Is there a link between Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD and Childhood Bullying?

oppositional defiant childWhile researching information recently for a couple families I work with, I discovered an older article from Huffington Post “Bullying and Mental Health:  Study Links Anxiety, Hyperactivity in Kids to Bullying.”  While this article was written in October 2012, following a study presented at the American Academy of Pediatric’s National Conference, I still found the information thought-provoking.

As we all know, when it comes to bullying, the focus of most of the research out there has been on the victims of bullying.  Studies show that children who are bullied have a higher chance of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.  However, this study focused on the relationship between mental health problems and the likelihood that a child will become a bully.  This study found that kids diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder were 6 times more likely to be identified as bullies than children with no mental health disorders!

This makes perfect sense to me when you consider many of the symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are more likely to have frequent tantrums, act out aggressively, engage in “revenge seeking” behaviors, and defy requests from authority figures.  This study also found that children with ADHD were more likely to be identified as bullies as well.  This also makes sense to me when you consider the fact that children with ADHD often act impulsively without thinking of consequences for their actions such as thinking how another child will feel if they call him a name.  Children with ADHD often have poor social skills and lack social restraint.  Thinking through the consequences of their actions is just plain difficult for these children, which falls right in line with the concept that these children may be identified as bullies—perhaps unbeknownst to the child himself.

So what can parents do if they suspect their Oppositional Defiant Child might be a bully?

1.  Help your child create healthy peer relationships.  Encourage your Oppositional Defiant Child to develop and maintain friendships.  If your child doesn’t have many friends right now, try enrolling him in a club or activity that he enjoys.  Then talk to him and listen to him as the two of you discuss the club or activity. Are there children he talks about more frequently than others?  If these children are positive role models for your child to be friends with, then encourage the budding friendships.  If your Oppositional Defiant Child creates meaningful friendships, then he’ll grow his self-esteem and begin to build some empathy for others.

2.  Set rules and follow them.  It’s difficult raising a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  One of the best methods for improving your child’s negative behaviors is to set clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules.  Then follow them CONSISTENTLY!!!  It’s time to impress upon your child that there are rules in life.  Oppositional Defiant children often defy rules and requests from authority figures, making them prime candidates for bullying.  Do you really want your child to be a bully?  Do you really want your child to spend the rest of his life in trouble with authority, such as the school principal, police, court, etc.?  Is that the future you want for your child?  Make sure your child understands that bullying will not be tolerated and set firm boundaries and consequences for such behavior.

3.  Try to understand the reasons behind the bullying behavior.  Is your child angry?  Is he having difficulty expressing his emotions in a healthy way?  Perhaps your child simply needs to learn conflict-resolution skills or problem-solving skills.

4.  Set a good example.  Our kids are like sponges.  They watch, model, and internalize EVERYTHING we do.  Not necessarily everything we say.  So model good behavior with others.  Don’t ridicule or name-call others, even adults.  Your child will begin to think that this is acceptable behavior by watching you interact with other adults this way.  Verbalize your feelings and frustrations in healthy ways.  Explain to your kids that you’re frustrated or feeling angry.  For example, next time a truck driver cuts you off on the interstate, instead of screaming “M***** F*****” and blaring your horn, try taking a deep breath and calmly tell your child, “Boy, that really made me mad.  It’s not nice to cut someone off on the interstate.  Someone could get hurt.”  What a switch, huh?

5.  Establish a positive parenting environment in your home.  Catch your children doing positive things.  Praise them when they interact positively with siblings, friends, parents, and other people in their lives.  Give attention every time your child is being positive.  Establishing a positive parenting environment in your home is the key to putting it all together.  A positive parenting home will teach your child to be positive themselves and not find enjoyment in hurting others.  Show your child how being positive, looking for the good in people, and helping people is a healthier and happier way to live life.

Behavior Management Coaching helps parents of Oppositional Defiant Children learn to establish firm, clear rules and expectations for their children before it’s too late!  We can help turn the negativity of your home into one of mutual respect.  Talk to us today.