Many parents of ADHD children have experience with ODD also. It sucks.
ADHD once medicated gets better. But Ritalin doesn’t cure ODD. And more worrying is the dangerous trajectory that ODD kids are on potentially, particularly if they also suffer from anxiety, as ours does.
We have a great paediatrician, who told us to pay heed to this and warned that we had a small window to get this right.
Our little boy’s self-image had been badly damaged by his experiences in school and we needed to do something about it, fast. This scared me. As if we hadn’t been trying to, for a long time. No-one seemed to have any answers.
The last year involved part-time homeschooling both our boys, for extension purposes (gifted) and also to give the younger one an emotional break in the middle of the week. It was a useful strategy and served its purpose in terms of helping to preserve his relationships with peers and his teacher a little, but it wasn’t actually changing anything else.
The last few weeks of the year with him diagnosed and medicated, and the paediatrician’s warning ringing in my ears, we trialled a pretty thorough Behaviour Modification program involving tokens and rewards targeting key behaviours.
It worked. Sort of. But it was manipulation – he knew it, and we knew it. Worst of all, I felt he had more control of the situation than we did, using the promise of good behaviour to elicit things he wanted. I don’t mean that he was actually in control of his behaviour and choosing to not behave, but that he understood the idea of currency and that this was a way he could get things he wanted. I know some people parent that way, but I’m not comfortable with it.
It’s not how I work in my classroom – I’m pretty anti-reward/punishment and yet I felt trapped into doing it at home with my own son.
All this came to a head a few weeks later when he confessed, tearfully, that he felt bad and that he wasn’t really a very nice person because he was only being good to get things. On the spot I sort of brushed it off, saying that sometimes that’s ok, and even adults did things out of this sort of motivation…. like going to work for the reward of a paycheck (unless you’re like me and love your job).
Later, I reflected that that was a pretty lame response and that I really needed to address his feelings on this, and cop the fact that we were actually putting him in this position. And it wasn’t good.
So I did some more reading (as is my voracious habit) and one sentence, in a seemingly insignificant research study, jumped out at me. The psychologist author was suggesting that ODD was actually a learned response to always being in trouble, always getting told off etc. In his opinion, the ODD was actually anxiety and defensiveness, in response to feeling bad and constantly criticised. THAT was the first thing…..
In addition, I’d been reading some things on a forum about ADHD coaching and someone had written a piece on the mistake many people made, dragging their child/spouse into a coach’s office and stating they needed help to change. No-one likes being told they need to change who they are, and other people forcing the issue always resulted in failure. That was the second thing….
And then there was the late night conversation with my boy in which he offloaded all his worries and fears and awful thoughts and amidst it all, let me know how much he resented people at school (a particular teacher especially) wanting to change him. He said underneath it all he liked being him, and he wasn’t going to change and he felt angry that people wanted him to. THAT was number three!
What an opportunity – THIS is why we have talks with our kids – as it led us to discussing the difference between changing and growing. We certainly don’t want to change him. The qualities he has are amazing and wonderful, but every one of us needs to always be improving on ourselves, to be make ourselves kinder, gentler and wiser. It’s what growing up is all about.
Since then, with holidays here and a fantastic opportunity to protect him from other influences like school, we’ve tried something new.
We’ve ignored all poor behaviours, bar the ones that we have strong rules about (like hurting people or animals). The rest….. the rudeness, the defiance, the slow uptake when asked to do something, the occasional bout of swearing etc has been largely ignored (I’ll admit, I took the bait on a few occasions).
To begin with, it just meant a lot of biting our tongues and infuriated private vents between my husband and I, as well as some questioning about how sensible this really was – it felt highly unnatural to simply let our child act like a total brat. But then something amazing happened.
He got happier.
He had some whole days where he never got told off, not even once (largely because we got better at ignoring, not because he’d stopped the poor behaviours) and you could see him visibly relax.
And then…..the defiance started to fizzle. Asked to help with X, he’d say, ‘No…’ but started doing it anyway. Nothing was said about the ‘No’, just thanks was given for the task being completed. And after a few more days, we got, ‘No….. just kidding, sure Mum!’
It’s now been a couple of weeks, and he’s being more cooperative than he has been in years. He’s playing more nicely with his brother, speaking far more nicely to all of us, wakes in a good mood, is singing and laughing more AND putting himself down a LOT less (this had been chronic).
Yesterday, we went to the Maritime Museum and did the 90 minute tour of the HMS Ovens. He listened attentively the whole time, asked interesting questions of the guide, followed all of the guide’s instructions and behaved beautifully the entire time.
I have such a lovely day with my boys yesterday. I could breathe. I actually relaxed, whereas usually I’d be on tenterhooks poised, ready to cut him off at the pass before he created some scene in front of people or lost it with his brother or me over something insignificant.
Yesterday was wonderful. And I was able to tell him so last night at bedtime, truthfully, how much I’d really enjoyed his company and how proud I’d been of the way he’d behaved, and how pleased I was for him that he’d been able to focus on the tour because I knew he’d learnt a lot and enjoyed it thoroughly.
And how much I was looking forward to going on our next outing together, because I honestly am.
The last few weeks has taught me a great deal. Most importantly, that to be ‘good’ you have to first ‘feel’ good. Happy kids are well behaved kids, and it works in THAT order, not that “Well-behaved kids, who know the limits, ultimately are happy kids’ as so many experts preach. We had it all wrong.
Now, optimistic as I am, I’m not unrealistic. I’m not expecting some long-standing habits to disappear overnight, but I do know, that we’re hitting the target now far more often than we were. And for now, that’s all I care about. This is good.