“If you say that one more time I am going to slap you” and as this mother was telling me the story, I immediately knew the outcome as she recalls the story over the weekend in a restaurant. Whenever a threat is made between a parent and Oppositional student it’s like issuing a challenge and the one with the most energy wins. The student wins in their own mind if they can provoke the parent to jump into the ring with them. In a period of temporary insanity, the student will hunker down and go for the jugular in an attempt to win emotionally and the parent will pull rank by adding more restrictions and consequences. An emotional win for the student is when they can get the parent to a point of temporary insanity.
Parent: “Okay you have one week, do you want to go for two.”
Student: “Fine I don’t care if you ground me for a month.”
Parent: “You got it!”
Now here is a great example of temporary insanity; there is a student grounded in the house with the parent for a month. So who really has the greatest punishment . . . the parent! The situation gets worse when the parents realize they were temporarily insane when they made this consequence and may give in and reduce the sentence to 1 week or 2 weeks. The student will also continue to annoy and pester the parent and wear them down emotionally during this time to get a reduced sentence. So when the parent reduces the time, in the mind of the student they “win again” as they were able to get the sentence reduced.
By the way, Temporary Insanity is typically reached when we become so angry that emotion drives our conversation and thoughts and we can not think logically. Typically when someone is Angry or Temporarily Insane it is a great idea to allow each other to walk away and revisit the conflict when both parties have had time to cool down and think about their part in the conflict.
Other examples of Temporary Insanity or Oppositional No No’s are statements that we may not be able to enforce:
Parent: “Don’t even think about it,” “You will do it,” “You will not do it,” or “Put it away Now!”
According to Russell Barkely, M.D., a leading expert on Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), it’s not a genetic disorder. ODD is often a product of parents that are on opposite sides of the page. For instance, a passive parent and authoritarian parent that do not agree on discipline and the student will put a strain on the marriage and household by playing the parents against each other. Another parent scenario that encourages ODD behavior is an absent or uninvolved parent and authoritarian parent. Some parents will avoid the conflict and disengage again giving a message to the student they have won emotionally by wearing a parent down. Then the student thinks they are in control.
Treating ODD involves getting the parents in the same room and educating them so the parents can be on the same page. ODD student need to feel like they have choices and parents need to learn how to phrase questions that give the illusion of choices, but both choices need to have the same outcome. Parents will need to brace themselves as well as when they do get on the same page and start changing how they respond to the student as a united front, things will get worse before they get better. It’s important during this time to weather through the storm because it will get better if the students realize the parents are working together.
Also, it is very important to be calm and give the student choices but with the same outcome for the parent. For example here’s a student right before school that is watching TV before and he is not supposed to watch TV in the morning and will lose points toward afternoon privileges if his mother catches him watching TV. He also loves to eat breakfast:
Parent: “It’s time for breakfast so what do you need to do?”
Student: “I I hate Breakfast!” (he’s temporarily insane because he is caught and knows it will effect his afternoon privileges)
Parent: in a calm voice validates the students feelings “Wow I can see your frustrated” (notice he is temporarily insane and the mother learns not to address the non-compliance of watching TV as he would just escalate more. She will deal with this when he cools down and is able to process logic)
Student: “Yeah and I don’t want to eat breakfast”
Parent: calm voice empathizes to hear the students emotions “I can see why you are frustrated because you love watching that program!”
Student: “I do like this program and I never get to watch it!”
Parent: calm voice avoids telling the student why he/she can not watch TV in the morning as they can never get ready on time “Well we have two choices . . . You can turn the TV off and have breakfast before we go to school or I can turn the TV off for you and I can turn off the TV and you can go to school without breakfast. I will give you 5 minutes to decide.”
Now before I tell you what happened in this scenario, I had worked with the parent for a few weeks until she finally made the paradigm shift. For years, she would have jumped into the insanity with the child and duked it out verbally, but I was so proud of her because within 3 minutes he had turned the TV off and was eating breakfast. He had choices both with the same outcome “TV off” (which was the major stressor and barrier to getting him to school on time) and when given choices in a calm voice and time to think he can cool down emotionally. Once cool emotionally he can think logically and make a good choice. On his way home from school that same day his mother “used questions to lead him to the solution.”
Parent: “what is the rule about TV in the morning?”
Student: “I lose privilege points for watching TV in the morning.”
Parent: she affirmed him as if he had already complied “That’s right or Good Answer” “So what are your choices this afternoon.”
Student: “I can do a chore for you to earn back the privilege points or just lose some of the privilege time.”
Parent: parent will feel with the child rather than talk down to the child “yes and I am sorry this happened. I will give you some time to decide what you want to do and I hope you do earn the time back because I know how much you like your privileges.”
Another No No of Oppositional Defiance believe it or not is to say “No”. “No” is another trigger and the goal is to avoid it as much as possible. Try to establish the rules and have the student repeat the rules. Then whenever a rule is broken or they want to push the limits, instead of telling the student they broke the rule you ask them a question leading them to the solution.
Student: “Can I have more computer time”
Parent: Empathize “I know how much you love your computer time, but what time is computer time over.”
Parent: “and what time is it?”
Student: “8 o’clock”
Parent: Affirm them as if they have already complied, “that’s right so what do you need to do”
Student: “Turn off the computer.”
Parent: Affirm them and add a positive comment about them as a person “Right again and I am so proud of you for following the rules.”
Student: “I don’t want to”
Parent: “You know your choices . . . You can turn it off and keep the privilege for tomorrow or I can turn it off and you will lose the privilege tomorrow . . . I will give you 3 minutes to think about it.”
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Orlando Teen Counselor & National Defiance Expert Jim West, MA, LMHC, NCC