Dr. Linda Mintle answers your questions each month in the "Real Life Solutions" department of ParentLife magazine. This month Dr. Linda answers questions about celebrating Father’s Day with an almost-absent father and dating as a single parent. Each month we post an extra question on the blog. In this month’s extra question, Dr. Mintle gives some advice about oppositional defiant disorder.
Q: I am at my wit’s end with how often my 6-year-old argues with me. No matter what I ask her to do, she talks back, refuses, and ends up disobeying me. My 11-year-old is not like this and tells me that his sister’s behavior bothers him. She throws tantrums, constantly questions our choices, is irritable most of the time, and keeps our family stressed by her constant refusal to follow the rules. We often receive reports from her teachers in school and at church that she argues, talks back, and refuses to obey. We know her behavior is different from what we see with other children. What should we do?
A: It is normal for children to argue at times when they are tired, stressed, hungry or upset. And oppositional behavior gears up during the toddler years and early adolescence. But when arguing becomes consistent and frequent at this age, you need to consider that something more serious may be happening.
When a child has a pattern of uncooperative, hostile, and defiant behavior that does not respond to parent intervention, it is possible that the child could be exhibiting oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Symptoms include many you have mentioned as well as deliberate attempts to upset people, frequent anger and resentment, spiteful attitude, temper tantrums, excessive arguing with adults, blaming others for mistakes, and becoming easily annoyed. As you have also indicated, these behaviors are noticed in many settings.
I would recommend you take your daughter to a mental health therapist to be evaluated. These behaviors also could indicate other disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or mood or anxiety disorders. The goal is to get to the bottom of what is causing the persistent oppositional pattern. Treatment may include parenting classes aimed at managing this behavior better, anger management help, family treatment, social skills training, or more to help improve compliance and tolerate frustration. Treatment can make a difference and help you respond to your child in a way that eases the family tension and helps the family develop a more positive relationship.
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