upset kidAsk The School Counselor about Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Dear Cheri,

I am writing because I am concerned about my five year-old daughter. She has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and does not handle change well. My husband and I have decided to get a divorce, and I am not sure how to break the news to her. Could you give us some suggestions?

Sincerely,

Julie, San Diego

Dear Julie,

You are correct in being concerned about your daughter’s response to your impending divorce. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) do not handle change well. ODD is a psychiatric disorder diagnosed in childhood characterized by defiant and antagonistic problem behaviors, and hostile and angry attitudes. These disturbances in behavior cause clinical impairment in academic, social, and, eventually, occupational functioning

Behavior Routines

Raising a child with ODD disorder can be very difficult and trying on the best of days. The most effective method of managing problem behaviors is by adhering to a fairly rigid behavioral routine. When unexpected issues arise, the result is often uncontrollable temper tantrums and emotional distress.

Divorce is an issue that is upsetting to all children, but when those with existing emotional issues are asked to cope with a parent leaving home, some extra effort is necessary to help them manage their feelings.

Preparing her for the Divorce

Your most important task is to prepare your daughter for what is to come. Expect emotional and behavioral outbursts. If possible, both parents should be present when your child is informed about the divorce, and it should be done in a quiet, familiar place.

The setting should allow both you and your husband to be close to your daughter and to hold her when she becomes upset. If there have been obvious signs of your unhappy marriage, discuss them with her gently so she has a clear picture that the family is not happy in its’ present state and that change can be positive.

Then, when you tell her about the divorce, make sure she is close to, or being held by either you or your husband. She will very likely become very angry and cry, and, if she cannot control her feelings, you may need to hold her to keep her safe until she calms down.

Taking About the Future

Explain to her exactly what the living situation will be and any changes she will experience, such as school, friends, neighborhoods, etc. In addition, I strongly encourage you to involve her as much as possible in each of these changes, whenever it is realistic.

Let her help with decorating her new home, especially her room. Involve her in choosing living arrangements. Allow her to accompany your husband or yourself when you search for a new apartment or home. Frequently sit down with her and see how she is feeling about the divorce.

Make a point of thoughts about the situation so you can intervene if she is blaming herself. In addition, you and your husband should always be available for lots of extra hugs and kisses to assure her that her place in the world hasn’t changed and she is loved.

Keep the School Informed

Finally, it is important to let your child’s teacher know what is going on at home. If she should begin to act out in the academic setting, school personnel should be prepared to understand and be ready to intervene with any behavioral or emotional problems that arise at school.

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Cheri King-Guler

Cheri King-Guler received her Master's in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has worked with students of all ages and specializes in parent interventions. Cheri was
published in the Communique, the monthly newspaper for the National Association of School
Psychologists. Cheri has a unique perspective on special needs children, as she has experienced the
special education system as a parent as well as a psychologist. She is presently pursuing her second
Master's degree in counseling psychology. In addition, Cheri writes both fiction and non-fiction for
children.
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