Tips for Parenting Oppositional Children
When you ask your child a question—Can you please clear the table? Isn’t the weather nice today? Would you like spaghetti for dinner? —is the first thing out of their mouth inevitably the word “No”? Even if you’re asking them if they want to do something fun that you know they would enjoy—Would you like to go swimming at the pool today? Do you want to go to the theme park this weekend? How about going toy shopping this afternoon? —do you still get a resounding no and have to argue about it?
“No” is one of the first words children learn, and occasional defiance from kids and teens is considered normal behavior. But when this behavior persists or is severe, it could be a sign of a behavioral problem called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)?
ODD is considered a behavioral disorder that affects as many as 5% of all children. Symptoms and signs of ODD include a tendency to be argumentative, easily annoyed, and to have repeated temper tantrums—especially when they don’t get their way. These children are chronically uncooperative with parents, peers, teachers, and other authority figures. They tend to say no even when saying yes is clearly in their best interest.
Does Your Child Have ODD?
How can you tell if your child’s behavior is normal or if it falls within the realm of ODD? One quick way to determine if your child would benefit from being evaluated for ODD is to ask yourself this question:
“When you ask this child to do something, how many times out of 10 will they do it the first time without arguing or fighting?”
Most children will comply 7 to 8 times out of 10 without a problem. For most ODD kids, however, the answer is usually 3 times or fewer. And for many of them, the answer is 0.
Jeremy, age 9, was an expert at saying no. He had been suspended from school 5 times in the 2nd grade for refusing to do what he was told and being openly defiant with his teacher. His parents, who had tried to be firm with Jeremy but hadn’t had any success at getting him to be more compliant, were told not to bring their son back to school until they sought professional help for him. They decided to take Jeremy for a clinical evaluation that included brain SPECT imaging, a technology that shows areas of the brain with healthy activity, too much activity, or too little activity.
What Brain Imaging Shows About ODD
Jeremy’s brain scan revealed marked increased activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). Considered to be the brain’s gear shifter, the ACG helps people shift from one thought to another. When the activity is too high in this region, people tend to get stuck on thoughts or on a single course of action. This is brain pattern is commonly seen in people with obsessive compulsive disorder. For kids with ODD, this means getting stuck on saying no, being argumentative, and refusing to budge.
For Jeremy, taking nutraceuticals to help calm his ACG diminished his oppositional behavior. A follow-up SPECT scan two months later showed that Jeremy’s ACG was now functioning at a healthy activity level. Combining that with teaching his mom and dad new parenting skills, Jeremy was able to go back to school where he excelled in class. In fact, his new teacher could not understand why his former teachers had warned her about him.
5 Tips for Dealing with a Child with ODD
There are many things you can do on an everyday basis to help you handle your oppositional child. Here are 5 strategies you can start implementing now.
1. Give them options.
When you give oppositional children or teens with ODD an option as to when they might do something, they tend to be less likely to get stuck on “No, I won’t do it.”
2. Use distraction.
When your child or teen is stuck on a negative thought or behavior, it is helpful to distract them for a bit and then come back to the issue at hand later.
3. Notice what you like more than what you don’t like.
Rather than only giving your child attention when they are misbehaving or being defiant, make it a point to provide positive reinforcement when your child is being compliant and agreeable.
4. Don’t fight back.
It’s important to avoid fueling the fire when a child is stuck in an argumentative state. Don’t escalate the argument. Keeping calm will help your child get past the oppositional thoughts.
5. Be a good role model.
Examine your own behavior to see if you also have oppositional tendencies. Having an overactive ACG tends to run in families, meaning parents who have obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, or inflexible personality styles tend to have children with ODD. Make an effort to be more flexible in your own thinking.
If your child is displaying oppositional behavior and it is affecting their school performance, home life, or friendships, it’s a good idea to seek an evaluation. At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging to help assess areas of the brain where there is too much or too little activity. This helps us tailor a treatment plan using the least toxic, most effective solutions for your child’s unique needs. Treatment may include family therapy and parenting skills, lifestyle recommendations, nutraceuticals, and medication (when needed).
To find out more about how we can help your child, call 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit.