Updated: Feb 24
My son has both autism and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
He was diagnosed with both at about the age of 7, but I didn’t really believe that he had ODD at first. We didn’t see any signs of it until he started going through puberty; and even then, it took me a few years to connect the dots and realize what was actually behind the behavior issues he was having. Even still, it wasn’t until the last two years that his ODD began to cause real struggles in our lives.
When raising a child with ODD, there is no such thing as putting a parental foot down. To the outside observer, it’s easy to write off ODD parents as weak or permissive. Unless you’ve actually lived it, there is no way to truly comprehend how powerless parents of an ODD child are. My son is the 3rd of four kids; and all the rest will confirm that I am not a pushover parent. With this boy though; a situation that with any of my other children would end with a frustrated child accepting my ruling rather than dealing with the consequences; instead, can go on for days and result in some pretty dysfunctional family dynamics.
Lately my son’s oppositional behavior has been a lot more challenging than it used to be. I’ve learned I need to let go of control over some of the less important things. Unless I want to be at war all the time, I need to carefully choose my battles.
One of battles I decided to walk away from was wearing shorts in the winter. My son loves shorts. He hates long pants of any kind. For years, I forced him to wear long pants to school in the winter because… well, just because. That’s what you do, right? However, the time had come to relegate shorts-wearing to the pile of things that just weren’t worth the struggle anymore.
To be honest, I realized that his wearing shorts was more of a problem for me than for him. I didn’t want to be judged as a bad parent; but I had to let that go. I needed to stop worrying so much about what others thought of me, and focus on the needs of my son. I turned my attention to evaluating whether or not wearing shorts was actually as big a deal as I felt it was.
I saw that shorts in winter aren’t as big a social no-no as I thought. I didn’t want people to avoid him because they thought he was weird. However, when I really paid attention, I noticed lots of other people, mostly adult men, walking around wearing shorts this winter. Also, my son wasn’t the only kid showing up to school in shorts either. On top of that, I realized that seeing someone in shorts in cold weather wouldn’t keep me from interacting with them socially. Sure, I might think they were a little crazy, but not in a bad way.
My other concern was that he would be cold; only – he wasn’t. His sensory system doesn’t feel cold like mine does. When I feel like I’m freezing, he is only mildly chilly. I recognized that I needed to let him decide if he is cold or not. I can’t feel what he feels.
I gave up and let him wear shorts - UNTIL a severe cold snap dropped the temperature to arctic levels. During that time there were many days when, combined with the wind chill, our day time temperatures were below zero. I knew that even if he didn’t feel it, temperatures that cold could cause frostbite in a matter of minutes. This was now a safety issue, and I needed to address it. One extremely cold morning, I insisted that he needed to wear pants to school; and, of course, he immediately started arguing about it.
Thankfully, I remembered to employ the principles of conflict resolution:
1. Attack the problem, not the person. I flipped the script from a battle between the two of us to a problem we needed to tackle together. I did this explaining that we were facing a tricky situation, and I needed his help to figure out how to handle it.
2. Work together. I put us on the same team by explaining his position for him. I said I understood he doesn’t feel cold like others do, and that he is more comfortable in shorts than in pants. Then I explained that the challenge: the temperatures that day would be dangerous even if he couldn’t feel it.
3. Listen & respect each other. I listened as he told me about how he gets too hot if he wears long pants in school. Then I revised our problem to include his concern so he knew that I heard him.
4. Work toward a mutually satisfying solution. I kept myself calm, and engaged him in figuring things out together, rather than insisting he do things my way. I showed I was willing to compromise to make
sure he got some of what he wanted too.
Ultimately, we came to an agreement that worked for both of us. On the days when the predicted temperature is below zero, he will put long pants on over his shorts to go outside. If he gets hot when he is inside, he can take the pants off and wear shorts. If the temperature is above zero, I will let him wear shorts without complaint.
The best part is, not only did I avoid a battle that day, but I eliminated that particular war for good. Now, if the weather is cold, we check the forecast together. If the prediction is below zero, my son willingly puts on long pants without argument! It feels so good when we don’t have to fight about such a simple thing. I began to look for other opportunities to use conflict resolution.
I learned that the conflict resolution process makes life with my ODD son much easier. Sure, it doesn’t fix every problem, but often, I can use it to get through many of the little, everyday situations that had turned into long drawn-out arguments. It makes life better for everyone in our home.
How can you use conflict resolution principles to make your life better? Whether or not you also struggle with an oppositional child, the philosophy of attacking the problem and not the person can help make any disagreement much less disagreeable.