Doing Your Best for Your Adopted Child with ODD

With the right guidance most children will outgrow their defiant behavior. Unfortunately though, no matter how hard you try to help, some will not. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD, are characterized by their defiance, hostility and disobedience.  So what happens when you start to feel that your child’s defiant and hostile behavior isn’t just a phase?  Or that her disobedience isn’t part of a learning process, but rather, an increasingly prevalent part of her character? The thought that you may have an adopted child with ODD is more than enough to shake your peace of mind.

An adopted child with ODD will often rebel, behave stubbornly, argue with adults and refuse to obey authority figures. They have angry outbursts and difficulty controlling their tempers. You do your best to understand your child’s youthful transgressions as a parent – after all, it wasn’t too long ago that you were a kid.  But you also do your best to help your adopted child with ODD understand that becoming an adult means learning and moving on from your mistakes. An adopted child with ODD may resist your help with all her might, and as any parent can attest, defiant behavior can be exhausting and leave you feeling defeated.

Doing Your Best for Your Adopted Child with ODD: A True Story

“My kids were good so I couldn’t understand people who had kids that weren’t. If I saw you in the mall and your kids were yelling and screaming, I’d be like, ‘Why would you let your kids do that?’” one adoptive parent said. “But when we got [B, our child with ODD], I understood. I became one of those parents.”

The adoptive parent had plenty of experience with children and had developed a strong parenting sense, but those were of little use in counteracting her daughter’s ODD.

“I was humbled when we got [B]. We knew we were willing to do whatever it took to help her, but we didn’t know if we’d succeed or not. It’s been a tough ride.”

The adoptive parent told stories of black and white, stop and go, day and night, heave and ho. She and B were constantly pushing and pulling one another in different directions.

“And it’s always against [B’s] better judgment. I could walk into a room and ask [her] if she wants a hundred dollar bill and she’d say no. It’s unbelievable!” the adoptive parent said.

It’s no surprise that her daughter’s disorder led to conflict after conflict and all the stress that comes with household strife.

“I’ve been an advocate for kids, and I’ve helped other parents with their kids my whole life. Even with all that experience and kids of my own, I haven’t really been able to make the situation any better,” the adoptive parent said.

Doing Your Best for Your Adopted Child with ODD: Accepting the Reality

The time came when the adoptive parent began to realize that there was no turning back the clock on her daughter’s development. B had been exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero, which led to a number of difficulties down the road including her ODD.

These things were as much a part of who B was as the fact that she was a beautiful young high-school senior and a member of the family. In order to help her adopted child with ODD succeed, the adoptive parent altered her approach and set  new standards for B.

“We just had to adjust our expectations. [B’s] room is awful, but I just don’t go in there. Every fiber of my being tells me that I’m the parent and that I should be able to expect my kid to keep her room to a standard that doesn’t make me shiver when I walk in, but I know it’s just not worth it. Having an unclean room isn’t going to make or break her,” the adoptive parent said.

At first B’s new standard caused some tension in the house.

“Having another child who’s 15 months younger made that very difficult because she doesn’t have the same issues as [B]. I expect more of her. She says it’s not fair, but it is. I tell her, ‘You’re capable, [B] is not. Thank God every day for that,’” the adoptive parent said.

Setting goals that B could reach had a positive effect in the end. Instead of aiming for college like her other children, the adoptive parent is currently helping B to focus on graduating high school.

The adoptive parent also set a number of more realistic goals for herself and began to reap the rewards.

“My daughter can get me totally crazed, but that’s what she wants – she loves drama. One of my goals is to avoid getting in a screaming match with her. You have to remain calm, and if you can’t then you as a parent need to walk away,” she said.

Doing Your Best for Your Adopted Child with ODD: Getting Help

Being flexible with her parenting style, remaining calm and setting realistic expectations for her daughter all helped the adoptive parent maintain a sense of order in her household. Talking to others about her adopted child with ODD helped her manage her doubts.

“It was helpful to have someone I could talk to who would understand me. Even though I never saw that it did [B] much good, it really helped me,” she said.

There’s no magic pill or hidden secret that can help anyone conquer their adopted child with ODD or help any parent cope with their child’s defiance more effectively. ODD is a complicated behavioral pattern that emerges for different reasons and remains for different lengths of time for different people. It’s important that you have the resources you need to maintain a comfortable living environment for your child as you work together through her behavioral difficulties.

Author: Thomas Castles, FAFS Communication and Development Associate

8 thoughts on “Doing Your Best for Your Adopted Child with ODD

  1. I have a 16 year old son whom I adopted when he was 8 turning 9. Everyday is a battle. He fights us on everything and we are frustrated and exhausted. We have tried therapy, but he does not want to talk to anyone about it. He has a very addictive nature and wants to either play video games or be on a cell phone with internet. We limit video games and he does not have a cell with internet. We try to explain the seriousness of being on the internet and last year he ended up speaking with a man who was after his sister. He gave all of our info out and yet, still argues about being on the internet and speaking to strangers. The situation was so serious that the police were involved and took their school computers. My husband and I have tried everything and he just does not want to listen to anyone. He speaks a lot under his breath and has something to say about everything. He never apologizes or admits he is wrong and never accepts responsibility for something he has done. HELP!!!! we are at a loss…we also adopted his sister whom is doing pretty well..she is very social and has a lot of friends, while are son is somewhat anti-social and has some friends but never makes plans. Any advice someone might have, I would love it.

    Thank you…

    1. Hi @ladair,

      Thanks for reaching out. We hear about these issues quite often among foster, adoptive and kinship parents and have learned what a monumental challenge having a child in care with ODD can be. In order to better assist you, we’ll post this question anonymously on our facebook page today between 12pm-1pm. To view it, please visit Posting the question online allows other parents who have dealt with similar challenges to join in on the conversation and provide guidance, advice and a kind word or two. Posting it anonymously keeps you protected.

      We wish you the best of luck moving forward and a bright future for you and your children. If you ever need to talk to someone, please call us at 800.222.0047 and ask for a FAFS Family Advocate (FFA). Our FFAs are dedicated to providing the best help possible to all foster, adoptive and kinship parents in New Jersey.

      Thank you,

    2. I have an adopted daughter with ODD. One thing that works is her setting a weekly goal for herself. If she meets her weekly goal she than gets rewarded with something that she picks but we agree on. If she reaches her goal for four weeks which is a whole month than she gets rewarded with a larger reward.

  2. My son was adopted at birth. He is almost 18 and he has some angr problems and problems with respecting authorities. What do we do?

    1. Many children that have had extensive experience with Child Protective Services have a higher rate of developing behavioral concerns such as acting out and anger problems. The best way to assist him would be attempting to gain counseling and therapeutic services. Due to him being 18 years old, he would have to obtain these services since he is by law an adult. New Jersey also has a program called 2nd Floor Youth Helpline. This service is available to teens and young adults ages 10-24 and provides them with confidential assistance in order to assist with areas of need for them. If he contacts them, he may be able to obtain the assistance he needs directly and confidentially.

  3. I am concerned for my daughter’s safety. She and her husband are in the process of adopting a 7 year old boy who has been in foster care for 6 years. He is extremely defiant and throws daily tantrums. He is terribly mean to my daughter and is violent. I am worried this child will do great harm. How can I help?

    1. If your daughter is a New Jersey foster parent, I would recommend having her contact our FAFS Family Advocates to further assist this situation. If she is a resident from another state, unfortunately, FAFS is only contracted through NJ’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency. We are not familiar with other states policies and procedures, therefore we are limited on ways to assist.

      It can be concerning when a family member is caring for an intense child such as this. I understand your concerns for safety and how his behaviors effect the home. The child may be acting out for numerous reasons and it must be remembered that our children in care are children that have suffered trauma and can behave in ways that will test her care and commitment to them. I would recommend her speaking with the child’s caseworker, doctors and therapists to ensure the child’s mental, behavioral and emotional needs are being met. I would also recommend looking into the Nurtured Heart Approach training. This is a new approach that we are training families on and its gives parents tools to help manage our children whether they suffer from behavioral challenges or not. This approach has been proven to work in many situations and may be able to assist her and her family. Again, if she is a NJ licensed resource parent she can also reach out to our FAFS Family Advocates to assist further by contacting our office at 1.800.222.0047.

      Corissa Kazar
      Support Services Manager

  4. Our family adopted our daughter at 4 – she was diagnosed with ODD prior to our fostering her … as a young child we could handle the behaviors but at 17 she became involved with a boy whose mother encouraged her to separate from a loving home. She chose college away – returning to cause problems with rule following and filth of herself and her room. College and all expenses paid for by us – now she has disengaged herself, blocked all forms of communication and is living with this family. We are heart broken . She is stubborn, argumentative and all the counseling in the world could not break her cold exterior – non verbal glaring. She remembers nothing of her happy childhood – why? How? Will she ever mature to recognize people who loved and supported her through so much!

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