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Setting Boundaries & Establishing Consistency

Welcome to this Journey through O.D.D. (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). This article is part 4 of a series. If you have not read part 1, part2, part 3 – I urge you to do so if you are searching for help on this subject. If you’ve read along with me already, I want to welcome you into the fourth and fifth weeks of our journey and Knight’s recovery.

In our fourth week together, we were continuing to work on our previous plan of action: maintaining open dialog, pointing out annoying behaviors, bringing lies to Knight’s attention and being open to accepting responsibility for his actions and words. Knight was giving us signs that he was feeling overwhelmed with just these three items, so during week 4 we gave him a rest from adding more to the plan. We continued to focus on just the first three maintaining consistency.

More Open Dialog

Week 5 rolled around and our open dialog was giving me more insight into Knight’s personality & reasoning behind some of his actions (defiance). He spoke to me about his earlier school experiences & earlier life living in a large city. When he moved in with us, his environment changed significantly. We lived in a mid-sized city rental home & would be moving soon back to the home we owned in the country – within the year. He spoke of the differences in people here & how people reacted to him there. He seemed to like it here. This led to him reviewing his earlier school experiences with me.

I had a good understanding already from his transcripts, but his opinions were valuable to help me help him. He said everyone at his old school disliked him (especially the teachers). He failed many of his subjects through the years & was involved in many physical fights. He proudly explained to me that his mother had always “taken care of that for him”. He said she would go to the school and have a fit with the teachers & principle so he would be moved to the next grade. He was proud of his mother for “taking up for him”. He said she always “got him out of trouble” and once even had his juvenile record cleared so that no one could hold it against him. He felt as though she had “connections” and he could do anything he wanted to really.

I did not rebuttal anything he said or offer any comments. I just let him talk. In my mind however, I wondered why she would do that for him in a public setting when I was told by her that his physical altercations at home resulted in declaring that she “couldn’t handle him any longer”.  I am not judging her by no means. I was simply left wondering.  Knight had very bad school transcripts, a history of failing classes, provoking others to fights, threatening the safety of others while in school, in school and out of school suspensions, and many school initiated psychological reviews. His previous 2 schools had him on an IEP (Independent Education Program) and had marked him as *special needs* because of his behavior. I, however, did not see him as *special. I felt like that was a cop-out instead of addressing his real issue of O.D.D. They had him in classes for developmentally delayed children and he was/is by no means delayed! I set a boundary.

Getting Ready for a New School

I explained to Knight that I did not see him as *special needs. I told him I loved him & would do everything I could to help him, but I would not take up for him to get him out of trouble if he in fact, was guilty. I explained to him the new school I would be enrolling him in was a public school that has a zero tolerance policy for his previous types of behaviors. He said, “whatever”.  I accepted his whatever as a sign of understanding. I knew he heard and  understood what I told him. I also told him that the new school would probably not place him on an easy IEP. His father had said he was going to go to school and ask that one be created, but I knew from experience that the new school treated all children equally. They would test him and decide he was not truly *special. I was grateful I had an entire summer to work with him before he entered into the new school.

Altercations, Defiance & Random Outburst

By week five, I saw several physical altercation attempts between he and his father & a few between he and my boys. None of which were provoked by any reason of means – they just occurred as randomly as part of his need to annoy others.  Here, in random order, is an account of a few:

  • Knight’s father returns home from work. Knight is sitting on the couch playing his Xbox. His father says, “Hey Knight. How was your day?” Knight doesn’t answer. He is ignoring his father. Walking closer to his son, his father asks again. Knight angrily puts down game controller down huffing a loud sigh of disgust. “FINE”, he yells. “It was FINE, OKAY? OH MY GOD!” Not once did he look at his father. He returned to playing his game.  Knight’s father begins to yell back at him about respect, working all day and being happy to come home to him and receiving that reaction from him. (I’ll add that to the list of what didn’t work later.) Knight gets up from the couch. (1)Throws his controller down and wants to escape his father. Knight likes being oppositional and defiant, but detest anyone treating him that way. Knight goes into his bedroom and (2)slams the door. His father follows him. More yelling on both parts.  😦    After all yelling has ceased, both of them are separated. Knight begins (3)kicking and punching the closet door. The door comes out of its track. Falling, it slams into the back wall of the closet.

After about an hour, Knight came to me and asked me to help him.

 He was full of anger and resentment toward his father.

I told him I loved him but that I couldn’t and wouldn’t live in a home with violence. Violence is not love and will never resolve anything. He explained to me that a therapist his mother took him to advised him to destroy things instead of  people when he was mad. He could not see why slamming doors, punching walls, and throwing things was not acceptable. I explained to him that the therapist that told him that was probably correct when Knight was a younger child, but because he is a teenager now (almost a man), he needed to express himself verbally and not with his hands. We had a lengthy conversation about how physical altercations instill fear in people. He said that he felt it was a way of gaining respect. (He was consumed by “respect” yet showed no respect to anyone or anything.) I told him he was gaining my respect until he used his hands to physically display his anger or frustration. I also told him that if he crossed the line at any point with his aggression – he was out. HE asked me what is punishment was going to be. I answered, “I am taking the power cord to your Xbox for 3 days. You can sit on the couch and stare at it, but you can’t make it function for you. I am also taking your phone. I love you and you know I do, but I can’t help you if you don’t try”. He cried. He agreed to keep trying . He apologized to his father, his new brothers, and I. He began working on (and still is working toward) keeping his new promise of limiting or eliminating his physical aggression.

  • On another day, Knight and his new brother’s were hanging out in their room. As mentioned before the place we were living in was a mid-sized city home at the time. They all 3 teenage boys shared a bedroom. I am in my bedroom and it is late. Our rooms share a dividing wall and I hear cussing and foul language through the wall. I don’t know what or who started it.  I also hear, “Dude if you ever ___ I will stab you!” and “You wanna be shanked, dude?”

Threats are not tolerable. When picking battles, this is a one I chose. I quickly removed all knives and sharp objects from the house and locked them up, as though I was child-proofing for a toddler. I called Knight out on the threats. He denied them over and over. We spoke about accepting responsibility for actions and words we speak as I reminded him I heard them with my own ears. He continued to deny his threats. I told him I was disappointed in him. He had just gained his Xbox back and had played it earlier in the day. I took the power cord again. I took his phone and Wi-Fi from him. (He was very upset about that.) He lost these things for 3 days. To get them back he would need to show good behaviors for 3 days consistently.  His father spoke to him (actually more like lectured him) and in the end he promised to stop the threats…or at least try to. My boys came to me and told me they were worried for their safety. I expressed this to Knight’s father and he spoke yet again with Knight. He re-enforced that threats would not be tolerated. Knight was afraid of being shipped off to a disciplinary school and told me he liked living with us. He promised repetitively to end all threats and he made it almost 4 months before another threat slipped off his tongue. This has and still was a work in progress. 🙂

  • We were all sitting around the dinner table having supper. During conversation the subject of my boys’ deceased father was brought up. When the boys felt secure in the company they kept, they would mention him and want to talk about memories. They were becoming more comfortable with Knight. They mentioned how they missed their father and loved him. Knight (who was in a particularly defiant mood that day) began to laugh loudly. 😦 He said “HA!  Death is funny!” I stopped eating and said, “Death is not funny Knight. Haven’t you ever lost someone who you loved before?” He replied, “Yeah, so!?! I don’t care. Death is Funny. Who Cares anyway? It’s stupid.” Knight’s comments were angering my boys who were recovering from PTSD caused by watching their father die – literally. They loved their father and grieved deeply for a long time during their recovery. 😦  I glanced at my boys to reassure them that this was just one of Knight’s attempt to annoy, defy them, and cause dramatic confusion. My reassuring look was not working. Both boys were filled with anger. My oldest stood up and told Knight “he’d better watch what he said or he wouldn’t be responsible for what could happen if he was enraged”.  Knight had fear in his eyes and I could tell he regretted what he had said, but through defiance – couldn’t bring himself to take it back or apologize. I stood up and announced dinner was over. I sent my oldest son to his room to cool down. I told him I’d be in to talk to him soon. My youngest who was giving Knight a look of total disdain was sent to the bedroom also. Knight jumped up from the table and yelled, “Do it man! Come on. Hit me. I dare you.” He knocked over the chair he was sitting in and said, “I don’t need this. I don’t need you. I’m running away!” He did. He ran out the front door. I went to the boys in their bedroom who were crying. I hugged them, reassured them they are entitled to miss their father and reminded them that Knight is still testing his limits with us. I asked them to bear with me because I was not giving Knight what he wanted. He would not provoke a response from me. I was not giving in or giving up. They told me they loved me. Then, I went out to search for Knight. I didn’t see him in the neighborhood. I drove to the ball field. I didn’t see him. It was getting dark. I called Knight’s mother. She said she would speak with Knight. I called Knight’s father. He said he would speak to Knight and not to worry about it, advising me Knight would be back very soon – he wouldn’t go far.  😦

Knight’s father was correct. He came back within the hour. He knocked on my bedroom door and apologized for his outburst. He said he didn’t know what made him do it or why he had said what he did. I told me he was jealous of my boys’ love for one another and their relationship. He told me he was jealous of how everyone loved each other in our family and that he wanted that. I reminded him that I loved him and that I had already welcomed him into our family. The invitation had been given and he had a choice to take it or not. He said he felt as though he was being treated differently. I promised him that he would be treated equal and reminded him that included following the same rules and requests that the other boys followed daily. Knight’s father lectured him for his actions. Knight’s mother lectured him for his actions. I continued to love him in spite of his actions, so I punished him…again.

Consistency: 3 days of No Phone, No Wi-Fi, No computer, his Xbox was available (all cords this time) – but with No controller, No more outings with me (which he enjoyed), & he had to spend 2 days with his father. He assumed these things were all punishments, but really it was a re-connection time for he and his father.

There is Hope

Of course there have been many other outburst and acts of aggression than these alone. There is no need to write about all of them. The point of this article is to give hope to those parents out there who may be dealing with a child or teen who exhibits O.D.D symptoms and behaviors. We have lived through them all. Encountered them all. Survived them all. Hope comes from knowing that these types of actions and behaviors only very rarely occur now (a year later).

The key for us during this stage (only 5 weeks into Oppositional Defiance Disorder) had been:

  1. Maintaining open dialog
  2. Pointing out annoying behaviors
  3. Bringing lies to Knight’s attention (Taking Ownership of his Words & Actions)
  4. Structure in his daily life
  5. Consistency in discipline

Please stay tuned for Part 5 to come soon.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder – It’s Someone Else’s Fault

Part 3 (If you need to catch up,  you can read part 2 and part 1 in this series.)

Let’s Build Something

Please keep in mind that working with a child that has ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) is like building a pyramid. While you are laying a foundation, you must keep working on the original cornerstone pieces as you continue to move forward – continuing to work on the next piece. If you neglect one of the cornerstones you’ve laid out before, your entire structure will tumble-down.  So remember as you read through these articles that each week we added 1 new item to work on as we continued to work on the previous things.

Three weeks into this new ODD journey, We had addressed open dialog and bringing annoying behaviors to Knight’s attention in a constructive way so we didn’t sound like we were all against him. On our third week we met an old friend, “Someone Else”.

Someone Else Did It!

No one in our house likes “Someone Else”. “Someone Else” was the most annoying member of the entire family unit. “Someone Else” kept adjusting the thermostat on the heating/air unit. He was always causing drama, defying the rules, and challenging authority. “Someone Else” was a huge nuisance! He was always making messes that everyone else was blamed for. 😦

Taking ownership of our actions and telling the truth are basic fundamentals that we teach our children soon after they begin toddling around and speaking. As parents we emphasis this more so once our children begin to intermingle with other children (Daycare, Pre-School or Kindergarten). It’s a continual thing that we all work on and hope we succeed at once our children have become adults.  I would be a hypocrite if I claimed that my boys were perfect at this when Knight came to live with us. They have and always will be (like everyone else’s children) a work in progress.

Children/teenagers with ODD have an exceptional case of  “Someone Else” though. They deny ownership of issues and actions so much that their reality becomes their lies and denial. After a time, they don’t realize their own lies. It becomes second nature and they incorporate it into who they are (their identity).

I spoke to Knight about the lies I noticed him telling. He denied them. He denied everything he did, everything he said, and everything he was caught in the act of doing. His responses were, “I didn’t do it. Someone else did.” 😦   He lied because he said he thought it was funny. He said he lied to be cool, to be accepted, to make himself feel better, and to annoy people. He said he lied so much even he was unsure how to stop. I offered to bring his lies to his attention as he was in the act of doing so, if it would help. He agreed. Once again, I found myself in a position where I was going to have to call out a negative trait to bring his denial into reality for Knight.

I wanted positivity to focus on though, so I had to search pretty hard. I prayed about it and the Lord planted the answer in my heart. I knew I had to pick my battles and not overwhelm him, but I had forgotten how awesome celebrating small feats with verbal rewards could be! Picking my battles meant that I could not expect him to follow the house rules just yet and I had to look the other way in many situations. My only exception to this was in the event of harmful or abusive threats or behaviors. Those I had to stop immediately. As for the putting the lid back on the toothpaste – that would wait. We celebrated an avoided argument, a door being shut instead of slammed, laughter & smiles, admitting faults, or owning up to truths, talking to his mother on the phone without yelling, speaking to his father without running away or raising his hands to hit. (I’m not saying these things didn’t happen. I am just saying that when a day went by without them happening – we celebrated ) 🙂

Make Every Day a Good Day

Every day we had, no matter how bad it began or ended was “A Good Day”. A good day for a child/teen with ODD may look like the worst possible day for any other child, but if you don’t celebrate even the smallest accomplishments, progress could begin to slide backwards. At the end of the day, I would congratulate Knight on a job well done and tell him it was a good day. At first, he looked at me puzzled (because he was becoming more aware of his behavior and lies). I would tell him that everyday is a good day because I won’t give up on you and you are trying 🙂 The first few days he heard this, he blew me off and went to bed thinking I was crazy. After the first week of hearing this, he began to believe it with me. He also began to look forward to hearing it before bedtime.

On the third week, I purposefully neglected to tell him it was a good day. He came to me and asked me if it was a good day. I answered: Yes honey, everyday is a good day… and he finished my sentence “as long as I try?”  🙂

Believe it or not he was getting better – still very very difficult to live with and be around, but he was healing!

So at this point, I had three major things I was focusing on:

  • Maintaining open dialog
  • Pointing out annoying behaviors
  • Bringing lies to Knight’s attention

To maintain fairness, I shared my plans with my other two boys so they would not feel as though they were being treated unfairly. They know me and their limits and I wanted them to be involved in Knight’s progress plan also. I never shared explicit details, just the basics and kept the conversations Knight and I had only between him, his father and I. My boys were happy to be included because they were feeling they were being treated unfairly.

If you have other children in the home, I would suggest sharing your progress plans with them also (if you feel it appropriate) so your family can grow stronger during this process and not drift apart.

O.D.D. at First Glance

Part 2

O.D.D. at First Glance

For the sake of this subject, I will name the child in question “Knight” for no other reason than I am not using his real name and I am terrible at making up random names.

History

When Knight came to live with us he was already a teenager exhibiting ODD behaviors for a lengthy time (period of years) and was 14 years old. We were told many horror stories from parents, others who knew him, school records, psychological reviews, and from Knight himself. He was being medicated for ADHD although this medication was not seemingly working its magic. His past included theft, habitual lying or truth stretching and was out of touch with reality. He had been to juvenile, participated in many fights at school and in public. He showed complete and total defiance to all authority figures, had trouble making friends and  trouble maintaining established friendships. He had a history of  school suspensions, random outburst, purposely annoying others, threats and acts of violence against others and to himself, hitting or hurting his siblings and parents, failing grades, drug usage, and he was a gang member wannabe.

People he had lived with had made statements like, “I just can’t handle him any more!”.

Open Dialog

Knight moved in with us and we began to merge him into our family. I spent many hours with him one-on-one talking to him about his life and what he wanted for his future during the first two weeks. He was very open and verbal. *In fact, he seemed to enjoy being heard and voicing his own personal concerns, opinions, and thoughts. I emphasized to him that his opinions matter and count toward decision-making, but that my decisions would ultimately trump his if I felt something was not in his best interest. 

When we began to have our conversations, he lied to me about some parts of his past and present. After several more talks though, he began to open up, confess and share with me the real him. Once our open dialog protocol was established (over a 2 week period), we agreed that he should not hide anything from me or else I could not help him. He agreed and has kept this agreement to date (a year later).

Loud Outburst and Annoying Others

We stopped Knight’s ADHD medication. He was not taking it regularly anyway and it was causing his heart to flutter and increased his natural anxiety. Teachers typically recommend against this because they assume that the medication “helps” (and in some children it does). But Knight’s condition was not so much ADHD – this child could, did, and does pay attention. He was/is hyper to the extreme though and enjoyed using his energy to annoy people. He openly admitted that he enjoyed annoying people.

Knight’s first few weeks with us were trying on our nerves as we all needed to adjust to his hyper tendencies. Once he picked on the fact that his hyper actions drove some in the house batty, he played on this weakness. I had talks with my other children about how to react to Knight’s behaviors and expressed that we were to all focus on giving Knight positive attention instead.  I ask them to follow my lead in ignoring the outburst, going on about their business, or changing their location if possible (leaving the room). This provided to be difficult because their ages were so close and my boys were feeling as though I would allow Knight to get away with things they were not allowed to do – ever. After a bit of practice on the boys parts, they were able to follow my instructions with Knight’s negative behavior. They simply had to change their mindset.

Example: Knight is on the couch playing Xbox with one of his new brothers and randomly starts pausing the game at important parts when his new brother is about to achieve success on a mission. Knight’s new brother waits until the game is resumed and then begins to play again. This pause/resume of the game continues throughout a 5 minute time frame about 20 times. Knight’s new brother is frustrated. He sets his controller down and walks away. Knight screams COME BACK and play with me NOW.  His new brother says, “You’re annoying me. There’s something else I’d rather do. You can play alone.” Knight is now upset and confused. He comes to talk to me about it. I explain to him I understand how he and his new brother both feel. I also told him that bringing annoying behavior to his attention should help understand why people were wanting to avoid him. Last I explained that if he wants to make lasting friendships, he will need to figure out a way to channel his hyper energy in ways that do not annoy people.

Example: Knight would walk through the house at different times of the day randomly yelling as loud and shrill as he could.  I spoke with Knight about these random outburst and explained that he was giving everyone a headache. This went on for a couple of months. Outburst changed from a shrill screeching to random words.  We all ignored this behavior and made a huge deal/celebration daily about Knight being able to share his Xbox and game play with his new brothers.

So, in just 3 short weeks we had made progress. We celebrated the accomplishments daily (and we still do) to re-enforce Knight’s awesome traits and the great person he has and is becoming!

I will write more soon about our next steps we took on this ODD journey and what worked – and what backfired!

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