David, a handsome six-year-old boy with curly brown hair, hazel eyes and a stocky build, loved recess. He would climb to the top of the monkey bars and yell, “I am king of the world!” David also loved to argue with his first grade teacher; he always had to have the “last word” in every argument. He defied his principal — or for that matter, most adults who tried to be an authority figure — and his explosive anger scared his friends and peers, causing them to back away from him. At home, his mother, Nancy, could not make him mind. Even simple commands such as, brush your teeth, pick up your dirty socks or go to bed, erupted into tug-of-war battles. What was much worse, however, was when David demanded something from his mother. His favorite, always asked immediately before dinner, was, “Mom, can I have a candy bar?” As soon as Nancy mouthed the word “no,” David’s anger transformed into a raging locomotive which ran her over. At these times, Nancy would retreat into the safety of her bathroom, lock the door and sob over the loss she felt. Like a punctured oil pan dripping black oil more and more each day, it felt as if her love for her son was draining out of her heart. Difficult thoughts filled up the empty space in her heart. “I am scared of my own son, what do I do?” Now desperate, Nancy turned to her boyfriend Jacob, who had a completely different view of David. “He minds me — sort of -— because he knows I mean business. Nancy, you need to be firmer, David’s just going through a phase that he will grow out of.”
What neither Nancy or Jacob know is that David’s whole future now teeters on a precipice — one path leads to success in school and in life; the other descends into dark places — like jail — or even worse, an early death caused by violence, drugs and alcohol. Too dramatic? Well, consider the following facts in child developmental research:
1. David has a serious childhood behavioral disorder called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD. It is defined as a pattern of negative, hostile and defiant behaviors with these symptoms: Loses one’s temper, defies and argues with adults, refuses to follow rules and blames others for his mistakes.
2. ODD, left uncorrected, can progress into the adult version called Conduct Disorder and/or Antisocial Personality Disorder.
3. CD and APD are the two most common “admission tickets” into adult prison.
ODD is to CD what asthma is to lung cancer. Or, using the proper Star Wars analogy, ODD is to CD what the young (still good) Anakin is to Darth Vader (corrupted by the dark force). ODD carries within itself a deadly seed. If this seed is allowed to germinate and grow, David will never develop into a healthy young man. This seed can destroy David’s moral compass, his sense of right and wrong, his conscience.
Moral development, just like physical development, progresses over time. In the same way an infant must crawl before walking, David must learn to accept “no” before he can sort out if a decision is right or wrong. More importantly, the child must learn to recognize that appropriate guilt is a signal of making a moral error. That is, guilt is a necessary ingredient for the child to develop healthy morality. If the needle (his conscience) on David’s moral compass is removed, he feels no remorse or guilt.
What causes ODD? The first cause is a major disruption in the family, which breaks or destroys the bond between the child and his/her caregivers. In David’s case, the knife which cut the parent-child bond was the death of his father when David was two. For Nancy, this loss threw her into a world of deep trauma and depression which made it impossible to effectively parent David.
The second cause of ODD is inborn, genetic skill deficits which make it impossible for a child to develop behavioral control. David was born with the following:
1. Poor frustration tolerance. When David’s wishes were not met, his internal frustrations erupted too fast and too hard.
2. Rigid and inflexible thinking. David saw the world in terms of good and bad, all vs. none, you like me vs. you hate me. He lacked the mental flexibility needed to effectively solve problems.
3. Poor impulse control. David could not think before acting.