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This is a great article by Robert Whipple, The Trust Ambassador. When I work with parents and teachers regarding a child or teen labeled as oppositional defiant disorder, this very problem of everybody wearing their “I am right” buttons is the root of the conflict.
What would happen if instead of, as the adult, demanding that the child/teen accept your belief, you took the time to hear the child out, ask them to figure out how your viewpoint fits with theirs or why it does not, and then develop an agreement as to why one way or the other fits the situation at the time. Yes it takes more time to do this, but it builds trust in the child that you are to be respected and treated with dignity. Would that be okay with your?
Let me know your thoughts.
Would you like a copy of my free report on oppositional children? Click here.
Can you believe a single three-word phrase is the basis for nearly all conflict? It is true that conflict shows up with numerous symptoms and there are many different ways of resolving it. If it were not for three words, and their implications, we would rarely experience the dysfunctional behaviors of conflict that cause interpersonal problems and billions of dollars wasted in business.
Human beings come in all shapes and sizes; each of us is a unique specimen. One universal truth we all have in common is an amazing ability to drive other humans crazy when we try to live or work in close proximity. Two people working in the same area day after day will eventually hurt each other emotionally, if not physically. Put three people together and it will happen even faster. When you peel back the various layers of symptoms, you always come back to the same…
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It happened again this week. I was working with a young lady with developmental and behavioral challenges and her mother.
This girl, we will call Cecelia, was upset because I did not bring some of my toys into the room. Now I had a good reason for this but she is very ritualistic, so she was having none of it. She started with loud screeching but quickly progressed to hitting me. Ignoring was not working, so as she accelerated, I got onto the floor with her and gave her a big bear hug that put her on her back so that I could control her movements better. I used my left arm to deflect her legs while my arms controlled her arms. I made sure that I kept away from her mouth to avoid bites and her head to avoid collisions with my head.
I then began in a loud whisper to say “I will know when Cecelia is ready to be let go when she says “Please let me go Dr. McGuire”. Her mother attempted to intervene once telling the girl to stop it, but I quickly hushed her, explaining that Cecelia couldn’t understand her in her current state. Mother then sat back and watched. Cecelia was not decelerating, so I added a second suggestion of “I will know Cecelia is ready to be let go when her legs stop moving”. I alternated those two phrases in the loud whisper for about another minute or so. Then, ever so subtly, I noted that her legs were slowing down and staying lower to the ground. I then said in a slightly louder voice, “Oh Cecelia is letting me know with her legs that she is ready to be let go.”
I let go of Cecelia, and we both sat up on the floor. She was staying in what I call a sitting version of the fetal position, with head down and legs crossed under her, hands to the middle of her body. She didn’t say anything, but I commented on how she was calmer, but said nothing else. She then reached for the toy character she had brought to the visit, a unicorn. I slowly moved my hand toward it, asking if I could pet it, but she growled and pulled it away. I said I understood. A little bit later, the unicorn came forward again. I again asked if I could pet it, bringing my hand slowly toward it. She said “no” and pulled it away. A little bit later, the unicorn returned and I repeated my process. This time she said yes, so I gently petted it. I then said to the unicorn, “You really like Cecelia, don’t you?” The unicorn said “Yes” and moved away. Then, one by one, the characters I had brought to the session came out. Each time I asked if I could pet them, got an okay, petted them, and said, “You really like Cecelia, don’t you?” and got an affirmative. By half way through, Cecelia was making eye contact with me and smiling.
In between the pettings, I would talk to Mother about what was going on and why it was important to help her regain her inner calm at her own pace. Mother had been experiencing these outbursts a lot lately, and noted that this was the quickest she had ever seen Cecelia regain her composure.
Cecelia was not being oppositional and defiant, although many would have labeled her as such. She had been overwhelmed by a break in her rituals and that scared her. Her limbic system, which is called the reptilian part of the brain, due to the primitive nature of its responses, had taken over. She couldn’t access her frontal lobe to analyze her feelings, and develop plans of negotiation or acceptance of this change. As an adult, I had to help her contain her fight or flight response until she could work through it, regain her composure, and figure out what she could do instead.
When it was time to go, she still had to be ritualistic in the process, putting one item at a time in the bag, but she was in control of her emotions and could show joy in the process. She also wanted two stickers for the session, which I approved of, but in the end she only chose one, which she put on her unicorn, for helping her find her inner calm.
Let’s take time to help the out of control children. That way they can truly learn and feel good about the process.
Oppositional defiant disorder is a label that is applied to many children now days. The term is used to describe children who for a period of at least 6 months have often to always 1) argued with adults, 2) defied or refused to do what they were told to do, 3) lost their temper, 4) annoyed others, 5) blamed others for their actions or misbehaviors, 6) been touchy or easily annoyed by others, 7) been angry or resentful, and 8 ) been spiteful or vindictive. At least four of these behaviors have to be present for the label.
Children, however, are not born with the label. These behaviors develop over time due to an interaction of three factors. The first is a child’s temperament. Temperament consists of traits of behavioral response that we are all born with. We inherit these traits from our families. The second factor involves any physical, developmental, and learning issues that the child has. The third factor is the actions, interactions, and reactions of the world around the child.
Temperamentally, three traits at levels of easy stress and poor strategy development, make the child vulnerable to a poor interaction with others in his environment. These are adaptability, basic mood, and intensity of response. A child who may be described as ODD, will be slow to adapt to change, handle transitions, and process other people’s opinions, beliefs, or directions. This child will likely be very negative about starting something, going some place, or eating something new. Most of these children are also very immediate and intense in their reactions, being very over reactive to the situation.
While not all of these children have any significant problems, if he does have issues such as language problems or learning problems, he will likely show his frustration more quickly and be more difficult to help. Many times these problems are not recognized, which makes matters worse, since his behaviors will not be seen in context of his frustrations and confusions.
Adults coming in contact with such as child, will likely be reactive to the child’s behavior, becoming argumentative in response. As the child intensifies, the adult then begins threatening the child with removal of privileges. The child becomes more frustrated, feeling that the adult doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the anxiety, frustration, and confusion he is feeling. Each new encounter reaffirms these feelings, and feeling forced to do things he feels he can’t do, leads to denial of ownership of the outcomes, especially negative outcomes. Eventually, with the introduction of a mental health provider, the label of oppositional defiant disorder is delivered.
Does this scenario have to always end the same way? Not if parents and primary care providers begin to ask “why” a child is finding it so hard to handle day-to-day situations. Begin by looking at temperament, physical, developmental, and learning issues, finding out if even minor problems are present, which with his temperament profile can be more impairing. Address the associated problems in conjunction with a positive behavioral program that provides guidance, counseling, and parent management training. This includes with staying calm, talking quietly and a little bit slower. Make the sentences simpler when he is upset. Ask him what he finds upsetting in what he was told, or was to do. Teach him problem solving and conflict resolution techniques. Put things in a visual format to allow for longer and more effective processing of information.
High risk children don’t have to evolve into the label of oppositional defiant disorder. But it takes the adults, using their adult skills of patience, consistency, and problem solving to help. Let’s do more of this and make O.D.D. an endangered species.