Oppositional Children

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on September 11, 2012 4:40 pm

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

                                                                                     ~ Mahatma Gandhi  

 

Children who act out in an oppositional manner, are frequently drawing upon an internal struggle to oppose or reject something in their lives.  Oppositional children are often blamed for their defiant behaviors, but are not always offered a listening ear, to hear why they are acting out in a disobedient and uncooperative way.

It is important to recognize that not all children who are acting out or behaving in an oppositional manner, should be diagnosed.  In fact, it is of extreme importance that children who act out in negative ways be given an opportunity to discuss the problems that plague their young lives.  Moreover, as a good clinician, we should be looking at the entire scope of the child’s life, including the psychosocial and economic perspective.  Unfortunately, in some egregious cases, children are reacting rather than simply acting out.  Therefore, as a clinician we must offer our best detective skills when looking at the life of a child. 

THE DIAGNOSTICS OF OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER 313.81

 The American Psychiatric Association (2000), diagnoses oppositional behaviors with the following criterion. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV-TR, Diagnostic criteria for 313.81 Oppositional Defiant Disorder:

A. A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present: 

(1) often loses temper�
(2) often argues with adults�
(3) often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules�
(4) often deliberately annoys people�
(5) often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior�
(6) is often touchy or easily annoyed by others�
(7) is often angry and resentful�
(8) is often spiteful or vindictive 

Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level. 

B. The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning. 

C. The behaviors do not occur exclusively during the course of a Psychotic or Mood Disorder. 

  1. Criteria are not met for Conduct Disorder, and, if the individual is age 18 years or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.  (APA, 2000, p. 102)

The APA DSM-IV-TR also indicates that “Oppositional Defiant Disorder usually becomes evident before age 8 years and usually not later than early adolescence.” (APA, 2000, p. 101) Again, it is prudent to know the life of the child. What are the psychosocial and economic environments like for the child in question?  Has the child been a victim of abuse, witness to abuse, or currently being abused?  What are the overall pressures like in the child’s home? “Although usually unaware of what he (she) is doing, the Oppositional Child reacts specifically and adaptively to a pattern of parental pressures-pressures sometimes subtle but always so pervasive that usually there is really nothing constructive he can do but oppose them.” (Braman, 1997, p. 7)  Oppositional behaviors frequently occur when life is proving intolerable or overwhelming.  Are you expecting too much from your child? What are the consequences when your child does not follow through with a direct order or request?

THE TEMPERAMENT OF AN OPPOSITIONAL CHILD

The temperament of an Oppositional Child is often thought to be egregious in nature, but the truth is, the opposite is the reality for many of these children.  For many oppositional children, there is a notable correlation of having low frustration tolerance. “Children with low frustration tolerance are adamant in wanting to end the cause of their frustration as quickly as possible.”  When they are having a hard time with a task (e.g., homework, some tasks they don’t immediately understand, or a toy or game that they can’t make work the way they want), they find that the best way to eliminate their frustration is to stop trying and do something else instead. If they want to do something and their parent (or another adult) won’t let them do it, the best way to eliminate their frustration is to act in ways that might get the adult to change their mind and leave them to their own desires and interests.

THE CAUSATION OF OPPOSITIONAL BEHAVIORS

Oppositional behaviors occur when parents are trying too hard and children are not trying hard enough.  Oppositional children are sometimes asking for help way too soon, rather than working out the details of a problem.  ODD is frequently recognized in children who find it difficult to face a challenge.  In our society of instant gratification, such children expect immediacy, rather than proving patient. 

“The parents of oppositional children may deny that they pressure their children.  In fact, they are likely to be offended by such an accusation…From the child’s point of view the answer is clear.  He (she) is expected to excel, or at least come up to parental standards in all the activities which the parents feel are important.” (Braman, 1997, p. 8)  What are you expecting from your child?  Are you being hypercritical, overindulgent, or undermining your child’s potential?

ENCOURAGING AND REINFORCING YOUR CHILD

“Being the parent of a child with ODD isn’t easy. Counseling for you can provide you with an outlet for your frustrations and concerns. In turn, this can lead to better outcomes for your child because you’ll be more prepared to deal with problem behaviors. Here are some tips to help you: 

  1. Learn ways to calm yourself. Keeping your own cool models the behavior you want from your child.
  2. Take time for yourself. Develop outside interests, get some exercise and spend some time away from your child to restore your energy.
  3. Be forgiving. Let go of things that you or your child did in the past. Start each day with a fresh outlook and a clean slate.” (MayoClinic, 2012, Online)
  4. Review your own life.  Are you proving a hinderance or an encouragement to the life of your child?
  5. Teach your child to self-sooth.  Self-soothing is usually begins being obtained in infancy, but for some children, self-soothing is not gained in this early stage of life. 
  6. Be unconditional.  Do not see your children as their successes or their failures, rather focus on the familial love and bond you have established with your children to be the guiding source of your parenting.
  7. Review and know your expectations.  Are you expecting too much from your child? Or, not enough?  Be consistent.  Be objective.
  8. Avoid the argument cycle.  If you find yourself arguing with your child, take a personal time-out and respond with a clearer mindset.  
  9. Learn and teach your child to meditate.  Equipping your children with skills like meditation and breathing will enhance their internal ability to self-sooth.
  10. Offer a positive message.  It is of the utmost importance that you offer your child a positive message on a daily basis. 

In the end, children want a parent to be unconditionally loving, forgiving, affectionate, and passionate.  Do not allow the negativity of a moment to pollute the potential of a lifelong relationship.

Author:   Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, D.C.: Author

Boyd, D., Johnson, P., & Bee, H. (2012) Lifespan development (4th Canadian ed.) Toronto, ON:  Pearson Canada Inc.

Braman, O. R. (1997) The oppositional child. Indianapolis, IN: Kidsrights

MayoClinic Staff (2012) Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), Coping and support. Retrieved September 9, 2012 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/oppositional-defiant-disorder/DS00630/DSECTION=coping%2Dand%2Dsupport

Rapoport, J. L. & Ismond, D. R. (1996) DSM-IV training guide, For diagnosis of childhood disorders. Philadelphia, PA:  Brunner / Mazel

Rice, D. (2012) Psychotherapy for Oppositional-Defiant kids with low frustration tolerance and how to help their parents, too. Retrieved September 9, 2012 from https://www.psychotherapy.net/article/oppositional-defiants-kids

Schore, A. (2003). Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self. New York, NY:  W.W. Norton




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

12 comments on “Oppositional Children”

  1. Dear Jay,

    Thank you for the very warm message. I am equally as appreciative of your recent review of my latest article. Furthermore, I am appreciative of your candor.

    It does sound as though your familial background has strongly influenced your life. It is unfortunate that your parents had to endure such an egregious form of hatred. Yet, it is remarkable that your parents have forged forth in spite of their life circumstances. I am always encouraged to learn about someone who has modeled an overcoming attitude.

    Jay, I thank you for sharing your very touching message.

    Warm Regards,

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

  2. Jay says:

    It was a real pleasure to have met you yesterday. I am thankful that you told me about your articles. Having spoke with you yesterday has offered my wife and I encouragement that we are doing what is “right” to help our son. I am a product of a westcoast upbringing and Jewish immigrants who were holocaust survivors. My parent’s philosophy was that of a generation of “children should be seen and not heard.” While my mother doted endlessly on me. This is/was my personal story. It took years for her to feel a measure of safety. Due to my parent’s generational insecurities, I understand why they have suffered through unnecessary self-doubt and dreaded fear. A sheynem dank Dr. Brown

  3. Dear Tracy,

    Thank you for taking the time to review and offer your feedback. You are so correct that many of the ODD aspects are reflective of “normal” childlike behaviors. However, it is important to recognize that such behaviors are age appropriate and inappropriate. We know that if a child is acting out in such a way as a toddler, it’s understandable and age appropriate. Whereas, if a child is acting out at the age of 16 years, we would know that this child is acting out inappropriately for their age. Either way, it’s important that we look at the events that have led up to the inappropriate behaviors, trying to gain a perspective on this child’s behavioral inappropriateness.

    Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

    Warm Regards,

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

  4. Carla says:

    Excellent article. In our house we use the “fresh start” every day – forgive, forget the previous day – or it can be even hours – and start over with a fresh start. Frequently, my son who struggles with his anger will stop and say, “Mom, let’s just start over.” And we do. I also find that when I am too stressed, my son mirrors that stress and begins to have anxiety and angry outbursts. Therefore, it is so important that I take care of myself and not get to that “too stressed” point – which can be different for all of us. Also, there is no point in arguing with my son – arguments just get ugly. Rather, my husband and I step back and approach him calmly. That means that yes, his beahvour is sometimes totally unacceptable. This goes against so much parenting advice – letting bad behaviour go. However, we are not. We just choose to discuss his behaviour when he is calm and can hear us. At that time we also talk about alternative options in regards to how he could have reacted and ways he can help himself be calm. We started doing this in kindergarten (with the help of some great counsellors) and it is amazing to see where our son is at now compared to then. I love my sons spirit – it can be challenging but we want to channel that energy in a positive way – not squash it. Thanks for this informative and encouraging article.

    1. Dear Carla,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback. I really appreciate your take on forgiving and forgetting negative events. It’s a good thing to have “fresh starts.” I sure wish the whole of our humanity would implement such a strategy of forgiving and forgetting. In my opinion, true forgiveness is forgetting or letting go. In the past, there has been research conducted that shows us that carrying hate, anger, anxiety, and intense frustrations, will eventually have a negative impact upon the human form. Therefore, as you suggest, letting go by forgiving and forgetting is a truly positive force in one’s life.

      Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  5. Tracy says:

    Thank you Dr Brown for your educational writing.

    It is interesting that most of the criteria needed to diagnose ODD are normal behaviours for most children at one time or another. Even though these children are not diagnosable ODD, I believe as a parent or teacher we can use the guidelines for “encouraging and enforcing you children” and understanding the idea of low frustration tolerance would help all of us when interacting with our children.

    Thank you for teaching me something new.

    1. Dear Tracy,

      Thank you for taking the time to review and offer your feedback. You are so correct that many of the ODD aspects are reflective of “normal” childlike behaviors. However, it is important to recognize that such behaviors are age appropriate and inappropriate. We know that if a child is acting out in such a way as a toddler, it’s understandable and age appropriate. Whereas, if a child is acting out at the age of 16 years, we would know that this child is acting out inappropriately for their age. Either way, it’s important that we look at the events that have led up to the inappropriate behaviors, trying to gain a perspective on this child’s behavioral inappropriateness.

      Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  6. Linda Thompson says:

    Hi Dr. Asa Don Brown – A great article and resource. Thanks. Regards Linda

    1. Dear Linda Thompson,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your very kind sentiments.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  7. Deborah Pickering says:

    Hello Dr. Brown,

    Well that is good advice for the parent of an ODD child. Hopefully, these parents will find the courage it often takes to look objectively at their own behavior in order to understand that of their unruly child.

    I think that most parents are intelligent enough to do so. Parenting is not something any of us are trained to do perfectly and also, more adults these days are willing to acknowledge and break the cycles of negative parenting.

    As I often say, “If you don’t know, you don’t know!”, meaning we cannot teach our children personality and behaviour traits if we don’t know them ourselves.

    Fortunately, all parents and caregivers of children can benefit from articles such as this to aid us in our own development in dealing with children.

    Thank You, Deb P.

    1. Dear Deb P.

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback. You are so correct that we are not taught the skills to prove effective parents. Unfortunately, we are not offered a manual or a guide to teach, raise, and develop our children’s minds. Likewise, while we are not taught the skills to be parents, and even if we were, it’s up to us as individuals to strive for a positive atmosphere both in our homes and in our relationship with our children. While we may not always hit a home run, it is essential that we strive to be the best parents that “we can be.” Furthermore, all children prove a learning curve, because no two individuals are the same. So, as they grow we should strive to grow as parents.

      Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

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