Reply To: 9 year old ODD is getting the best of me

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My son, at 9, was incredibly ODD and explosive. Nothing worked. I tried everything from Ross Greene’s kind, reasonable, evidence-based approach to (I am ashamed to admit) spanking. We were desperate for necessary life activities to happen and had a child who refused to do anything he didn’t want to do, no matter how small or necessary (attend school, brush his teeth EVER, not play video games 100% of the time, etc.).

Everything changed once he got on the right medications. Suddenly, Ross Greene’s approach worked well. We could talk, reasons, problem-solve, and provide meaningful rewards our son responded to. At almost 13, he’s a straight-A student who did a whole math program over the summer to earn his iphone, does his daily homework and reads for an additional 45 minutes after school every day. Just 3 years ago, this was a kid who refused to even attend school at all and had to be put on psychiatric inpatient after making a suicidal gesture after I wouldn’t buy him a Minecraft thing he’d discovered 20 minutes prior!

In your shoes, I would keep working on the medication angle. You don’t say whether the ODD has worsened with Prozac or Concerta, but those are definitely possible culprits if it has. Every medication affects everyone differently, so don’t give up. The overwhelming majority of people find some medication support. It provides the base on which good parenting can happen. But providing good parenting with a child who’s completely emotionally dysregulated and has little executive function is like trying to build a beautiful home on quicksand.

I would also try Russell Barkley’s book, Your Defiant Child. He argues that kids with ADHD need IMMEDIATE rewards and punishments, because their condition makes them unable to respond to other incentives. I’m not the kind of person who thinks we should manipulate children into behaving through carrots and sticks– rather than persuading them through reasoning and compromise and discussion–but Barkley has convinced me that ADHD kids will develop ODD, like mine did, if they don’t have that kind of conditioning. He has a whole program that a good ADHD therapist should be able to help you implement.

You’re in a tough spot. Unless your child is a heartless person with no empathy or love, then this is all pretty distressing for him too. He’s surely getting plenty of really bad feelings as a consequence of his behavior and negative messages every day. Like Ross Greene says, kids who can do better, do better. Deep down, your son wants to please you and be a boy who everyone likes and is proud of. He just can’t get it together to do that right now. His brain isn’t working right for him.

Having sustained compassion for a kid who’s this challenging is hard — I know from experience! But Russell Barkley’s ADHD videos on Youtube are a good place to start before your copy of Your Defiant Child arrives, you find a therapist who can work the book with you, and you get your son on some medications that help him better regulate himself. I never thought my son would turn around, as we were trying everything and failing everything, so please keep hope and keep trying.