By Valerie Rice | November 11, 2020
Some kids are just jerks, right? Or they have bad parents. Or someone should have spanked them. Or…hold up. I know where you are going. There is a disorder called oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD, that has nothing to do with being a bad parent or kid. It’s an actual mental illness that can’t be spanked out of someone. It is a disruptive and painful experience for the child, parents, and family as well as the child’s social setting. So what do we do? Let’s take a closer look.
WHAT IS THIS?
At some point, usually during the toddler years, that delightful human you made turns into a screaming ball of demonesque fury. That’s totally normal. For the ODD child, it goes to the extreme. For some reason, mostly likely a combination of genetics, environment, and yes, parenting (no, it’s not all on you), this worsens and persists. Brains are funny things, especially when they are forming, and they tend to do so in the first 5 years of life. That’s why noticing this behavior and treating it early is the best option. What does it look like? According to the DSM 5, (seriously, my favorite book) you have at least 4 of the following:
1. Often loses temper.
2. Is often touchy or easily annoyed.
3. Is often angry and resentful.
4. Often argues with authority figures or, for children and adolescents, with adults.
5. Often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or rules.
6. Often deliberately annoys others.
7. Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior.
8. Has been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past 6 months.
It’s more than that, we’re talking about more than just sibling rivalry and talking back to parents. It has to pop up enough to seriously affect normal functioning and be extreme enough to not be considered age appropriate. It also can’t be part of another diagnosis in order to be ODD, which it totally could be, let me tell ya. There is a ton of overlap in mental health, so never try to self diagnose. Always see a professional because we are trained to distinguish the differences. But remember, this an art form, we can make mistakes too.
WHAT TO DO
Welp. I hope you caught on early. Seriously, I really do. This disorder is most easily treated in early childhood. One of the most effective treatments is called PCIT, or Parent/Child Interaction therapy. I have seen this work wonders for kids with ODD and other emotional dysregulation disorders. It is not recommended for older children, however, so the sooner the better. Click here for more details about it. So, for older children. *sigh* I am so, so sorry. Not for the Doctor Who reference, but for what I am about to say. It is more likely than not that your child has a comorbid disorder (more than one) that has to be treated concurrently, is going to need medications, and is going to fight this process tooth and nail. I’m not here for false hope; I’m a realist, y’all. Now the bad news: they may very likely have something more serious, like Conduct Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder, which can’t be diagnosed until adulthood.
You’re welcome. Seriously, knowledge is your best weapon when combating mental illness. It sucks to suck, but you CAN do something. Suit up in whatever armor you need, parents, this is not going to be easy. You need to get your child a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, a medication evaluation, and look into occupational therapy, social skills training, take parent management classes, and find cognitive behavioral therapy for your angry minion. And there is a 90% chance they won’t cooperate. Do your best anyway. Look, you got this, and that’s the only platitude I will use today. Oh, and you are going to feel like you are screaming at the dark, beating a brick wall, and failing almost all the time. It would be wise for you and other members of the family to get individual counseling, and family sessions may also be a good idea. I repeat, this is going to be hard, this is going to suck, this is not your child’s fault. AND I AM TERRIBLY SORRY FOR WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH.
IN THE END
I suppose nobody actually said that parenting was going to be easy, right? Sometimes it ends up much more difficult than one can ever imagine. Take a deep breath. Try not to lose sight of your self care. Find a good support group, perhaps your child’s mental health team knows of one. Get a really good counselor. Do whatever you can to be strong, and build yourself up, because you can’t care for others if you don’t tend to yourself first. Good luck, and be well.