A Mom’s Look into Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

When my daughter was diagnosed with ODD a year and a half ago, one of the first things I learned was the lack of awareness of what ODD is. Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or commonly known as ODD, is an “exaggerated attempt on the part of a child or teenager to prove to you that you don’t have any power over them,” (Douglas, 1997). Even just rereading that definition now, I’m struck by how well it defines my daughter. 

Here’s a quick peek in my life with a defiant child.

My daughter was shy of two when I first realized she stood out from her peers. She was always a step or two ahead of the curve, but was constantly in trouble at school. Daily incident reports led to a behavior action plan. She struggled to make and keep friendships. In all honesty, kids her age were scared to be around her because of her outbursts. Imagine hearing your two-year-old has few to no friends because they are scared of her. While I understood the fear of her peers, it broke my heart. 

My daughter was bright. We heard it from her teachers, her pediatrician, and even the doctor who later diagnosed her. I sometimes wondered if that had a part in her behaviors. Even at two my daughter sat on the wall during outside time (she was in trouble) and peed her pants though she was fully potty trained. When asked why she did so her response was “I wouldn’t be in trouble on the wall anymore, and I would get to change my clothes”. The manipulation in that very instance is prime ODD, and seeking her dominance over authority figures. I just didn’t know it yet.

So we sought help. 

We worked with Grant Wood and later tried Parent-Child Interactive Therapy.  Per her pediatrician, we decided our next step was to have her psychologically evaluated. That was when at three years old, my daughter was given the diagnosis of ODD. I wasn’t surprised, or shocked; I was relieved to actually have a diagnosis. 

Flash forward to now, my daughter attended PreK this year and met on a weekly basis with the school liaison for some one-on-one time. Once school abruptly ended, and a sudden rise in defiant behavior became a normal thing again, I decided to try something new–Occupational Therapy. My daughter loves going, and I truly believe it is benefiting both of us. 

A closer look inside what ODD really is.

“Oppositional children live in a fantasy land in which they are able to defeat all authority figures. When a child or teenager is living in oppositional fantasy land, he may as well be living in another dimension. It seems like your messages, requests, and demands take lightyears to register.” (Douglas, 1997, p. 4)

Oppositional children seek revenge when angered. Recently I was talking to my daughter’s Papa and asked her to be patient before we played her game. I didn’t give her all of my attention. Her instant response was to go to the backyard and tear up her grandparents’ plants. 

Oppositional children do not like to show weakness. In desperation, I have cleaned everything out of my daughter’s room. Every. Single. Thing. My daughter was not upset or sad, she simply said “I don’t care” and helped me pack up her things. 

You may think you know what I’m going through.

Your child’s tantrums are real. Your nightly bedtime battles with your children are real. But they are not the same as what I experience with my defiant child, so please don’t try to relate. I am here as a friend to vent to, ask for advice, and be there for you. But please do not downplay my daughters’ diagnosis and dismiss our daily struggles to your child’s normal, age-appropriate behaviors.

It is imperative to understand what is ‘normal’ defiant behavior and where to draw that line. I won’t go into too much detail, because my research alone has taken me to article after article and book after book to fully understand the difference. My experience leads me to use this description “In general, oppositional children have a drive to defeat adults that assumes absurd proportions. They are as relentless as gravity in their pursuit of proving adults to be wrong, stupid, or both.” (Douglas, 1997, p. 3)

ODD is real for my family. You may look at my daughter and see your average four-year-old. You may not see her ODD, but we feel it every day. 

“Oppositional children will test you in every way they know how. They are relentless in trying to break you. As a parent you will feel exhausted and frustrated, or even helpless. Try to remember, “The person acting is not aware that he is coming to irrational conclusions or behaving in an irrational manner.” (Douglas, 1997, p. 3) 

(Source Cited: Riley, Douglas. The Defiant Child: a Parents Guide to Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Taylor Pub., 1997). 

If you are a parent, friend, or even a teacher of a child with ODD I strongly recommend you educate yourself on it. Do your research, read your books, speak with a professional. Seek support, you might find yourself needing it.

From one mama to another, you are not alone.

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