As I sit alone during my workday and think about how the evening could go there are so many conflicting feelings going through my mind. It’s part anxiety, part confidence, part frustration, part positivity.
The confident parent in me says – hey, I’m an adult! I can handle defiance and noncompliance from a child, no biggie!
But the reality is when the moment arrives, my pulse increases, blood pressure rises, and I start to feel overwhelmed and angry. I have disappointing memories of me and my partner completely losing our cool with his son.
You see, he has Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) which means he goes beyond the level of natural opposition most children experience at times and shows extreme irritability, anger, vindictiveness, and bargaining both with peers and authority figures.
Both my partner and I have been reduced to tears. It almost always feels like we need more support. If you are going through this or something similar, I hope you have found places of support and things that have worked for your family. I wanted to share a few tactics that have made our lives better. It has been studied and observed that children have a variety of disruptive behavior and conduct problems throughout their lives if noncompliance is not addressed by parents or caregivers.
Sometimes the stress I feel as a parent could be from a big meltdown over a typical parent-to-child request, sometimes it can be something small like a negative comment about me or the siblings. Regardless, in the past I was finding myself not responding as I would like to, and my mood worsening by a substantial amount. I wanted a solution to make tough moments go better and not throw me off for an entire evening.
The answer was to take my emotions out and get entirely task-focused (especially during large traumatic instances). I turn into my core and ask myself, “what needs to be done in this moment for each person in this family?” Do I need to take the children to our designated safe break space? Does someone need to put headphones on? Does someone need to take a breather until they can use kind words?
It can feel like I’m putting myself aside since I don’t get to voice my true feelings and push my emotions out of the way. Yet I’m the leader of the family, and it needs to happen. My partner and I weren’t always able to talk in a vulnerable manner without fear of judgement from the other surrounding hard parenting concerns, but we’re there now and it makes all the difference. It used to be when the kids stressed us out, we turned on each other. Now we are pillars of support for each other (although, imperfectly), and it is vital to survival.
Clear, Calm Language
A yelling house is not a healthy house, especially for children with special needs. A component of ODD and noncompliance is a child actually wanting just that. Unfortunately, negative attention is still attention, and they receive a dopamine reward when they get it. A parent is frustrated, they yell, the child escalates further… it’s a disappointing cycle and just makes future interactions worse.
A productive way to intervene both with the current trial at home and improve future interactions is to be calm and direct. Give simple commands in as monotone voice as possible, and do not give more than two directions. The first request can most definitely start with “Please.” Give the upset child a few seconds to comply, repeat your simple request, this time using action words like “You need to…” Just like we’re trying to stay away from negative reinforcement with noncompliance, when compliance happens – reward!
Commit to Consistency
This one is really tough for me! Before we blended our families, I was an ultra laidback parent. My biggest rule was that my kids must act with kindness and compassion, and we didn’t really have a lot of routines. As it turns out, consistency is more valuable in parenting than even love.
As challenging as it can be to execute consistent follow-through on disciplinary measures and expectations, without doing so a child with ODD is going to remember the inconsistencies and continually operate outside of family expectations and healthy rules. Since lack of impulse control goes alongside the diagnosis, I will catch broken rules much later than they took place and then discipline for a younger child doesn’t make much sense. We strive for appropriate measures to also be enforced in a timely manner because of how long kids remember things, their brains just aren’t like our adult brains!
I am weighed down with caregiver fatigue. I am not in individual therapy currently, but it has been a great source of objective help. I also did not cover therapy for children in this article because there is an abundance of different types and methods which could fill another piece. To be clear, I wholeheartedly back parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT), individual and family therapy, play therapy, cognitive problem-solving training, and social skills training.
I am completely fortunate to have friends who understand as well and places to just VENT. I know I’m just one perspective, but if you are a friend to a parent going through this, we don’t need you to pretend it isn’t happening! I can tell loved ones mean well, but when they say something like, “oh, it’s just kids being kids” instead of “WOW, that was really awful and tough.” I feel alone and like my challenges shouldn’t affect me.
It doesn’t feel like it will ever be anywhere close to easy. Just when I think something works, I’m confronted with an hour of screaming and have to accept it’s just going to happen sometimes. But it happens less often, and I must cling to the baby steps of progress.
Today I was speaking with the school counselor, and she relayed how tough my life is. “Yes, it’s been hard.” I replied. “It’s been more than hard, and you’re doing a great job.” She affirmed. I felt tears spring to my eyes, and I felt good about what I’m doing here.