Robert A. Regal, Ph.D       
"The Petrified Parent"       
A brief introduction into the treatment of the Oppositional / Defiant Child      

     Few issues appear on the surface to be more incomprehensible than two healthy, intelligent and successful adults complaining that their healthy, normal 3-year old is out of control.  "He just won't listen."   Typically these parents are highly successful individuals.  They are almost always  very well educated, often at the graduate level.  They are usually the children of parents who strove to provide them with the fullest opportunities life could offer.  The Petrified Parent enjoyed a nurturing childhood and had every expectation of giving their children nothing less. The image of innocent, respectful young children who would appreciate the love and enrichments they would be offered is the fantasy that preceded children in the homes of the Petrified Parent.  Theirs was to be a home characterized by love and reason.  They viewed punishment as the failure to communicate to their child.  Discipline was always to be accompanied by a discussion of why it was necessary--"this hurts me more than it does you".  The Petrified Parent simply does not understand how this could happen to them.  

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
     Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) has been reported in up to 16% of the population of children between the ages of 3 through 8.  It is characterized by the frequent occurrence of at least four of the following: 

-Often loses temper,
-Often argues with adults,
 -Often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules, 
-Often deliberately annoys people, 
-Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior, 
-Often touchy or easily annoyed by others, 
-Often angry or resentful, is often spiteful or vindictive   (DSM-IV, 1994).

     ODD children do not appear to recognize the authority of some of the most significant adults in their life.  Parents, caretakers and to a lesser extent, teachers and other school officials are generally the adults who are ignored and disrespected by these children.  From a perspective of power dynamics, the ODD child behaves as if they stand on equal footing with these adults.  

How did this Happen?
     ODD is neither the sole result of genetics or inadequate parenting, but rather it is the product of both.  Children are not born with the blank slate the philosopher John Locke proposed.  They clearly have different inherent dispositions.  Some children are especially sensitive to disapproval while others show few signs of concern.  The sensitive child can be raised in a home in which parental discipline is rarely exercised.  This child will, none-the-less, evidence respect for authority, especially at home.  On the other hand, the child who is less reactive to discipline will require far more of it in order to learn how to behave within socially acceptable boundaries.  When children who are less reactive are raised by parents who are weaker disciplinarians, ODD is often the outcome.

     It is important to note, if not emphasize, that the child with ODD is not without significant strengths.  They are often bright and very resourceful.  Their reduced sensitivity to discipline makes them more open and less bounded by fear.  They assert themselves more freely and frequently show greater levels of self-confidence than their peers.  They are often leaders and have far less problems acting independently.  The child with ODD is a challenge, but one well worth the effort.

What can be done?
     Treatment for the ODD child is in actuality, treatment for the Petrified Parent.  Parents need to understand the choreography between their child=s defiance and their responses to it.  They need to learn how their behaviors create an environment that supports the problems they so desperately want to stop.  ODD children behave badly when they know that their behavior carries little risk of meaningful negative consequences.  Not only do these children have little to fear, they actually have a great deal to gain through their defiance.  Each act reinforces their sense power and authority.  It's fun to win a power struggle with adults, and these kids win most of the time.  The very good news for the Petrified Parent is that there are answers to this problem.  It's not the magic bullet that most desire, but it is clear plan of action that when carefully applied, will return order, respect and love to these very fractured homes.

     Does the Petrifieded Parent create the ODD child, or does the ODD child create the Petrified Parent? The answer is, it doesn't matter.  ODD is treatable and parental paralysis, at least this form of behavioral paralysis, is reversible.  Careful adherence to the principles of effective parenting can bring order, warmth and even joy back to the homes of families who have begun to abandon this as a dream.

The Eight Principles of Effective Parenting

1) Consistency – Parents have to develop an unfaltering relationship between what they say and what they do. Nothing is more critical than consistency.

2) The Two-Statement Rule – Tell a child to do something once.  If he/she is not compliant, tell him once more, but no more!!  

3) Reinforce Positive Behavior – Make sure that all types of appropriate behavior are given notice and support.

4) Punish Negative Behavior - Make sure that behavior targeted for reduction/elimination gets an effective punishment attached to it.

5) Choose Effective Consequences - Make sure that the consequences you use (positive and negative) have the desired effect on your child.  Do not make assumptions as to what your child should like and dislike.  Ask them and observe them.  Effective consequences foster behavioral change, so be careful observers.

6) Make all behavioral consequences as immediate as possible - The longer the delay between a behavior and its consequence, the weaker the impact on learning.

7) Avoid protracted consequences (e.g., “No TV for a week.") This is an extension of point #5.  When consequences extend over long periods of time, lots of potentially good behavior gets inadvertently punished.

8) Stop Negotiating. The responsibilities of parenthood require that you be the boss.  Negotiations create the impression that your decisions are flexible and undermine the seriousness of your directions.

    To Contact Dr. Regal : Call 914 - 347-4797or e-mail at: