With the exception of branding our preschool boys autistic, nothing makes me madder than a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. This is one of those retroactive “syndromes” that describes a child’s problem rather than lists a cause. Getting a diagnosis does little more than relieve you that a professional thinks your child is as bad as YOU think s/he is.
I don’t say this because ODD isn’t real. It is real. I have seen the videos where clinical psychologists interview bunches of young children and diagnose some of them with this disorder. The children are generally younger than you’d think (i.e. 4, 5, 6), violent, swearing, and have a fascination with things that they shouldn’t. They are precocious, smart-aleck, psychologically astute. They generally cannot stay seated in the psychologist’s chair, they may spit or verbally attack the professional, and they often make physical motions or get too close for comfort with their caretaker (like getting in their face, literally).
So it’s real.
That said, it’s an awful diagnosis—not worth getting, if you’re wondering. Now i”m not talking about older children, like teens adopted out of the foster care system, etc. I am talking about your unhandleable preschooler or kindergartner. Now regular kids of this age can stretch you to your limits, so be careful how sensitive you are to this! ODD is an extreme form of disobedient repertoire, and one that an overtaxed parent or teacher might not understand. But if your child is suspected to have ODD, remember that for the most part, ODD at a young age is something that is created, not there at birth. Now you may very well remember your baby being difficult from birth! I am not saying that they weren’t a grumpy baby, or a colicky one, or hostile to affection, etc. But children do come out of the womb grumpy. They don’t come out ODD.
A really great book for those experiencing mild ODD with their young child is The Pampered Child Syndrome by Maggie Mamen. http://www.amazon.com/Pampered-Child-Syndrome-Recognize-Professionals/dp/1843104075/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250600538&sr=8-1 . This book outlines a lot of ODD behavior but without the label and stigma. Basically what it comes down to is that a permissive parenting style (mixed with your child’s unique temperament) can create a pampered, bratty child who is characterized by a lack of response to authority—the same major criterion of ODD. We’re not just talking about the bratty children on Jo Frost’s Supernanny show… these children mainly suffer from a lack of childtraining. But we’re talking about the next level of difficulty… children who actually don’t seem to recognize authority for what it is. An ODD or ODD-leaning cihld is not very different from an autistic or Asberger’s child in that they have to be taught to recognize the context of structure, authority, obedience, etc. They won’t pick it up on their own. Although here is the good part—they are ABLE to pick it up, it is just that they choose not to.
So that is where you, as the parent, come in. Your job is to take back the job that was stolen from you. If your child is 6 or under, you’re lucky because it can be done. You can use small child behavior modification tactics that will help a lot. (Get a season of Supernanny on DVD anyway, just for tips and impartation). But the main thing you need to do is not enforce time-outs per se, or adopt some parenting trick. What you need to do is examine yourself. Examine your sense of boundaries and consider if you have codependent attitudes. While a spouse might withstand codepedency, a child relationship will not. Consider why it is hard for you to say no, disappoint someone, let someone not be rescued. Consider if and how much you draw life from making others happy, or if you overesteem your own relationships in general (i.e. Do you idolize being a mother, wife, etc?). If any of these kinds of characteristics typify you, as they do in some degree for all mothers, then seek help for yourself first. Otherwise it will break your heart to do what you need to, in order to rescue your ODD child.
The main problem with the ODD child is the invisible dynamics in the household. It is the subtext, the unspoken. This atmosphere is mainly made up by your feelings and beliefs about yourself as a person and parent. They have to change in order for your child to change. That is why the kids on the Supernanny show mouth off to their parents but they never mouth off to Jo. It is because of the spirit of conviction and authority that comes with her. This is what is right, and what you need to develop. If you can’t stand that idea, or you think that it’s wrong to be an authoritative (not authoritarian) parent, then this is where Step One begins. Step One is over when you realize that the results you’re getting in your ODD child is the logical extension of your emotions and beliefs. It’s not random and you’re not a victim. You have a lot of power in this relationship, power to influence your child for good. And you’re going to have to use it!
When you finally finish Step One, you’re ready to start boundaries in your home. You’re ready to stop the welfare state—where you do all the work and the kids just receive. The sense of entitlement your ODD child has is partially what’s making him or her bitter at authority. They have to get rid of that entitlement feeling in order to respect authority, limits, work, or whatever thing they hate. When the bitterness is out, a lot of the anger will go with it. And so will any depression or anxiety they likely also have.