My Oppositional Defiant (ODD) Son with Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD

There simply is not enough written about what it is like to live with children who are extremely oppositional. This blog post at ADHDMomma is an extremely descriptive and accurate description of what a morning can be like when you have a child that has a diagnosis of ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).

It drives me crazy to read about studies in the psychiatric literature that point to parenting as a major 'cause' of oppositional behavior. The climate is changing and Psychiatrist and researchers are realizing that this irritability, contrariness, argumentativeness, etc is hard wired in people with ODD and parenting can help but is not a cause.

ADHD and ODD often coexist. It estimated that 40% of children with ADHD might also be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Dr. Charles Parker has reported on research that has found that the Glutamate levels of people with ADHD and ODD can be unusually elevated, supporting the notion that the causes of ODD are biological and not the result of 'bad' parenting.  There is not a simple correlation between the neurotransmitter Glutamate at ODD but the new ADHD drug Intuniv lowers Glutamate levels and may sometimes be especially useful in treating ADHD with coexisting ODD. Dr. Charles Parker reviews that possibility in this blog post.

I have found the book 'The Explosive Child' by Ross W. Greene, to be extremely useful and I have found eliminating any stress that I can from his life useful as well. My son is much less oppositional when he is relaxed but recently I have discovered a method to improve his ODD that has changed my life. Unless you live with a child with ADHD and ODD you cannot imagine how hellish it can be to get through a day. It wears you down completely to live with someone who continuously complains, argues and loses his or her temper.

The new method that has helped us is extremely simple. I have started 'bribing' my son to be cheerful and cooperative. I felt guilty about the thought of using this method for about one day but then stopped feeling guilty and started enjoying myself because immediately this method proved to be tremendously helpful. We had tried positive reinforcement many times in the past but I think what made this reinforcement more powerful was the immediacy and the amount of the reward.

My son is nine and he gets seven dollars (a day) (described to him as a whopping $50.00 a week) if he gets through the week without:

Being disrespectful

Talking back

Saying Negative things


Losing his temper

Becoming Immediately Frustrated

Being Uncooperative

Hitting, screaming, disobeying

I know he is capable of being more positive as he is better behaved at school than at home. I have tried many methods to get him to stop being oppositional at home but this 'bribing with lots of money' method has worked the best so far.

The way our system works is that every infraction costs him a dollar. If he extremely contrary or repeatedly complains after he is told he has lost $1.00, it costs him $3.00 and if he has a full blown fit it costs him his entire $7.00 for the day.

Once he has lost the money, it is gone but he has a chance to earn a fraction of it (up to $2.00 a day) back. If he genuinely says something positive, is genuinely cheerful or if he is genuinely cooperative and helpful.

I have spoken to him at length about our new system and have made it clear to him that the money is for stopping the negative behavior. Once he has behaved disrespectfully or negatively, the damage is done and that, in life, it is difficult to 'make up' for negative actions.

I have told him that people who think positively are more successful in life, get sick less often, live longer and are better able to cope with stress. I have told him that negative thinking is as bad as smoking cigarettes for your heath. We read a pamphlet together which reported the findings of Martin Seligman, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, who found that optimistic people are happier, healthier, live longer and are more successful than people with a negative and angry outlook on life.   We have talked about the research that has proven that all of us have the power to turn negative thinking into positive thinking and have explained to him that getting better at positive thinking, like getting better at baseball or football takes practice and time.   I have made it clear to him that this system is so extreme in its rewards because learning to think positively is that important to his life and health.

Last week my son earned 31 dollars and I had the most relaxing week that I have had in about 4 years. I would pay much more than that to not have to live with a person who is as difficult as my son is capable of being. I have routinely paid five times that amount a week to get him and I therapy and it has never been THIS effective. Who knows how long this system will remain effective.  Maybe it is just the novelty of it that is making it work but, at the moment, I am just basking in the joy of a peaceful house.

I realize that not everyone can afford this method but if you can afford any large bribe (a camping trip, a movie, a coveted toy) try it. It may change your life.


  1. I'm an adult recently diagnosed with ADD-PI and I love your blog - I've printed out a few pages to help my parents understand the diagnosis, and I am deeply grateful for your thoughtfulness on this topic. So thank you, Tessermom! I don't have kids but I have trained dogs for many years, of all behavioral stripes, and here's my take on your system to reduce your son's ODD behavior - no organism changes their behavior without reward. Finding the reward that works best is key, and you have. You just need it to last long enough for him to experience the inherent pleasures of less-defiant behavior . . . and then you'll have multiple rewards to work with. And that makes life even easier. But I agree, this is not too high a price to pay for peace!

  2. Thanks for your support. I am hoping that you are right!!

  3. I know my comment is over a year later but I wanted to say that this is what we did to get our son with ADHD (limited impulse control) and ODD to stop being violent when he was 11. He is now almost 14 and we don't do the behavior chart anymore but I do still do a lot of bribing. It works and he is much better than he was a couple of years ago.


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