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A Letter to the Parent of an ODD Child (Plus Everything You Wanted to Know About ODD)

Dear Mom (or Dad),

Take a breath. Or two. Deep ones.

Okay, one more. In and out. Slowly.

I know it's extremely tough to deal with your ODD child, day in and day out.

Sometimes an hour feels more like a week.

Sometimes you look at your child and wonder how you're both going to survive until they're 18.

Sometimes you look at the door and wonder how far you could get before anyone would notice you're gone.

Would it be worth it, running away and getting a few hours of sanity? Maybe.

Some days are great, and they almost make the bad days manageable. Almost.

The really bad days, though, nothing can make those better. The really bad days come straight from Hell.

The really bad days don't care if you're sick, if you have cancer, if you literally can't handle one. more. verbal assault from your child.

Your child, the one you carried for 9 months and have loved unconditionally, who will stare you dead in the face and say “I hate you”. And trust me, they mean it in that moment.

You'll think, “right back at ya”, and then you'll feel guilty… because who hates their child, even for a second? Even when they're throwing chairs? Even when they're hurling awful insults… who hates their child?

They don't discriminate; bad days are going to show up regardless of what you have going on in your life.

All you can do is breathe, and know you're not alone.

There are others out there going through exactly what you're going through.

I'm right here, struggling alongside you. Trying to breathe, trying to hold my head above water.

You've got this, even when it feels like you don't.


A Momma with an ODD Child

*This post was originally posted on Smiley's Bunch. Since then, I've combined both blogs. :)*

angry child, text reads "dear parents of an O.D.D. child", two photo collage of happy mom and daughter

What is ODD and What Causes It?

When I asked what caused ODD, because two of my children have it, my brother has it, and I most likely do too, the psychiatrist said it's mostly genetics. At the same time, environment can be a huge factor in ODD. Lack of supervision, inconsistent discipline, or abuse or neglect can contribute to a child displaying ODD symptoms.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a childhood disorder that is defined by a pattern of hostile, disobedient, and defiant behaviors directed at adults or other authority figures. ODD is also characterized by children displaying angry and irritable moods, as well as argumentative and vindictive behaviors.

While all children will display some type of defiant behavior throughout their growing years, children suffering from ODD will display such behaviors much more commonly than that of any other type of behaviors.

For these kids, it can seem like nothing can be done to make them happy. These children will not only do things to purposely cause conflict or to purposely annoy the people around them, but they will oftentimes place the blame on others. (Source)

ODD is one of the most common behavioral disorders in children, so don't feel like you're alone when you're struggling to figure out how to handle your ODD child. You are not alone!

ODD is more prevalent in pre-pubescent boys than girls, but after puberty hits, all bets are off and the number become close to equal in both genders.

To make things more complicated, girls and boys display ODD symptoms differently. The good news is, though, that most counselors and psychiatrists agree on this statistic: nearly 70% of children previously struggling with ODD outgrow the symptoms by age 18 with proper treatment.

Many people will see your ODD child and think their behavior is a result of poor parenting. In some cases, this can be true, but in most cases, it's not.

Signs of ODD

Symptoms of ODD include “typical” teen behaviors that may be infrequent in typical teens but daily or almost daily in your ODD child. Sometimes it's difficult to recognize the difference between your child being strong-willed, or having oppositional defiant disorder. In fact, it's normal to exhibit defiant behaviors at times.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists criteria for diagnosing ODD. The DSM-5 criteria include emotional and behavioral symptoms that last at least six months.

Sometimes behaviors display only at home, or only at school. Sometimes they will show up at home sooner than they do at school, or the opposite may be true. There are so many variables, it can be frustrating!

Two of my children have ODD and their symptoms showed up in school far before they showed up at home. Having children at home that have near perfect behavior and then getting notes about them acting completely differently at school was a struggle for me!

If you have a child with ODD, you may have a child that is angry and irritable often, easily loses their temper, is frequently touchy, always seemed annoyed, and/or is often angry.

They may be argumentative and defiant to everyone, or just certain people (usually people in authority). Your ODD child may flat out refuse to comply with requests, and blame others for their misbehavior.

Triggers of ODD

Knowing your ODD child's triggers is crucial to survival for both of you! Each child has different triggers, but if you take note of what they eat and drink, or what's going on before they have one of their meltdowns, it can help a ton.

You may not be able to get an answer if you ask your child how they are feeling in the moment during a meltdown, so it's crucial to track what happened before the meltdown to get to the bottom of it.

Ways to Track ODD Triggers

  • If you are a bullet journaler, you can make a page in your bullet journal to track your child's triggers.
  • Create a chart for your child that has different faces and emotions on it. Have them circle the faces and/or emotions they're feeling in the morning, after lunch, and before bedtime. Helping your child stay aware of their feelings can help prevent meltdowns.
  • Download my free PDF for tracking ODD triggers.

Sapphire's triggers include:

  • sugary foods
  • dyes (red and yellow)
  • feeling tired (she knows being tired turns into a headache, this annoys and frustrates her)
  • headaches (they turn to migraines if she doesn't get sleep and she is VERY angry during this time)
  • being told “no” directly (we rephrase sentences to make them as positive as possible)
  • feeling like she is not being listened to (if I need a break I tell her I will listen later)

Your ODD child may have far different triggers. Track what they eat, how much they sleep, and what's going on each day so you can tell what helps them do better and what sets them off.

Rewording things and having a smile on my face really helps with Sapphire. If I use a “nice” voice, she is more likely to listen to me.

Don't walk on eggshells; that's no way to live your life, but changing the inflection in your voice or the way you say things can help you both.

How to Use My ODD Tracker

odd tracker download

Click here to download my printable ODD tracker. This tracker is simple. It has four sections:

  • Food and drink: what has your child consumed today? Everything they eat and drink should be tracked until you find their triggers.
  • Events: what has happened today? Was it a long day with several errands? Was family in town visiting, possibly overstimulating your ODD child?
  • Parent's feelings: have you been stressed about something unrelated to your child? Can they tell? Are you anxious about something? Did you have a rough day at work? Feeling sick, needing a break? Identifying your feelings can help just as much as identifying theirs.
  • Child's feelings: The feelings listed here are negative feelings, so I don't give Sapphire this paper – I fill it out for ME. I am working on more printables with all feelings/emotions so the kiddos can choose which ones they are feeling (even on good days).
  • Use a notebook or bullet journal to track all of your child's food and drink. Use the printable tracker for meltdown days.

Treatments for ODD

The best (just kidding…) worst part about ODD? There's no one-size-fits-all treatment. You can't just have your child take a pill and expect them to magically stop being ODD. It doesn't work that way. Most of dealing with ODD has to do with behavioral therapy. My daughter, Sapphire, has a counselor, a behavior coach, and a case manager that helps us navigate through everything.

There's no guaranteed way to prevent ODD. However, positive parenting and early treatment can help improve behavior and prevent the situation from getting worse. Behavior therapy and counseling can help restore your child's self-esteem and rebuild a positive relationship between you and your child.

Behavior management is hard to do and it doesn’t always work, but getting everyone on the same page is important. This means all parents and step-parents, grandparents, teachers (have a 504 or IEP meeting if necessary), principals, anyone who interacts with your child on a regular basis MUST be aware of the behavior therapy and on board with it.

If you haven't taken a Love and Logic class, it's time. These classes are offered for free and are SO HELPFUL. The class didn't even really teach me about my child so much as about myself.

I learned how to handle situations in a calm way so I could prevent the absolute meltdowns (as much as possible). Does it work ALL of the time? No. Because sometimes I just don't have it in me to be nice, and sometimes she just doesn't have it in her to behave. It is what it is, but minimizing bad days is the goal.

What Helps My ODD Child

  • minimize sugar intake (this includes breads, etc)
  • avoid confrontations: DO NOT ENGAGE … this one is so tough for me
  • avoid physical punishment (spanking ODD children does NOT help)
  • no red or yellow dye (it's a thing, trust me)
  • plenty of physical activity (we go to the gym daily)
  • spending time with other trusted adults (she spends time with her behavior coach, as my family is not trustworthy)
  • offer options – do not back them into a corner or try and “force” them to do something: “Would you rather put your shoes on first or your coat? Your choice! Hurry!” (make it a game if they're in a decent mood)
  • the right vitamins (Sapphire takes selenium, methylfolate, and vitamins B and vitamin D; also, magnesium at bedtime – check with your naturopath or chiropractor before starting a regimen)
  • calming music, scents, and environment (we keep her bedroom VERY minimalistic – when it's filled with toys or anything else she seems to get anxious)

Books to Read About Oppositional Defiant Disorder

The more you learn, the better you will understand your child and how to react to them. Find these books at your library, on Kindle, or as paperback… whatever you prefer. Oftentimes, ODD will present alongside other behavior or mental disorders. Because of this, I'm recommending books I've found helpful even though some are about BPD, ADHD, etc.

If your library does not have these books and they are not in the budget for you, ask them to order some of them. I recommend I Hate You; Don't Leave Me and The Explosive Child. Also, budgeting for one of the workbooks will be worth it!

Before you leave…

Don't forget to download the free tracker above. 🙂


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