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Parenting ODD Children: How to Make Consequences Work

by Kim Abraham LMSW and Marney Studaker-Cordner LMSW
Does it ever seem as if you’ve tried every parenting approach out there, only to find that nothing works with your child? Kids who exhibit behaviors of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can leave you feeling confused, frustrated, angry and disappointed. It often seems like nothing matters to them, which can make it hard for you to know how to respond to their behavior and what consequences to give. Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner are child and family therapists who have worked with parents of kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder for 20 years—and Kim is also the parent of an adult child with ODD. They’re also the creators of The ODD Lifeline, a new program that offers real help and hope to parents of children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
"To test the effectiveness of the Fail-Proof Consequence, ask yourself, 'Will I be able to follow through with this in the face of my child's potential out-right defiance and refusal to comply?'”
Parenting an ODD Child—Not Your “Typical” Kid
Kids who are oppositional and defiant are not your “typical” kids. They behave in ways that scream “I don’t care what you want me to do” and truly have little (or no) regard for what their parents or society expect of them. Typical kids know there’s a line you just don’t cross and—except for testing limits sometimes—they generally follow your rules and respond to consequences. ODD kids break the rules on a daily basis. It can wear a parent down to the point of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Related: How to parent an ODD child or teen effectively.
ODD kids also thrive on the chaos that comes from the battles you have over control. Sometimes they’ll even create those situations out of the blue. Maybe they’re bored, irritable or having a bad day. Pushing a parent’s emotional buttons can be entertaining and gives the child a sense of power and control. When you—as a parent—experience this on a regular basis, you start to question yourself: “Am I doing something wrong? Is this my fault?” It leaves you feeling vulnerable, guilty, embarrassed and ashamed. It feels like you’re being judged by others—and, in fact, parents of ODD kids are often judged harshly by society. It feels very lonely.
“Consequences Just Don’t Work with My ODD Child!”
Why does it seem like consequences aren’t working with your oppositional, defiant child? Probably because you’re using consequences you would give a typical child. We usually expect a child will respond to consequences—loss of privileges or losing a parent’s trust—in a way that makes him uncomfortable, which will lead the child to changing his behavior. The problem is, ODD kids will stand there while parents are addressing an issue or concern, and the look on the child’s face says it all: “I don’t care.” Sometimes they’ll come right out and tell you they don’t care! Reactions like that can leave you feeling frustrated, furious and desperate to influence your child in some way. When emotions come into play, any logical approach to consequences goes right out the window. It becomes a control battle—and ODD kids are masters at the game of winning a tug of war.
Related: Does your child argue, threaten and act out to get what he wants?
Also, a typical child will allow you—as a parent—to have some type of control over their behavior. If you ground them, they’ll stay home. ODD kids will climb out the bedroom window five minutes after you’ve grounded them. Typical kids will change their behavior because they are uncomfortable with a consequence and don’t want to experience it again. An ODD child may indeed feel uncomfortable but is committed to digging in his heels as part of the power struggle. He will look for ways to get around the consequence—and ODD kids are often very bright and creative when it comes to this. One mom we know told us, “You know, my daughter would make an excellent lawyer someday—she can argue about anything!”
A Different Approach: “Fail-Proof Consequences”
In our work with ODD kids and their parents, we use something called “Fail-Proof Consequences.” These are consequences that are effective with oppositional defiant kids because full control over the consequence rests with you, the parent. Much of our work involves showing parents exactly how to use this type of consequence.
If your child has any control over the potential consequence at all, it’s not fail-proof. For example, if you tell your child he can’t use the internet, do you have complete control over that? Not really. Your child can always surf the web while you’re asleep or at work or even in the same room. ODD kids are brave and bold and think nothing of flaunting your consequence in your face, something a typical kid isn’t likely to do. Now, if you suspend the internet service for a few days or weeks, do you have complete control over that? Yes. You pay the bill and your child can’t get it turned back on without your permission. It may mean you can’t use the internet at home, but you still have ultimate control over that consequence. You may decide to get Wi-Fi access through your phone so your own life isn’t disrupted. Understand that if it’s not a consequence you can live through, it’s not fail-proof. Your child may try to get around the consequence by going online at a friend’s house or somewhere else, but your consequence—that he isn’t allowed to use the internet at home—stands firm.
Related: Learn about Consequences that work for ODD kids
Another example of a typical consequence parents often use is grounding a teen from the phone. Is it fail-proof? Again, not really. Your child can always sneak and use it when you’re not looking. On the other hand, if your child has a cell phone and you suspend service, is that fail-proof? Yes. You pay the bill and have complete control over the service. Your child may still have the phone, but he’s not able to talk or text on it. Could he get a track phone from somewhere else? Yes. But you have complete control over whether or not you’re paying for his phone. The consequence of shutting off the phone is fail-proof.
To test the effectiveness of the Fail-Proof Consequence, ask yourself, “Will I be able to follow through with this in the face of my child’s potential out-right defiance and refusal to comply?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have complete control over the consequence.
A Different Way of Thinking about Consequences
As adults, we tend to think of consequences as something that will change someone’s behavior—in this case our child. We believe consequences should go hand-in-hand with changing your child’s behavior. But that’s not always the case, with kids or with adults. Just because someone experiences a consequence doesn’t necessarily mean they will change their behavior. Otherwise, everyone would drive the speed limit once they received one ticket. Also, your ODD child may act like he doesn’t care but that’s not always the case. He’s not likely to thank you for giving him a consequence and he may not change his behavior. But by consistently giving and sticking to fail-proof consequences, you’ve done what you can as a parent. You’re teaching your child that when he or she does A, then B will follow. Our job is to prepare our kids for the real world. In the real world, there are consequences.
Is It ODD or Conduct Disorder?
You may be reading this and thinking, “Yeah, but even fail-proof consequences won’t work with my kid. My child is aggressive and destroys my property. He steals from me and uses drugs.” In those cases, you probably have a teen who has moved beyond ODD and into Conduct Disorder. In these cases, kids violate the rights of others and your fail-proof consequences will likely need to involve the police or the legal system. Parents often become frustrated dealing with those systems but there are some tips and techniques for ways to get the police or court to listen to you. We’ll talk more about Conduct Disorder in future articles in Empowering Parents, so please keep checking your inbox and this website for more information.
Related: How to deal with a teen who's moved from ODD into Conduct Disorder
The Strengths of an ODD Child
Each of us has a journey in this life—to decide who we are and what we want to be. Oppositional Defiant kids have existed since the beginning of time–they’re our rebels. They bring about changes in society because they simply will not accept the status quo. We need our rebels. They make us think—about who we are, ourselves—and they offer us many, many opportunities for our own personal growth. They possess strengths like determination, a strong will and the courage to be different. Many of our entertainers, inventors and successful citizens were oppositional growing up. Steve Jobs, creator of what would eventually become Apple and James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation, were both ODD and went on to impact the lives of others. If everyone was the same—what a boring world this would be.
When you’re the parent of an ODD child, it’s not easy. ODD kids challenge you and they don’t respond to the same kinds of parenting techniques that work with other kids. We’re here to offer you some new techniques that work, so you can hold your child accountable for his behavior and prepare him for the real world. We’ll be talking about techniques that really do work when raising an ODD kid in many future articles in Empowering Parents, so please keep reading—and don’t give up hope. We know what you’re going through and we can help you survive!


When Your Young Child Has Surgery

Last year, both of my sons E and M had to go in for different surgeries. Both were ear-related. E received a cochlear implant while M just had ear tubes and an apenoidectomy. The former surgery was more intense and serious than the latter, but both made me equally nervous. Since I know firsthand how nerve-wracking it is to see your child go “under the knife,” I wanted to write a post to help other parents who are worried about putting their kids through surgery.
My son E had already gone through ear tube surgery when he was about 2 ½. That experience helped my husband and I create a plan for future surgeries. We realized which of us can truly handle being in the OR with him for the anesthesia. (Me.) Thankfully, that surgery went smoothly for him, even if not for us! Since the cochlear implant surgery he had earlier this year was more serious, we were on edge while waiting for him to be delivered to the recovery room. We had been warned about a meningitis risk right before the surgery, so that added to our anxiety. While we waited, we talked to another woman whose son had the same surgery done by the same ENT. She raved about how he was the best in the country and that helped us feel more at ease. After E came out of the surgery, the first day was shaky for everyone. He was in pain and the antibiotics didn’t sit right with him, causing him to vomit a few times. He was fine by the next day and thereafter. Of course, removing the bandage and cleaning the wound wasn’t much fun for either him or me.
After surviving E’s big surgery, M’s minor surgery seemed like it should have been much easier. However, we were still quite nervous about his adenoidectomy since E had never had an operation before. Other parents have reassured us that it was a good surgery to receive and that it would help him in the long run. I had read about the risks, which worried me initially. The surgical center we went to was really nice and kid-friendly. They even had a book with pictures of a stuffed monkey that children could look at so that they wouldn’t be scared. M could have cared less about the book, though. The only difficult moment was preparing for him to be put out. He wasn’t allowed to eat or drink that morning and was really upset about being hungry. He also was not a fan of the gas mask that was used to put him under. Luckily, his surgery was successful and he had an easier time coming out of it than we  expected.
With both surgeries, I was the one in the OR with the boys before they were put under. I was relieved that they received local anesthesia first and then had an IV put in after they were asleep when I had already left the room. I couldn’t bear to watch the doctors put an IV needle in either of my boys, whether they were awake or asleep. Also, they both received popsicles after their surgeries, which they were thrilled about.
If your child has to have surgery, either major or minor, be sure to do the following:
1. Talk to other families who have gone through the same surgery, especially with the same doctor.
2. Know the risks but don’t obsess over them. Just follow the precautionary measures that the doctor recommends and don’t be afraid to call the doctor for anything that seems out of the ordinary to you.
3. Prepare your children in an age-appropriate manner — not to scare them, but to let them know what’s happening so  they’re not completely surprised. This is not a trip to the amusement park!
4. Know which parent can handle seeing their kid get put under anesthesia without passing out themselves. That parent should be the one who goes in every time.
5. Give your children lots of TLC and time to recover afterward. And keep popsicles nearby!
Melissa A. and her husband  have 2 young sons, E and M, and a new baby daughter. Melissa’s son E has hearing loss and wears a cochlear implant. Melissa works as an administrative assistant for a non-profit and also runs a bullying prevention group and a book-related fan group, in addition to blogging for Empowering Parents. You can check out Melissa’s personal blog here.

I'll Do It Later!"6 Ways to Get Kids to Do Chores Now

by James Lehman, MSW
Getting kids to do chores is one of the most common arguments families have. Who can’t relate to this picture? You’re yelling, “Why haven’t you cleaned your room yet?” while your child is on the couch watching TV, shouting back, “I’ll do it later!”
The reason kids don't like doing chores is the same reason adults don't like doing chores: household tasks are generally boring. Let’s face it; the satisfaction of getting the dishes done is not a very big reward in this day and age of video games and instant gratification. While that doesn't mean kids shouldn't do chores, it does help to partly explain why they resist them.
The choice shouldn't be “excitement or chore.” The choice should be “boredom or chore.”
Another big reason is because children feel like they're being taken away from something they’d like to do in order to do something that’s not exciting or stimulating. And most kids don't solve that problem by using their time more efficiently to complete tasks quickly. Instead, you’ll see them showing disinterest and dragging their feet. I think it’s also important to understand that children don't have the same value structure as adults. Most parents feel it's their child's responsibility to get their chores done, not only to help out around the house, but also to share in tasks and responsibilities as part of their role as members of the family. Certainly, kids understand on some level that they should do chores simply because they are part of the family. But as every parent knows, children have a difficult time relating that concept to action.

In my opinion, getting your child to do chores becomes a battle when you allow it to grow into one. If you’re standing over your kids telling them over and over again to “empty the dishwasher, mow the lawn, clean the kitchen”—and they’re digging their heels in and still not complying—you are in that battle, make no mistake about it.
Nag, Nag, Nag—All I Ever Do is Nag My Kids!
Frankly, I don't like the term nagging because I think it puts a negative spin on what parents are doing—when in reality, it’s not negative at all. When we’re “nagging” our kids, we’re prompting, reminding, and encouraging them to fulfill their responsibilities. And as a parent, it's well within our responsibilities to make sure our children do tasks around the house. In fact, I believe that part of the chore system in your home should include the rule that your child doesnt need to be nagged. (I’ll explain more about that later.)
Parents generally get caught in a nagging cycle out of habit; we get stuck in repetitive behaviors just like kids do. Personally, I think giving a general reminder is fine. It's perfectly okay for parents to say, “All right guys, let's get to work now.” But after that, they need to get started. The problem with nagging, of course, is that it doesn't work. Far too often, parents continue to do things that don’t work because they don’t have any other options. Once you turn your back on your child, they stop doing their chores—and then you have to get back on top of them, and the whole cycle repeats itself.
Related: How to disconnect from your child’s attitude
If you feel like you’re constantly on top of your kids, trying to get them to do their household chores, here are some effective things you can do to give yourself—and them—a break.
6 Ways to Get Your Kids to Do Their Chores (Without Going Crazy)

1) Stop the Show: I believe that parents really have to learn how to stop the show. What does this mean? If your child is not doing his chores, you simply stop everything, tell him to have a seat and talk to him about it. Ask him what he thinks is going on and what's getting in his way of doing his assigned tasks. Find out what his plans are after he’s finished and try to motivate him toward getting the work done so he move onto what he really wants to do. Appealing to a child’s self-interests—rather than explaining the abstract concept of responsibility or duty—is generally much more effective for kids.
2) Time Your Child’s Performance: Timing is a good way to get your child to comply with doing chores. You can say, “All right, the dishes have to be done in 20 minutes.” If they're not done in 20 minutes, then your child’s bedtime is earlier. Now there’s a cost associated with his foot-dragging. The beauty of this system is that you're not constantly nagging anymore, you're just keeping time. The next night, you can say, “Let's not repeat what happened last night—because remember, you didn't enjoy going to bed earlier.”
  Another timing strategy parents can use is a technique where you motivate kids to compete with themselves. You can say, “Let's see if you can get it done in 15 minutes tonight. But remember, you have to do it right. I'm going to check.” You can even give them an incentive: “If you get it done within 15 minutes, you can stay up 15 minutes later. Or you can stay online 15 minutes more.” So then it becomes more exciting and stimulating for the child. And while your child won’t lose anything if he or she doesn’t get it done, they’ll gain something if they do. That kind of reward system is always preferable to one in which the kid loses something, because it’s more motivational and less punitive—you’re giving your child an incentive to do better.
3) Consider Giving Kids an Allowance: I think if parents are financially able to give kids an allowance, they should do it. Your child’s allowance should also be hooked into their chores—and to the times when your child fails to complete his tasks or has to be reminded to do them. So for example, if your child has to be told more than once to do his chore, he would lose a certain part of his allowance—let’s say a dollar. And each time you remind him, he loses another dollar. It is also appropriate to give that part of his allowance to a sibling who does the chore instead. This way, you're not working on the chore, you're working on the communications process, as well as your child’s motivation.
4) Use Structure: Structure is very important when it comes to completing household tasks. I believe there should be a time to do chores in the evening or in the morning. Personally, I think that evenings are best during the school year, because doing chores in the morning just adds to the stress and intensity of the schedule. Summertime is easier in some ways because you’re not contending with homework. So in the summer, chores should be done first, before anything else gets done. For example, before the video games or any electronics go on, make it a rule that your child’s bed has to be made, his clothes should be in the hamper and his room is tidy. This way, he’s starting to learn that before he can have free time, his responsibilities have to be met. Again, you never want to be pulling your child back from something exciting in order to do something mundane and boring. Rather, you want to get them to work through the mundane and boring things to get to something exciting.
  Sometimes as a parent you have to ask yourself, if my child isn’t doing his chores, what is he doing? You really have to be aware of how your child is using his time. If he’s not doing his chores because he’s playing on the computer or reading a comic book, you've got to stop that pattern. The choice shouldn't be “excitement or chore.” The choice should be “boredom or chore.” What I mean is that kids have to understand that they can't go listen to music in their rooms or just hang out until their chores are finished.
  I also think it’s a good idea to set aside time during the day when all the kids in your family are doing their chores at once. So your 15 year old might be unloading the dishwasher while your 11 year old is taking out the garbage. That way, no one feels as if they’re missing out or being punished by having to complete their tasks. It’s just chore time.
5) Don’t Turn Chores into Punishment: I tell parents not to use chores as punishment. If somebody misbehaves and does something wrong, don't give them a consequence of doing the dishes, for example. The only time that's appropriate is if your child does something wrong to another sibling. And so in order to make amends—in order to right the wrong—they do that person's chore for them. That's a physical way of saying, “I was wrong to do that and I'm doing your chore to show you that I'm sincere.” That’s the only time when I advocate that parents use chores as something more than an assigned task.
6) Use a Reward System: It’s pretty simple: If you want kids to take responsibility for their chores, integrate their tasks with some reward system that has to do with allowance, as we mentioned, or in some other observable way. I recommend that parents have a chart on the refrigerator with each child’s name on it, with their chores listed next to their names. If they make their bed promptly and do it right, they get a check. When they get five checks, they get some reward. Maybe it's staying up an hour later. Maybe it's having more computer time one night. In my opinion, the computer, video games and television don’t have to be on every waking hour. Just because the computer is there doesn’t mean the child has to be using it—especially if your kids argue about it. Each child should get an hour of computer time, and then computer time is over. If they want more than that hour, they should have to earn it. This allows you to use computer time, TV time, and video game time as a reward. Of course, this doesn’t apply to schoolwork or projects that they have to do on the computer.
Related: Learn how to set limits with your child.
Kids might understand that doing the dishes is part of their role in the family but they're not going to feel it in some significant way. Chores are work, and in that sense very few of us like to work unless we're getting rewarded for it. And the reward has to be something we like. If my boss had paid me in carrots I wouldn't have worked much at all—because one or two carrots and I'm all set. Kids have the same motivating principle. They want a reward that's in currency they like. The idea that they should learn to do chores for some abstract reason—like duty or responsibility—sounds good on paper, but has very little practical application in a child’s life.

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