I suppose I am like any other mother out there - I think that my children are exceptional, they are smart, witty, funny, unique creatures that I am blessed to have in my life. I want nothing but the best for them. I want them to get a good education, to be able to find a job that they love and can excel at, and to have long, healthy lives filled with happiness. That is my dream for them.
Making that dream a reality however is a whole other ball of crazy.
Much as we as parents would love to wish our dreams into reality for our children, it doesn’t work that way. It takes long, hard work and countless hours of dedication, commitment and constant supervision and patience to get them to that point. There are days when I have thrown my hands in the air in complete frustration and locked myself away in my bedroom on the computer in my own little world, just to escape the craziness. You see, I have two exceptional children who have challenges of their own. J. is my eldest and my child who is traveling the road of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). T. is my youngest and is also exhibiting classic signs of ODD (actually more so than his brother) and anger management issues. Add to that mix the fact that their father also has anger management and health issues and you can (hopefully) understand why this momma feels the need to just run and hide sometimes.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
If you think that parenting a child with ADHD is difficult, add to the mix the fact that your child is a teenager and throw some ODD in there for good measure. Every teenager exhibits a certain amount of defiance toward their parents and authority figures, but the ODD child takes defiance to an entirely different level. Statistically speaking, ADHD is a behavioral disorder that affects 8 to 10% of school-age children, with boys being three times more likely to be diagnosed with it than girls, although nobody understands why. I think its just because boys are more hard-headed than girls are. ADHD children act without thinking of the consequences, they are hyperactive (and this varies by age and by child ... when J. was smaller he literally ran everywhere, non-stop, from the time he woke up till he went to bed. I don’t think he sat still for more than 10 or 20 minutes at a time, if that), and they have trouble focusing. They understand what is expected of them, but have trouble following through because they cannot sit still, pay attention or attend to the details of what they are to be doing.
ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)
J. and T. both have ODD - J. has been diagnosed by his physician, and I am quite sure that T. won’t be far from a diagnosis either. ODD children exhibit excessive, persistent anger, frequent temper tantrums or outbursts of anger, and a disregard for authority. They often purposely annoy others, blame others for their mistakes, and are easily disturbed and angered. Children with ODD also seem resentful of others and when someone does something that they do not like, they prefer to take revenge other than contemplating more sensible means of resolution. Children with ODD usually have more rigid and irritable behaviors than their siblings - so imagine what it is like parenting two children with ODD.
Signs and Symptoms
A child must exhibit 4 out of the 8 signs and symptoms listed below in order to meet the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) diagnostic threshold for ODD:
- Actively refuses to comply with majority’s requests or consensus-supported rules
- Performs actions to deliberately annoy others
- Angry and resentful of others
- Argues often
- Blames others for his or her own mistakes
- Often loses temper
- Spiteful or seeks revenge
- Touchy or easily annoyed
The authorities indicate that generally, these patterns of behavior will lead to problems at school and other social venues. As I have said over and over; however, no two children are alike. While J. has the classic problems at school with his ADHD/ODD, T. on the other hand has no issues at school (except with math class!) but instead his ODD symptoms manifest with other neighborhood children he plays with every day and more specifically, his elder brother.
So if you haven’t figured it out by now - our household is under a considerable amount of stress and turmoil on a daily basis. This only tends to intensify the issues with both of the children - until an all-out war erupts and everyone needs to be separated and sent to their respective rooms for a cooling off period.
So why am I telling you all of this? Simple.
I don’t want to raise the next mass murderer or a habitually incarcerated child. But where do I begin to make the changes that must be made to avoid this from happening?
First and foremost, we need organization and structure in our house. Something that has been sorely lacking, and my reason for being so damn adamant about getting organized and following a schedule and keeping to it this year. The clock is ticking, the kids are not getting any younger, and if I don’t put my foot down and change things now, I’m going to be spending my twilight years bailing my children out of jail I’m afraid.
I don’t want my children being harmed - at all - by anyone else or harming themselves.
ODD, if left untreated, can turn into Conduct Disorder - which opens up an entirely different can or worms that I don’t even want to deal with.
ODD is not only caused by environmental factors, but genetic and biological factors as well. This is where The Man Thing and his childhood comes into play. He refused to admit the connection when J. was younger and first diagnosed with ADHD; however, the older he gets, TMT is finally realizing that he is exhibiting the exact same behaviors that he himself did as a teenager - and is finally understanding the severity of the matter. He has indicated (on more than one occasion) that both of the boys are “exactly like I was when I was their age.”
Oh joy. That leaves me wondering, just what in the hell have I got myself into? The experts state that ODD can be caused by low levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that control judgment, and that an imbalance of certain brain chemicals (such as serotonin) can be a huge factor in ODD. That explains TMT’s issues with certain judgment calls that make me think he’s lost his ever-loving mind.
So here I sit - reading like a crazy woman about ADHD, ODD and how to “fix” my family. Both of the boys have an IEP in place at school. Ever since J. was in kindergarten, we have tried a number of different things to find out what works for him. Positive reinforcement for exhibiting a desired behavior worked when he was younger and in elementary school, but now that he is in middle school - it just is not working as well.
But then there is the issue (which TMT and I both fall into) of unintentionally reinforcing unwanted behaviors in both of the boys. They are rewarded with attention when they perform unwanted ODD behaviors, which is called “positive punishment.” Positive Punishment can include humiliation, isolation, not being told the reason for the rules (being told “the reason is because I said so, that’s why”) and not being taken seriously.
So our mission over the next several months is to focus more on the positive reinforcement and praise of appropriate behaviors instead of only focusing and centering on the negative behaviors. If the majority of our interactions with J. and T. are because they got into trouble - then a cycle begins where they will expect attention after misbehaving, and if they don’t feel as though they are getting enough of our attention, then they will misbehave in order to get it. So our job as parents is to build their self-esteem, to strengthen their self-worth and to provide positive reinforcement and praise.
Family and Peer Influences
I know many parents ask themselves, are we to blame for the way our child is? Truthfully, yes, you are - partially. While some factors are biological or genetic in nature, there are those that are environmentally responsible as well and totally within the parents control. So it is my job, as their mother, to take control of those negative environmental factors and change them to something more conducive to raising the children I want them to be.
So what are the environmental factors I’m talking about? Parent-Child interactions, income (poverty), self-esteem, low parental involvement, inadequate supervision, unpredictable discipline practices and associations with peers who also exhibit deviant behaviors.
Okay, I hear you screaming - “plain English please!” so here is what I need to do:
- Be more involved in what they do outside the home with friends
- Be attentive to their online conversations and friends
- Supervise their amount of time spent online and ensure that they have adequate amounts of “unplugged” time as well to spend reading; watching something educational or informative, and ensure that I know their activities inside and out on a daily basis
- Spend more family time together and one-on-one time with each of them to reinforce our parent/child relationship and to help boost their self-worth and self-esteem
- Design and implement a disciplinary code for our home and post it where they can see it and read it. List what the consequences will be for a particular undesirable behavior and follow through accordingly - no exceptions. The art of positive discipline is to do so consistently - which we have not been doing.
- LOVE THEM.
I don’t care what the doctors and experts say - an extremely HUGE part of handling ADHD and ODD in your children boils down to one simple thing. LOVE YOUR CHILDREN AS THEY ARE. They did not ask for these problems, they are ill-equipped to deal with these problems on their own, and they are just as scared and terrified as you are as to what is happening to them - even if they don’t verbalize it. So love them, support them, lift them up every chance that you can. Show them how proud you are of their accomplishments, support them in their extra-curricular activities, take an interest in what THEY are interested in. BUILD a lasting relationship with your child so that, even when they have grown and moved out of your home, they will always know that they will have your love and support and a place to come to if they need it - the shelter of a mother’s arms.