every child, but they work for most children with a certain range of behaviors, rages, resistance, and physical violence, which can be caused by ODD, ADHD, and depression/bipolar disorders.
CPS – collaborative problem solving
CPS can be learned by anyone to manage an intensely frustrated child who goes into uncontrollable fits or tantrums, and the parent can do nothing to calm them down. The fits may last hours, and must run out of steam on their own. Afterwards, the child is often remorseful. Why? Their brain is “chronically inflexible” and has difficulty with the unexpected, switching from one situation to another or one plan to another. Using CPS, a parent doesn’t enforce rules per se, but negotiates with child so that they together come up with a win-win solution. This is very counterintuitive! The parent does not give away their authority, but offers the child an acceptable choice. For example, if a child can’t get a red jacket because there aren’t any in their size, and they must have red (!), the parent asks the child if they want to order one and wait 2 weeks, or if they will accept another color. This seems fair to the child because they have a say, and much easier on the parent because the child accepts the outcome they’ve chosen.
PMT – parent management training
PMT refers to a proven intensive educational program for parents to teach them skills for managing extremely difficult children, especially those with ODD. PMT helps parents assert consistency and predictability at home and in school, and promote positive social behavior in their child. The parents are also trained to change their own behavior towards their child, and taught how to analyze different home/school situations, “then apply moment-to-moment positive reinforcement or punishment” (called interventions) based on what is happening. The punishments are humane, such as taking time outs. It is hard on the parents, but works for children with serious behavior problems in addition to ODD: Conduct disorder, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders.
What makes a good therapist? Because multiple models are out there, a really skilled therapist will figure out which model your child needs once they get to know them, and they will apply parts of different models depending on your child’s individual challenges. That same skilled therapist will also be a cheerleader for your child, helping them feel good about themselves (and you), helping them discover their talents, and helping them to stay committed to their need for self-care. This is the very definition of a good therapist! Therapy is hard to take for anyone, but your child will trust a good therapist if they feel they have their best interests. Chemistry is important. If your child doesn’t like the therapist or make progress, it’s worth spending the time to find someone else who’s a better match. If the therapist has professional ethics; they will recognize they are not a fit and recommend someone else.
I know of a 10-year old child whose therapist dragged out appointments for a year with zero progress or results. From the start, the child didn’t like her and simply refused to talk with her. And this child, now 11, refuses any therapy because “it’s boring and a waste of time.” What an unfortunate consequence!
How you know you have a good therapist. A good therapist will be able to discover something valuable that brings light on your child’s situation after the very first session. They should ask you for background information about your child, and listen to you when you talk about recent problematic situations. They cannot talk to you about your child’s therapy, but they can encourage you to partner with them, and should recognize your need (your family’s need) for your child to function as normally as possible. You can ask to have therapy together with your child if its appropriate. If the therapist can’t connect meaningfully with your child after a few weeks, ask them about this. If you have any doubts about the therapist, share them, and expect to have a thoughtful, respectful explanation.
Which therapy is best for your child?
Seek a therapy provider with knowledge of all of them, and with experience treating children and teens. Ask about a specialty when you make the initial contact, and ask about a model you think fits your child’s behaviors (based on their descriptions). You can get a one-time assessment from a therapist for an opinion on which model to use. The best way to find a good therapist is through personal referrals: your child’s doctor or psychiatrist, support groups, school counselors, and other parents.
Parenting a defiant ODD child or teen could be your hardest job ever.
Not only is it exhausting, but you must continually find the compassion and forgiveness to be nurturing, and the energy and doggedness to be consistent.
ODD is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, it is not in the character or ‘soul’ of your child or teen, and not something they can control. If your child could do better on their own, they would. You are the one who can make the most difference.
If you think your child or teen’s defiance is oppositional defiant disorder, you have practical ways to manage your child’s exasperating condition. This information comes from psychiatric, psychological, and child behavior resources– information to help you work effectively with mental health providers or teachers. You’ll need to ask them focused questions to learn everything they know about ODD. Professionals pay better attention to knowledgeable parents (which shouldn’t be the case, all parents deserve attention). Go in armed with knowledge.
This is what ODD looks like. The pinkish curving region in the center of the 3-D brain image below represents hyper-charged electrical activity in a 13-year-old boy with severe oppositional defiant disorder. This feature is typical of ODD, but also typical in individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), “Road Rage,” pathological gambling, chronic pain, and severe PMS.
The name of this region is anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), and scientists believe this area is responsible for enabling a person to shift attention and think flexibly, traits which are deficient in ODD kids. It is also the brain region known to regulate emotions. Children with a hyper-charged ACG have “a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which 4 or more of the following are present:
–From the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition,” published by the American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
There are two different medication approaches to ODD:
– The attention deficit approach may use Straterra (chemical name is atomoxetine), Ritalin (methylphenidate), Risperdal or risperidone (for patients with low IQ), and Depakote or divalproex (a mood stabilizer).
– The depression & obsessive-compulsive approach may use serotonin-based antidepressants such as Prozac (fluoxetine), and Anafranil or clomipramine (used to treat OCD).
At the end of this article are a list of other medical conditions that can cause disruptive behavior.
Unfortunately, oppositional defiant disorder usually includes other disorders, so you may be coping with more than defiance. Below are common disorders that combine with ODD:
–From http://addadhdadvances.com/ODD.html, Anthony Kane, MD
Other medical conditions that can cause disruptive behavior like ODD:
–From Peters and Josephson. Psychiatric Times, 2009.
ODD is a disability. It isn’t easy to manage, but you can do it. Your child may need multiple medications and a large variety of approaches to therapy and behavior modification. You will need patience as teachers, doctors, or specialists try different approaches until they discover one that improves your child’s behavior, so hang in there!
Some good news, if your child has these traits, it will be easier to improve or overcome ODD behaviors:
–From the Journal of American Academic Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2002. Author J.D. Burke.
You try everything but nothing works. People’s natural instincts for parenting do not work with an ODD kid—they need completely different techniques than ‘normal’ children.
How to reduce ODD behaviors
First, prepare yourself for the intensity of parenting a defiant kid because you are about to run a marathon. Get enough sleep, maintain your other important relationships (spouse or partner, children, friends), schedule breaks or getaways, and guard your physical and emotional health. Don’t expect quick results with these techniques; it may take weeks or months.
Parent Management Training – PMT refers to intensive educational programs that are “evidenced based,” proven to help parents gain the skills they need for extremely difficult children, especially those with ODD. These programs are intensive, but substantiated interventions in child mental health. PMTs help parents assert consistency and predictability, and promote pro-social behavior in their child. A good explanation can be found at the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. Examples include: the Total Transformation and the Incredible Years.
Find something positive to do together. Your child has normal needs for closeness and appreciation and joy. Ask your child about their interests, and if their ideas don’t work for you, try new activities until one brings about a good chemistry between you and your child.
Praise is one of the most powerful tools for managing disruptive behavior. Take responsibility to inject much-needed positive energy into your relationship with your child or teen. It’s likely that this relationship has been almost 100% negative, yes?
Set limits – “Consistent limit setting and predictable responses from parents help give children a sense of stability and security. Children and teens who feel a sense of security regarding the limits of their environment have less need to constantly test it.” (Webster-Stratton and Hancock)
More praise – ‘Catch’ them doing something good. Offer praise and make it sound genuine even if they respond in anger, then let it drop. Spend as much time praising as disciplining! And don’t expect thanks, it’s not about you.
Active ignoring – This works for best with children between the ages of 2 and 12. It involves purposefully withdrawing your attention away from your child when they are misbehaving, such as in a temper tantrum, or when whining or sulking, or when making continuous demands or loud complaints, etc. Pretend you don’t care and even turn your back if possible. Give attention only after the behavior is over.
–Find out more at http://www.sosprograms.com/chapters/p_eng_chapters/EngParents03.pdf.
Make the behavior uncomfortable for the child/teen. Example: If your kid swears, test them, “C’mon, you can do better than that, be creative, I’ve heard all those things before. Don’t be a copy cat.” They can become frustrated when they aren’t getting the reaction they want from you, and give up. Example: your teen refuses to get out of bed for school. Don’t nag or repeat, repeat, repeat. Remove the blanket and set them far enough away that your child has to get out of bed to retrieve them. (“Managing Resistance,” John W. Maag, email@example.com)
Give multiple instructions at once, where at least one of the instructions is what they want to do, and one is what you want them to do. “Close the door while you’re yelling at your sister and don’t forget the light.” Your child will be overloaded as they try to figure out which thing they’re supposed to defy. Kids tend to get flustered by the mental effort and comply without knowing they’re doing it. (“Managing Resistance,” see above)
Reverse psychology: Yes, this works, and it’s OK when important. Example: your child is bouncing on the furniture. You turn on music and say “hey, try this, see if you can bounce to the beat, but I bet it’s harder to do on the floor.” This is a good kind of manipulation.
Surprise rewards – Reward appropriate behavior with something they already like (that is acceptable to you). They are more likely to do a desired behavior if they expect something they want and aren’t sure when it will be offered.
At the end of this article is a list of things to do to make ODD worse. Avoid these!
“Why should I have to do this when it’s my kid’s responsibility to behave?”
It’s your responsibility as a parent to do what you can to help your child be successful. ODD is a genuine disability that negatively affects their life and future. I’ve seen highly intelligent ODD kids experience academic failure, or enough suspensions and expulsions to hold them back a grade, a can’t-win-for-losing consequence that worsens their behavior. Wouldn’t this suck?
Warning, once you start consistent enforcement, things get worse at first – Defiant behavior tends to increase once your family system is changing. This as a good sign—you are regaining your authority! Your child’s backlash is a common human psychological response, and it’s called an “extinction burst.” (see diagram below) As parents change their approach to handling inappropriate behavior, the child becomes more defiant to test their resolve. View this as predictable and plan ahead. It won’t last and they will begin to comply with this one rule. They then find another rule to defy and ramp up their defiance. As you enforce it, they back off again, and the pattern continues until it’s just not worth it to defy rules anymore.
–From “Behavioral Interventions for Children with ADHD,” by Daniel T. Moore, Ph.D., © 2001, http://www.yourfamilyclinic.com/shareware/addbehavior.html . The author requests a $2 donation through PayPal to distribute his article or receive printed copies.
How to make ODD worse -or- DON’T TRY THESE AT HOME
Don’t treat your child like another adult who has an equal say in how things are done. Don’t treat your home as a democracy, where everything must be fair and equal. Don’t answer your child’s accusations by offering reasonable, rational explanations.
Don’t keep finding fault with your child and let them know about it over and over and over. If they do something positive, let them know it’s not enough.
Don’t ignore your child’s unique needs or the challenges they face everyday, such as bullying at school, or fear of abandonment, or stress from a chaotic home. Just pretend they have no reasons for their behavior.
Only enforce rules once in a while, or have the consequence come later (Famous example: “I’ll tell your father when he gets home.”). Don’t get angry about something, then direct your anger to your child and let them know it’s because of the stress they’ve caused you.
Don’t treat your child appropriately for his or her age. Don’t make long explanations to a three-year-old about why you’ve set a certain rule.
Stop making rational justifications for your rules and stop expecting your child to logically, rationally accept them. What’s interesting to me when I see parents doing this is that their children can be quite young (4 or 5), too young to be reasonable in the first place, or they can be young adults (early 20’s) who have a long track record of being unreasonable.
Don’t keep trying the same things that still don’t work. Like making excuses; like screaming. (Don’t be embarrassed; we’ve all done this.)
Don’t jump to conclusions that demonize the child. I often hear parents say: “Why does he keep doing this?, or, “Why doesn’t she stop after I’ve told her not to, over and over again.” Then they answer their own questions: “It’s because he always wants his way,” or, “She’s doing this to get back at me.” As they tell their story, I hear them taking things personally: “He does this just to make me mad;” “She manipulates the situation because she wants more (something) and I won’t give it to her.”
Good luck with your defiant ODD child. I WISH YOU THE BEST!
–Margaret How am I doing? Please rate this article at the top, thanks.