The strengths of the oppositional defiant child

The strengths of the oppositional defiant child


Do you have an ODD child or teen who constantly argues and fights your authority, refusing to follow the rules of your home? When the number for his school shows up on your caller identification, do you cringe in fear of what trouble he’s in now? When you have an oppositional, defiant child, it’s painful to read the seemingly endless Facebook statuses of proud parents beaming about how wonderful their child is. One mom recently shared with us, “I’m happy for my friends that they seem to have such great family lives. But it’s hard to see posts about their kids getting straight A’s, when my son swears at me every night about his homework.” Let’s be honest. Every time they challenge us, they push our emotional buttons, bringing to the surface our feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, embarrassment—and even insecurities and fears because their behavior scares us.

But believe it or not, there are some definite strengths that go hand-in-hand with that challenging, ODD personality. This week, we’re going to show you how to see your child through a different lens, including stories of ODD kids with whom we’ve worked. If you can stop for a moment and see the positive aspects of your ODD child’s personality, it can strengthen you. Your child can actually be a good teacher – if you are open and willing to learn.

Look at your child. Does He/She have these strengths?


ODD kids can be extremely creative when it comes to getting what they want. The same adolescent girl who can’t solve the problem of how to deal with a sibling can design a plan to get out of a locked house when grounded that would impress Houdini. 13-year-old Jack was mechanically gifted. He fought with his parents about everything from going to school to his choice of friends. But put him in front of a car, and he could fix even the toughest problem. Wanting to build on that strength, his parents finally gave in and purchased the old, rundown car he begged for. “He’ll never get it running,” said his father. Six months later, Jack was tooling around town in his “beater.” His law-abiding parents set the rule: no driving until you have a license! Jack, of course, drove it anyway. His parents came up with the idea of putting a “club” on the steering wheel, locking it in place. They were quite proud of their creativity until, a few months later, the car was parked just a little bit off center in the driveway. Jack had (very creatively) purchased a separate steering wheel, which he stashed in the woods. When mom and dad left, he simply removed the original steering wheel – club and all – replacing it with his spare and he was off and running. Was this a dangerous and defiant behavior? Absolutely. Were his parents frustrated at his level of defiance? Sure. But they learned to appreciate their son’s resourcefulness! Ten years later, Jack never has to pay a mechanic to fix his vehicles.

Determination and Strength

Kids with oppositional and defiant personalities are the most determined individuals you’ll ever meet. Some kids follow rather than lead, quickly complying with rules and traditions. Others “go with the flow,” rarely making waves for fear of disappointing others or possibly failing. ODD kids have none of these traits. Their motto: While you’re all paddling downstream, I prefer to swim upstream – it’s more challenging and interesting! And the more you oppose me on it, the more determined I’ll be to swim 15-year-old Lindsay argued daily with her parents, skipped school and often stayed out past curfew. She also had an unflinching love for animals. It became her mission to save as many lost, abandoned or abused animals that she possibly could. Her mother warned her constantly, “One of these days you’re going to get hurt. Stop picking up all these strays!” Friends and family were critical, saying her efforts were pointless. Since she couldn’t keep all the animals who needed her – it was against her mother’s rules and simply wasn’t possible as there were hundreds of them – she used her strengths of creativity and determination. She educated herself on how to safely rescue animals, minimizing the risks to herself as much as possible. She became connected to local animal rescues – some as far as a hundred miles away – that would care for the animals she found. When she couldn’t link with such resources immediately, she broke her mother’s rules and kept an animal in the garage for a day or two while she worked on a placement for it. Lindsay’s determination was an endless frustration for her mom. But it led to hundreds of vulnerable and voiceless animals finding safe haven over the years. Today, as an adult, she is a noted animal advocate and has earned the admiration of those around her, including her mother. Many of us are determined but not all of us have the strength – and courage–to pursue our goals in the face of opposition from others.


 ODD kids seem to live by the slogan, “I took the path less traveled.” Without them, just think of what we’d be missing in the entertainment world alone; many actors and vocalists have expressed childhoods that include skipping or dropping out of school, arguing with authority figures, stubbornness and even jail time. We love the James Deans, Jim Morrisons and Robert Downey Juniors of the world for the cultural icons they’ve become. The road they took was rough, but they didn’t get to icon status by being afraid to challenge norms. In her autobiography, environmental rights activist Erin Brockovich describes her “inner strength” as often the only thing she had going for her. The same strengths that got her through an adolescence filled with school struggles and a love for “the wild life,” empowered her to fight for the rights of others when many would have kept her quiet. Just because your teen isn’t well-known or famous doesn’t mean he or she isn’t a trailblazer. In fact, all oppositional and defiant kids are trailblazers, taking the path less traveled with a willingness to go against societal norms.

Promoters of Personal Growth

12-year-old Candace’s mom was a teacher in a prestigious school district. She was horrified when Candace began wearing clothes to school that she had literally picked up off her floor from the dirty laundry pile. One day Mom groaned in frustration, “The dog slept on her jeans the night before, and she wore them anyway!” If mom put a basket of neatly folded, clean clothes on the bed, Candace would simply wear the clothes she had on the day before, stains and all. Mom tried bribing Candace with expensive name-brand clothes. She begged her daughter, “Please wear clean clothes. You have no idea how embarrassing this is to me. People will think I’m a terrible mother. I teach in that school!” But Candace still rebelled.

After months of daily arguing and shamefully avoiding the teacher’s lounge, mom finally gave up. “I just decided there was nothing I could do and that Candace’s choices were not a reflection of me. I can only dress myself in the morning.” Miraculously, the next week Candace began wearing clean clothes. Mom was astonished by her reply: “You always told me it doesn’t matter what people think of you and that your true friends will love you for who you are, not what you have or how you dress. You’re always saying that I shouldn’t judge others. I wanted to show you what a hypocrite you are.”Years later, Candace’s mom remembers how her daughter’s behavior really did lead her to personal growth. “She was right. I cared a lot—too much—about what others thought of us, and I did judge others. It’s a lesson I never forgot.”

Why are we telling you these stories and asking you to see the strengths in your child’s challenging personality? It’s because the bottom line in living with an ODD child is always fear and often insecurity. Whether it’s worrying about what others will think of him (or us), fear for that child’s safety or well-being, fear drives us to try and change the personality. In a meeting of multiple adults (teachers, social workers, parents and counselors), 15-year-old Billy shared, “I feel like you’re trying to change me. Not just my behavior – but me. Can’t you just accept me for who I am?” For parents of ODD kids, one of the hardest tasks we face can be accepting our child for who he is. It’s a constant lesson in learning to let go of trying to control someone we would give our lives to protect.

The bottom line is that a child with ODD is not your typical kid. The primary difference? Typical kids will allow others to exert some degree of control over them. They may argue, but they’ll eventually give in. They may break rules, but they allow themselves to be grounded. Ultimately, they will give over to parental (or adult) authority. What’s the biggest fear an ODD kid has? Loss of control to a parent, or any adult authority figure. In an argument, your ODD child will dig his heels in rather than yield. As soon as he feels threatened, it’s on! Grounded? Please! Parents often feel more miserable during grounding than their ODD child.

Here are some tips to follow:

Nobody Wins the Blame Game

 When your home is in turmoil because of constant arguing with your child, it can be easy to fall into the trap of blame. Blaming yourself or your child won’t help the situation and can leave you feeling angry and resentful toward him. To make matters worse, you’ll come away feeling guilty on top of it. It’s good to hold your child accountable for his actions, but when it turns to blame, it will only worsen feelings of resentment. Besides, kids are quick to blame others for their own behavior. Instead, you want to be a role model for them by taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.

Keeping A Tab Just Leaves You with a Huge Bill

Just as parents want the chance to learn from our mistakes and start each day fresh, our children deserve the same. Though sometimes it’s difficult to separate these actions out, try to make your responses fit the specific behavior, instead of the running list you have going in your head. In other words, don’t let your child’s bad behavior compound until there’s no punishment or consequence big enough for them.

Tug of War Will Give You Rope Burn

 It helps to remember what’s driving your child’s behavior: the need to be in control. When faced with loss of control, ODD kids will often go to extremes to fight against authority. Suddenly, you’re no longer focused on the behavior or issue at hand; you’re in a power struggle. Rather than your child learning from consequences, things quickly get way off topic. You might start out trying to address your son’s grades in school, and end up arguing about whether or not you threw away his Matchbox cars when he was four years old. But engaging in power struggles will leave you exhausted, frustrated and often confused as to what the heck just happened! Our advice is this: When you find yourself in a tug-of-war over control, try letting go of the rope. And ask yourself, “What is my intention in this discussion?” If you’re simply arguing with no clear direction or purpose, it’s probably not a discussion that needs to occur. The best thing to do is walk away. Remember, it takes two to tug on that rope. If you keep pulling on your end, you’re likely to end up in the mud.

Sometimes an Answer Isn’t Required

 Sometimes kids just need to vent. Ever find yourself needing to get something off your chest, but you’re not really looking for an answer? As parents, we tend to jump in and try to solve what we view as our kids’ problems. Sometimes when they’re complaining or upset it doesn’t really require a response from us beyond, “I hear what you’re saying.” If your child is looking for an answer or response, they’ll ask you. Otherwise, try just listening without jumping in to help. Allow your child to have his feelings, and know he’s been heard.

Change your thoughts

 The way you think about things determines how you feel and act toward your child. If your thoughts are negative, it will affect the way you interact and respond to his behavior—and to him as a person. See if you can catch hold of things that are popping into your mind and replace them with more positive thoughts. Changing your thoughts can help you change how you’re feeling toward your child. When someone pushes against you, the natural instinct is to push back. Your child may have the type of personality that will continue to push against others and fight against being controlled in any way. Make no mistake, raising an ODD child is an emotional and challenging experience. It’s a process of trying to be creative, because you have to constantly look for “things that work” with a child whose very essence is to fight against being controlled.

The truth is, your child’s personality isn’t likely to change, but if you use these tips we offer, you’ll find yourself engaging in that conflict less frequently and less intensely.

If youre able to alter the way you respond to your child, the result will be less conflict and more peace in your home. And by modeling the techniques weve given you, youll be teaching your child conflict-resolution skills, de-escalating techniques, healthy relationship skills and coping skills. The best part? Youll be able to end the day feeling good about yourself and knowing that you gave it your best.

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