Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

What I am Learning from (trying to) Parent a Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

My second child was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) when she was 8 years old. We knew something was different long before that. When she went to kindergarten her teacher would give her a worksheet. She would crumple it up, throw it on the ground, fold her arms, and refuse to do it. Most children have a need to please their parents or teachers but mine did not. This made parenting quite the challenge. If you are parenting a child with tough behaviors, here are some things I have learned (and some things experts say):

Take care of yourself – if you have a child with difficult behaviors, self-care is more important than ever. If you have nothing left to give, it is harder to stay calm. I know, I know, self-care while raising tough children is really hard to prioritize. But if you do nothing else on this list, this is an important one. You will be a better parent if you can take care of yourself.

Do not yell to be heard over your screaming child – this goes along with staying calm. If you yell, they will most likely yell, too.

Walking away doesn’t mean you are giving up – sometimes there is no reasoning with this child. Make sure your child is in a safe place, and then it really is okay to walk away.

Validate their feelings, but not their actions – you can say something like “It’s okay to be angry, it is not okay to break things (or hit your sister, or throw things, etc).”

Do not state your requests in the form of a question – If I ask my daughter “Will you please clean your room?” I left that open for her to say no. Instead, I say “It is time to clean your room.”

Use de-escalation strategies – one of the first lessons that my daughter’s therapist taught me was to not escalate the situation. For example, you could say, “It makes sense that you’re upset right now because you really wanted the orange cup, not the blue cup – and because it’s hard to not get what you want sometimes.” This takes time and work to get it right but it is useful in many situations.

Join a support group – this one might be the reason we are all still functioning in my household. Finding other parents who are going through similar trials is priceless.

Give yourself some grace – traveling this road is so hard and often very lonely. There is no handbook. Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Learning to not escalate the situation might be the most important thing I have learned over the years. You need to be strong enough to walk out of the public library while being yelled at by your 15-year-old (did this one just yesterday). You need to be strong enough to hold firm boundaries at home even when your child fights against them. From one struggling parent to another – you got this. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with your child. They didn’t choose this.


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