Parenting a child with ADHD is one thing, but when they have ADHD and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), then the fun really starts! I am happy to say that Sarah* no longer has ODD and while she still has ADHD and always will, for us, this now is only a positive thing.
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a childhood behavioural problem characterised by constant disobedience and hostility. Around 40% of children with ADHD will also suffer from ODD, and for us as a family, we struggled with this the most.
I once watched a psychiatrist talk about ADHD; he said that when a child or an adult can channel the ADHD in a positive way; their potential can be limitless. However, if the child or adult isn’t able to channel their ADHD then sadly for many, this can lead to unruly, out of control behaviour; which can result in expulsion from school, anti-social behaviour and prison. Great. When Sarah was diagnosed with ADHD, I was only told about the negative stuff. Her teacher explained to me how the prisons were full of people with ADHD. I was told how ADHD teenagers are more likely to take drugs, have promiscuous sex and self-harm. Fabulous.
But not one person told me about the great things about ADHD. Not one person said that if ADHD was channelled in the right way, then these kids can be awesome. All I had was scaremongering, fear and panic.
At the time I listened to all the experts, medicated Sarah and spent most of the time shouting at her, being strict with her and putting her on time-out. In school, she spent her days being told off, being made to work alone and having her playtime taken off her (ADHD kids need this time to run off their energy more than the average kid), so I find this form of punishment wrong. From her eyes, she saw the world as a hostile, negative place where she could never be herself. She was expected to try and mould herself into someone else; an impossible task when you are seven years old.
The more we told her off and punished her, the worse her behaviour became. Things got so bad that as well as being medicated for her ADHD, she was now medicated for her ODD. But what happens when the drugs wear off? Is the behaviour better? No, for many kids, it’s worse. I don’t believe that medication works for ODD behaviour. My opinion is that it acts as a band-aid, and once you take the band-aid off, the blood starts pouring again; in bucket loads.
So what do we do? How did we go from having a child who couldn’t obey a simple instruction, was wild, unruly and out of control to having a loving, caring, compliant child? How did we channel Sarah’s ADHD and turn our lives around?
Here are my Ten Tips for Parenting an Oppositional Defiant Child
1. Stop timeouts and punishments and replace them with a reward system
The worst thing that we did was put Sarah on time-out. It has been proven that ADHD kids aren’t able to ‘toggle’ information correctly. Most children will realise that they are on the time-out because of poor behaviour. Often, through ‘time-out, the child can change as they will learn not to repeat the negative behaviour. For ADHD kids, this often doesn’t work and can only increase anxiety and defiance as they are segregated from the rest of the family.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff
We want our kids to be on their best behaviour; we want them to look well behaved in front of friends, but ADHD kids are wired differently. They are impulsive and will often blurt things out that other kids wouldn’t dream of saying. Teaching them a lesson, belittling them, shouting at them or smacking them, can only exasperate the situation.
If they are rude, obnoxious or damn right cheeky, pick your battles. I found this so hard at first and was so worried that Sarah’s behaviour would be worse if I ignored her shouts and screams, but over time, it had the oppositive effect. I learned to ignore the behaviour and later when she calmed down; we could talk about the incident.
3. Tell them how much you love them every day
ODD kids need love and reassurance much more than other children. But because of their behaviour, we find it harder to love them.
There were times when Sarah’s behaviour was so bad; I couldn’t bear to be in the same room as her. I was depressed and lost, and I blamed her for how I was feeling. I found it increasingly hard to show her love and affection, and she sniffed this out like a hunting dog.
The less I loved her, the worse her behaviour became. Love them like you can’t love them anymore, fake it until you make it! Do whatever you can to tell them and show them how much you love them. It takes time but trust me on this one.
4. Discover their talents (no matter how small they are) and praise them every day
From the moment Sarah woke until she went to bed at night, she would have negative interactions with everyone. She was behind in school and was unable to concentrate at home or give us any respite, so sadly, the television would become our respite. Something I am not proud of, but this was the only time when the house was calm.
But I learned over time that the more I praised her on her talents and lifted her spirits, the more she flourished. We started to notice how great Sarah was at art and gymnastics. Months later, she was chosen to play violin in the school orchestra and started winning races in the cross-country competitions (this was the same girl who 12 months previous was unable to attend music or sports lessons because of her behaviour).
5. Use a reward system that focuses on positivity and praise
I use something called ‘money in the jar. It doesn’t have to be money; it can be anything; dried pasta, buttons, tokens. I am going to blog about this next week, but it’s about reward and positivity and helping them to work towards success.
6. Take yourself on time-out, not your child
I often bite my lip until it hurts (I would not recommend this one). When things are really bad, I want to scream and shout “don’t you dare speak to me like that, I would never have spoken to my mother like that”. Instead, I take myself on time-out. I walk away, move to a different room or go outside. Throw a ball at the wall several times, give out a little shout if you must. Get rid of your anger and then walk back into the room. I used to do this a lot, but Sarah’s behaviour now is so much better that these ‘Mummy time-outs’ are few and far between.
7. Don’t worry about what others think
I remember one occasion when we were in a restaurant. Sarah was so rude with Kyle*:”shut up, shut up you stupid idiot”, she screamed. And I mean SCREAMED! It was Father’s day, and all the other parents looked over in horror. Kyle said nothing and ignored her behaviour; I was so proud of him, such a hard thing to do, especially when other parents are commenting.
In the past, he would have reacted and believe me the situation would give gone from bad to worse. Five minutes later, Sarah had calmed down and gave Kyle a letter apologising. They hugged, she said she was sorry, and all was fine again. Be strong in your commitment to change and ignore advice from others who aren’t walking in your shoes.
8. Say great things about your child when they are in your earshot
All Sarah used to hear was us saying bad things about her. “I don’t know what to do; she’s so out of control. “What are we going to do, why is she like this”? “What’s wrong with Sarah”? These kids know what we are all saying, they listen, they hear, and it reinforces their behaviour.
Once when Sarah was asleep in the car, I started to tell Kyle how amazing she had been. I told him how her behaviour was so much better and how proud of her I was. When we stopped the car, she took off her seatbelt, jumped onto my knee and started crying.
“Mummy thank you, thank you for saying those kinds thing about me. All you ever used to say was bad stuff, thank you, Mummy”.
She wasn’t asleep; she was pretending. I felt so happy at that moment that she had heard me say these things. After that, I made sure that I would do this a lot.
9. Understand that the defiance has become their protective shield
ODD kids have built a wall so high to protect themselves that they don’t know how to knock it down. In my experience, medication for ODD doesn’t knock down that wall, in only gives them a ladder to climb over it. Once the medication has worn off, they are right behind that wall again, and the defiant, unruly behaviour starts again. Sarah told me only recently that she screamed and shouted her way through life to protect herself as she was so scared. Fear and anxiety do terrible things to a person; to a child. I have been on both sides of the wall and only when you help them knock that sucker down, can they flourish.
10. Love them unconditionally – this one is so important that I have covered twice
Oppositional Defiant Children are hard to love; I know this well, but they need so much love. If we look at the world today, most of us appreciate that we need more love, not hate; we need peace, not war.
These kids need so much love; they need in bucket loads, in fact, they need it in football pitch amounts. Do whatever you can to love them more than you ever thought possible.
I once googled ‘devil possession’, so I hope that helps you to understand how bad things had become with Sarah. This was 12 months ago and she is now the most amazing little girl; kind, caring, intelligent, artistic and creative. Yes, she is still fiercely independent, but we need this for our children, for our daughters and our sons if they are to succeed in this world.
As a family, we have learned how to help Sarah channel her ADHD and thankfully her Oppositional Defiance Disorder is now a thing of the past. Family is key to helping them change their behaviour. Parents, siblings and grandparents are all part of the process; even friends and the school. Remember what they say; “it takes a village to raise a child”.
Let’s try and change the village and start believing and loving these kids as much as we can; only then can miracles happen.
* Names have been changed to protect identities