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My Child has Oppositional Defiant Disorder: 6 Behavioral Signs to Look Out For

I knew my son was different when his tantrums lasted hours at a time. I would dread waking up in the morning because I didn’t want to have to face another day with Dylan’s defiant behavior. Each day was an all-out war between the two of us, and it was over anything and everything. Sometimes he would yell at me because his underwear was too high or too low and it wasn’t ‘right’. He wouldn’t wear sneakers because they were too big or too small, even though he’d worn them just the day before. Sometimes he’d spit at me because I’d send him to time-out for telling me he hated me. Situations like these would go on every day, all day.

My husband suggested that we try Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT); a treatment program that re-establishes the relationship between parent and child. Therapy programs like PCIT are imperative to changing the dynamics in a household where a child has a disruptive behavioral disorder, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

“When parents come in to receive PCIT, there is often negative behavior going on in the household. We try to normalize that experience for the parents,” says Dr. Brandi Noirfalise, counselor at Sac River Counseling.

The first part of PCIT includes Child-Directed Therapy (CDI) where “we try to redevelop that relationship between the parent and child,” explains Dr. Noirfalise. “I have seen families come in and they’re distraught. After they go through the program, it reduces stress.”

The second part of PCIT is Parent-Directed Therapy (PDI) where the parent works on leading the play while the child works on listening. “PCIT is recommended as the first line of defence as treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD),” says Dr. Noirfalise. “We want to treat kids at the behavioral level before prescribing medication.”

“The difference between PCIT and other forms of therapy,” says Dr. Noirfalise, “is that it’s evidence-based practice. It was developed specifically for children with ODD and ADHD. It [PCIT] focuses on the relationship between parent and child.”

If you think that your child could have ODD, please seek help. Early intervention can help you and your child get through the tough times and give you the answers you so desperately need.

Here are six behavioral traits that stood out to me as problematic:

1. Tantrums. Tantrums that lasted hours and hours over absolutely nothing. Throwing, hitting, spitting, crying, screaming and yelling with no end in sight.

2. Defiant behavior. Doing the exact opposite of what is asked of your child, whether it is something small like brushing their teeth or something big like not hitting.

3. Mood swings. One minute your child is happy and laughing, and the next they’re grumpy and mad. This could be over something as minute as a toy not working the way they wanted it to.

4. Lack of sleep. Interrupted sleep can add to an already explosive child.

5. Praise. Children with ODD don’t always like praise. If this is the case in your situation, find something that they do like, such as imitating play.

6. Lack of affection. Children with ODD do not always show affection. Try not to make a big deal about it and just move on. Relish the moments when they do give you a hug.

Most importantly, hang in there. Don’t be too hard on yourself as the parent and give yourself a break when you need it. Having a child with ODD is extremely difficult and can feel very isolating.

Meagan is a freelance writer living with a four-year-old who has ODD and a one-year-old who tries to keep up with the circus. She and her husband are currently in PCIT with Dylan and are celebrating each milestone of success.

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