3 Ways to Communicated Effectively with your ODDer
Whether or not your child has an Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) diagnosis or not, children who are ready at the drop of a hat to explode with rage can be nearly impossible to communicate effectively with.
What immediately comes to mind is when my kids and I were off visiting some friends after school one day.. My friend’s 9 year old, let’s call him Jimmy, was sitting down to eat some lunch because he had missed lunch time at school for some reason. Here’s what went down:
Mom: Ok. Here’s your lunch! It’s some rice, lentils and spinach. Yummy stuff!
Jimmy: Thanks. Where’s my spoon?
Mom: Oh, Jimmy, I’ve been looking for your favorite spoon all day, I’m actually not sure where it is..
Jimmy: What! I can’t eat without that spoon!
(remember, Jimmy is 9 years old and neurotypical..)
Mom: Here, you can use this spoon. It’s a perfectly good spoon!
And then he upsets the bowl of food onto the floor. My friend told me later that she would have lost it on him if me and my family weren’t there. As it was, Jimmy ran off to his room and his mom, really struggling to keep it together, cleaned the food up off of the floor. She told me that that was the fourth or fifth time he had exploded that week. It was only Tuesday and it was looking to be a long week…
Jimmy does not have an official ODD diagnosis but these angry outbursts happen frequently and often drag on and on. The “Spoon Episode” was just a small episode compared to the normal episodes.
I listened to my friend vent while the other kids played and Jimmy did who knows what in his room. She says that she’s no expert when dealing with these issues, but there are a few things that she tries her best to do. I want to share a few tidbits with you, so here are three ways to communicate more effectively with your ODDer.
1. Remain Calm and Avoid Power Struggles
This can be such a difficult one, or maybe it’s just hard for me because patience isn’t yet a virtue of mine. It’s easy and even natural to yell back at someone who is yelling at you. You are the parent, you want to feel like you’re in control. But yelling back and losing it is doing just the opposite, though. It means that you’ve lost control of the situation. Power struggles are always, always fruitless. Do you ever want to back down from a power struggle? Neither does your child. Once the power struggle is going strong, it’s incredibly difficult to get out of one, even hours or days later.
Whenever you get push back from your child or if that push back escalates into an argument, you’re in a power struggle. I’m not into permissive parenting, responding in a push-back way to every defiant act your child may have will result in resentment and a regular cycle of anger and frustration.
2. Don’t Punish Until You’re Calm
If your 9 year old upturns his food for no good reason, you might feel justified in giving him a good hard smack, or at least letting him have it by screaming at him. This might make you feel better for that moment, but you’re not teaching your child a thing except for that if he loses it, you will, too. Waiting until you’re calm will allow you to clear your head and come up with a logical consequence (or let the natural consequence happen). I’m very sensitive to be shouted at, really by anyone, but especially by my children (and especially when they are all screaming and crowding around me… Agghg!) so I truly understand how difficult this can be. But if you close your eyes and count slowly to ten, you will give yourself a little bit of time to collect yourself. Children are gonna lose it – they’re children. Even if they’re older children who really should know better.
3. Wait, wait, wait
Are you seeing a pattern here? Wait for the storm to pass until you even try to reason with your child. If he’s in the middle of going crazy because you can’t find the spoon he wants to eat his lunch with and you don’t see that he’s going to calm down, it’s ok to just shrug your shoulders and walk away. Go sit on the couch or wash your face in the bathroom – it doesn’t really matter. If Jimmy had gone on and on about the spoon instead of leaving almost immediately, it wouldn’t have made sense for his mother to try and reason with him about using another spoon or helping to find the one he wanted. He would have, potentially, just kept ranting and raving until he blew up anyway.
I think there is a lot to say about validating a child’s feeling and helping him work though them by labeling the feeling and even imagining that you could produce his desired result. “If I could, I would just make your spoon appear!” But for kids who are in the middle of an intense rage, these techniques don’t always work. Try it yourself and see – they might, but they might just make things worse, also. Sometimes these chronically angry kids need time to let their heads clear.
I believe that there’s usually an underlying reason for kids who have these types of rage issues. The reason could be emotional, nutritional, or almost anything else. If anger is a big problem in your youngster’s life, consider seeking help for him.