Call it being strong-willed or spirited. Either way, argumentative and explosive behavior is common in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), and it can exhaust patient, loving parents. Whether your child’s defiance is limited to a handful of issues -- doing homework or cleaning his room -- or he meets the criteria for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there are strategies that can turn around difficult behavior.
“About 65 percent of kids will develop ODD within two years of being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD,” says Russell Barkley, Ph.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Medical University of South Carolina, and author of Your Defiant Child (Guilford Press). “Kids with ADD/ADHD are 11 times more likely to have ODD than anyone else in the population. The two conditions go together.”
ADD/ADHD kids find it hard to regulate their emotions. “Defiant children are reacting from the emotional centers of their brain, and they’re not thinking, ‘If I do this, I’ll get in trouble,’” says psychotherapist Joyce Divinyi, author of Discipline That Works: 5 Simple Steps (Wellness Connection). “Defiant behavior is an emotional impulse, not a thoughtful action.”
The more severe a child’s ADD/ADHD symptoms, the more likely he is to behave defiantly. Getting symptoms under control with medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, or both, may lessen defiant behavior. Parenting style also plays a big role in the severity of a child’s defiance.
“Parents should understand that this is difficult behavior to address,” says Barkley. “Your child is yelling, screaming, fighting, pushing and hitting, and it can escalate to destructive behavior and, sometimes, violence. You may be tired. You may have had a tough day at work. You may have another child who’s demanding your attention. Maybe you’re depressed. Or maybe you also have ADD/ADHD, and have trouble regulating your own emotions.”
Parents of ADD/ADHD children face these situations many times more than other parents do, he adds, and are more likely to give in some of the time. That’s why parent training is so important. It gives you the skills, support, and help you need to be consistent.
This article appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ADDitude.
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