Attachment Theory and Treating Oppositional Defiant Disorder

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Published: 07th July 2010
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EVERY YEAR, AN UNTOLD number of parents seek professional help for their children because of unmanageable behavioral problemswith many of these children being out-of-control. Many of these out-of-control kids are diagnosed with a condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). In the majority of cases, parents are taught new discipline strategies, from stickers and behavioral charts to power assertive techniques like removing privileges, time-outs, and groundings.

While these approaches can have benefit, they frequently miss the mark and leave parents feeling confused and defeated. In some cases, these approaches only exacerbate the problem by leading to an escalation of conflict and increased acting-out behavior. Recent research on attachment theory and the healing power of the parent-child relationship offers a new way of thinking about treating children and adolescents with behavioral problems, especially those children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Oppositional Defiant Disorder consists of three main features:



Defiance.

These children refuse to comply with requests. "No is their favorite word, and parents become locked into a pattern in which they battle the child over just about everything. Such battles are out of proportion to what is developmentally appropriate.

Anger and irritability.

Touchy, easily annoyed and argumentative, oppositional defiant children throw temper tantrums and refuse to accept responsibility for their behavior.

Negativity.

Such children are gifted at putting a negative spin on life. And they have a knack for spreading this negativity to the rest of the family. Many parents complain that it is almost impossible to please their defiant child.

Attachment Theory and ODD

Below are the key factors involved in an attachment relationship. According to attachment theory, the quality of a parent- child relationship plays a critical role in shaping a childs way of thinking, feeling and behaving. When the attachment relationship becomes threatened, disrupted or disturbed, it creates a context for behavioral problems to appear. Unless the relationship is repaired, primarily rule-based, power-assertive parenting techniques that focus mostly on punishments like spankings, time-outs, or removal of privileges will lose their effectiveness. The angry, defiant child will essentially ignore them or intentionally try to sabotage them.



Proximity seeking.

When a child becomes upset, he will seek proximity or closeness to the caregiver.

Safe haven.

As a child gets closer to the caregivereither physically or emotionally the child feels a sense of peace, confidence, comfort and calm. It is in this relationship that the child learns to manage negative emotions and problem solving.



Secure base/exploration.

A child who knows the caregiver is readily available, uses this sense of security as a base from which to explore the world, and develops a sense of self-confidence and creativity. Notice that self-confidence begins with confidence in another person.



Attachment wounds lead to very strong emotional reactions.

These feelings are often acted-out in misbehaviors like defiance, temper tantrums, and clingy, controlling actions.

Separation or threat of separation. Take help from telephone counselor .

Anything that the child perceives as a threat to the attachment relationship leads to intense emotions like anger and/or anxiety.

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