Awareness. Patience. My journey of raising a son with ODD has taught me so many things. Just about all of the lessons I have learned have been after the fact but that’s OK; better late than never.
The first lesson is learning how to be aware. By that, I mean not only gaining knowledge of what a disorder, like ODD, is but also what it means for the person diagnosed with it and how best, as a parent or caregiver, to manage it. Living through difficult and defiant behaviors is not at all easy. It is enormously stressful when it is constant and when it is added to other stressors of life like work, finances, busy schedules, etc.
When a child has an impairment that prevents him/her from calming down or being rational and flexible, it is very easy, as a stressed out parent, to also get caught up in the moment – by becoming agitated then reacting in the same way. I have had countless situations where I have reacted impulsively because I was embarrassed (ex: immediately leaving playgrounds because my son refused to follow playground rules) or I yelled at my son out of frustration or stress (ex: when schools would incessantly complain about defiant behaviors).
By being aware, we not only understand the conditions of a disorder, we can begin to be more conscious of how we react to the externalizing behaviors. For instance, when my son was being defiant at school or at home, I could have asked more questions to understand what he felt and thought that led to the behaviors. I could have empathized and gently laid out the alternatives for him to consider. Instead, the stress of schools complaining on top of daily single-parenting stress got the best of me and yelling at him was, more often than not, my default reaction.
The second lesson is patience. Again it is easy to react strongly to displeasing behaviors by yelling or imposing harsh discipline. But if we take a step back each time an incident occurs and we remember the child’s inherent limitations, we have no choice really but to learn and hopefully master patience. After all, would we expect a blind person to see? A person who is unable to independently control his/her impulses and therefore his/her behaviors cannot be expected to easily comply with rules and expectations. So we have to learn patience in order to constructively deal with impulsive and difficult children.
17 years later and my approach is different. It is still a work in progress and there are days when we both slip, but I am certainly more aware. And I think my son is too. I speak less and I listen more. I try hard not to lecture or yell even when situations are really hard to deal with. Instead I am my son’s gentle coach always outlining options for him to consider. I try to assess situations through his lens. It has taken a long time for me to arrive at this place called awareness.
If you are in the early stages of the same or similar journey, I encourage you to try becoming aware. If you are deep in the frustrations and stress of ODD or other behavioral disorders, it’s not too late to try something different. It absolutely changes – for the better – how you perceive your child, your situations, your relationship with one another and your family and it absolutely changes you.