Getting Help for a Troubled Teen with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Do you often feel that your teen has never outgrown the so-called terrible twos? Is your teen persistently belligerent, irritable and uncooperative? Is your child simply strong-willed or does his behavior point to something else? It may be useful to look more deeply into your child’s troublesome behavior to check whether he is simply being difficult or may be exhibiting symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD is marked by disruptive, defiant and argumentative behavioral patterns. These behaviors can readily be seen in normal teens, especially when he faces stress, is annoyed or frustrated. It is also quite normal for a teen to try to push the boundaries by arguing with and talking back to their parents or with persons in authority. However, with ODD, these behaviors are so regularly displayed that a teen’s interactions with his family and others are seriously impaired.

ODD can manifest itself with

– temper outbursts are frequent, accompanied by malicious, spiteful and vengeful acts

– a tendency to question, go against or disregard established rules constantly

– efforts to annoy others

– angry, irritable and resentful behavior

– excessive arguing

– being actively defiant and uncooperative

– a tendency to put the blame on others for own behaviors

– going out of his way to annoy others

Possible Causes

There are no clear-cut factors that lead to ODD. It seems, though, that one’s environment and genetic make-up have their own contribution to ODD. If a child is already predisposed (neurobiologically and temperamentally) to ODD, a lack of parental supervision and lax or harsh discipline methods can exacerbate the problem. When there is inconsistent discipline at the home, it can only worsen a teen’s problems with controlling his impulses and making sound judgments. Also, a child may have related mental health issues such as depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety.

Seeking Help

ODD can manifest itself as early as the pre-school years or can be more evident when the child reaches his teenage years. If left untreated, the teen’s conduct may become more problematic over the years. The negative behavior may escalate. As the teen experiences problems with making and keeping friends, his default behavior can be aggression, since he will tend to view the behavior of others as aggression and hostility. The teen may also exhibit an increasingly aggressive behavior and defiance to more serious rules (such as rules regarding truancy, vandalism and drugs).

Your primary care doctor can help with the initial evaluation and may refer you to a more suitable specialist, one that specializes on child behavior or child psychology. The doctor will then examine the history (especially during the last six months) of the teen’s behaviors, not just in the home setting but also in other settings. With this, you can start strategizing about how you can deal with the problem.

Supporting Your Child

Dealing with a teen who has ODD can be frustrating and exhausting. But parents can successfully cope with and eventually support their child on his way towards wellness. Here are some ways you can help your child:

– Prepare yourself. Parenting a teen with ODD will tax you physically and emotionally. Keep yourself in good physical shape with exercise and a good diet. Be sure to strengthen relationships with your spouse, children, loved ones and friends.

– Build a relationship with your child. Rather than focus on your child’s negative behavior, look for ways for you to build closeness. Get to know your child. Try a variety of activities until you find ones that he enjoys.

– Parent training. Parents can start by getting some training on how they can apply parenting skills to create a positive environment both for them and for the child. This minimizes the occurrence of power struggles and frustrations. Parents should also be mindful in how they establish rules clearly and fairly and how these rules (and corresponding consequences) are implemented consistently. Be sure to acknowledge positive behaviors and reward these with positive reinforcement.

– Therapy. With the help of a therapist, parents can also work to build a behavior plan for the teen. Therapy can also help provide the teen, parents and other family members with tools to communicate, express feeling and manage their anger. The teen can also learn social skills that will help him positively interact with others.

– Troubled teen program. There are a number of programs that are designed to helping teens with behavioral problems and provide a suitable setting and treatment regimen. Parents can look into therapeutic boarding schools, teen wilderness programs and other similar programs that deal specifically with ODD. The advantage of these programs is that you are able to get the teen away from his usual setting to an environment by which he can start breaking bad habits and developing positive ones. The time away from home can also give other family members time to rest and to gain training. Some troubled teen programs also offer cognitive behavioral therapy as well as individual and group therapy sessions.

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