Is your oppositional defiant child hitting, slapping, kicking or using other physical force? Are you worried that his or her violence is out of control? Handling an oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) child’s aggression can be scary, stressful, and exhausting for parents.
If you’re having trouble with your child, know that there are ways you can manage violent child behavior effectively.
Many parents we see in therapy come in when their children have started making fists at them, threatening to punch a wall, or have already gone full-throttle into physical aggression. They throw their hands in the air and wonder what’s next and how to stop it.
The thing about children with oppositional defiant disorder is that they haven’t learned healthy ways to deal with their emotions. It is extremely hard for them to cope, so as parents we must teach them more effective ways to manage emotional challenges.
Think of it as your child having a toolbox. They begin life with an empty box and fill it will tools (coping skills) as they grow and experience situations. Some children need different tools than others, especially ODD children. They are always quick to go for the hammer! You can help your child find other tools to use by teaching him what to use and when.
Conflict is a normal part of life. Sometimes it occurs more than we’d like. Did your child throw tantrums at a young age, kicking and screaming on the ground? If young kids never learn how to get past that tantrum reaction, then that’s really the only tool they have. They get excited, angry, and the adrenaline starts pumping — which leads to a hole in the wall or a sibling getting slapped.
Your child needs to learn how to use some appropriate tools. Sit down and calmly explain to them that their reaction is not the healthiest way to deal with their emotions. Are there more positive outlets for stress, such as playing a game or taking some alone time?
If you child doesn’t have one, then work with him to figure something out. Help him find activities he can enjoy. Tell him that being physical is not okay, and that there are consequences for negative behavior. Explain to him exactly what those consequences are — and make sure you follow through. If your child becomes violent or aggressive toward you or your family, call the police. This sends the message that you are serious and that violent behavior will not be tolerated.
Remember, it takes work — nothing is magic. There will be times when you will have to enforce consequences. There will be times when leaving the situation is the only way to de-escalate the tension. And there might be times when, if your child becomes violent or aggressive toward you or your family, you will have to call the police. Raising an oppositional defiant child is tough, but there are ways to help yourself be a better parent and guide your child toward a better future.
Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with oppositional-defiant and conduct-disordered children and their families for more than 25 years. Kim works closely with inner-city schools, runaway shelters and court systems. She is the mother of a son with oppositional defiant disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, has been a clinical therapist for 15 years. She specializes in at-risk youth and has worked with teens court-ordered into Day Treatment/Night Watch programs. She has personal experience in the area of step-parenting and has raised four children. Kim and Marney are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline, a specialized, step-by-step program for parenting children, teens and young adults with oppositional-defiant disorder.