Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children (The Anxiety Underneath)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Children (The Anxiety Underneath)

Parents seem to be consumed by endless child-waged warfare when it comes to their kiddos with ODD.

We are exhausted, emotionally spent, and there seems to be no viable solution or technique to the defiant behavior.

So how do you get your child to understand those oh-so-important rules and boundaries in place?

One of the best ways to help your child overcome their defiance is to understand the emotion they are communicating behind the behavior.

Is your child trying to communicate worry or fear? 

Are they trying to tell you they feel sad or hopeless? We can do this by asking them what their body feels like (i.e. is your body tense from fear?)

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Understanding the fear and sadness behind the defiance

In order to get underneath the "NO!" we must learn to connect with our child by demonstrating curiosity for the underlying emotion.

Primary emotions are fear and sadness and can be translated into secondary emotions and reactions like anger and apathy.

We can start by role modeling ourselves as calm, regulated, and logical parents.

Next, we ask our children what they are feeling inside their bodies.

Does it feel tight or tense? Does it feel 'bleak?'

What could be the emotion connected to their somatic experience?


We have learned the emotion, aha!

So our child tells us they are feeling worried and their body feels tense.

Let's start by validating that emotion by letting them know it's entirely okay to feel things and to have feelings, no matter how intense or mild.

Subsequently, let's role model that emotional regulation we are experiencing by inviting them to engage in an age and developmentally appropriate grounding technique such as taking a walk to pick flowers outside or doing some deep breathing exercises.

Once we notice the child is calm, we can then proceed with additional emotional exploration.

What thoughts are pervasively swimming about their mind as a result of this worry?

We can then invite them in to a logical and rational discussion to help ease those worries.


Lastly, we revisit the original 'ask.'

Let's use this example. The initial ask was for the child to clean up their room. We were originally met with anger, defiance, and a dictatorial "NO!" But, we learned that the child was experiencing fear of not knowing where their stuff would be if the objects did not remain in their 'current' placements.

After we practiced a grounding technique by taking a walk outside to try and 'notice' all of the adorable dogs and became calm, we learned where that defiance was stemming from, and ultimately, the emotion BEHIND the behavior.

We then had a rational discussion about helping the child make 'notes' of where things are in their bedroom, and the child sees the rationale and logic behind this solution and thusly agrees to clean their room, with the help of Mom or Dad making that list of where things are placed!


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Emotional support

As parents, let's start by trying to make a habit of this mindful awareness. We can be mindful of our own emotional regulation skills, when we feel calm vs. when we start to activate out of frustration or hopelessness.

Then, understand that that very defiant behavior we see can stem from that same emotional dysregulation we feel from time to time. Let's show our kids we CAN control and regulate ourselves, especially with the emotional support from parents.


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February 29th, 2024

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