Why are Children so ‘Oppositional’?

Jun 18, 2014 | Parenting

How is ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) officially categorized?

“It’s not unusual for children — especially those in their “terrible twos” and early teens — to defy authority every now and then. They may express their defiance by arguing, disobeying, or talking back to their parents, teachers, or other adults. When this behavior lasts longer than six months and is excessive compared to what is usual for the child’s age, it may mean that the child has a type of behavior disorder called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

ODD is a condition in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, hostile, and annoying behavior toward people in authority. The child’s behavior often disrupts the child’s normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at school.” (from Web MD/Mental Health)

Below is the inspiring answer from another Davis Facilitator, Fionna Pilgrim, to the question of a mum who is anxious and worried about her teenagers wilfulness, anger,  stubbornness, and lack of observing house rules.

Sounds like your typical teenager?

We have seen that many clients, dyslexic or ADD/ADHD or with other learning difficulties are experiencing a high level of anxiety, frustration and stress – and as a result, being oppositional isn’t a surprise. If that behaviour is reserved for their loved ones only, they are not likely to receive the popular label of ODD – not that it matters either way. It is challenging for everybody involved and I like Fionna’s  response to it.

“We accept that these are bright kids. They have been placed in a situation where they can’t do what the others do really easily. It’s as if they have been set up to fail.  They may have been called stupid and/or lazy and mocked by their teachers, exasperated when they can’t “get through” to them as they expected, who believe they have the best methods available and will implement them to get the child reading and who also experience a similar sense of failure to what the child feels when it doesn’t happen -leading them to  blame the child. They may have been taunted and mocked by by other kids. They will be aware that their parents and family have been concerned -this may have been expressed as frustration and anger, with exhortations to “just work harder”. School may be a nightmare for them, filled with confusions leading to disorientation and physical discomfort.

Some may respond by being class clown -most will learn that, if they act-up enough before it’s their turn to read, they’ll get sent out. Inevitably they carry a lot of anger: anger at the system, at the teachers, at the classmates, at the parents who put them there and at themselves because they are the stupid one that made it happen.

I have seen children like this taken out of school to be home educated and it can take a year or more for them to “de-school” -particularly those 11+, who are already experiencing pre-adolescent breakdown and the disruption of adolescence.

I would say that defiance and opposition is a healthier response than depression and self harm, though that may not be far away. It is a way of taking some control over their own lives.

There are probably lots of concepts that would help and, if there is motivation to do a programme, or if they can be led into it and gain security that someone really believes they are the boss and will treat them with the respect they should always have had: i.e. “you’re [client] the boss -but it’s not a dictatorship”, then these previously essential old solutions may drop away. Particularly if parents can recognise how unreasonable everyone’s behaviour to this child has been and talk that through; and if the child -that we know is bright -can to understand that nobody is perfect and that we all get scared when the world seems to go pear-shaped.

Western society is no longer set up so that children are seen and not heard and do as they’re told unquestioningly. Personally, I find this a much healthier situation, but it comes with challenges.”

Isn’t it a lot more positive and useful to look at the behaviour from this perspective – shifting your paradigm to get another angle.

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