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Old 10-21-04, 11:03 AM
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ODD and Obedience

This is a paper I am writing for fun, based on some theories I have about ODD and obedience, which are based on my knowledge of social psychology, my experience as an educator, and my experience as a kid with ODD. It's not quite finished yet, because I still have to write a few more strategies, but I've got to go to class now, so here is what I have so far. I might write more in about 15 minutes depending on how fast this Exam I have coming up goes, but if not, I will finish writing more after my last class at 3pm, provided one of you reminds me hehe.

I will be discussing it further in tonight's scheduled chat, also. OH And this is a reminder that I am NOT a doctor, therapist, or psychologist at present, just a student with an interest here. All of this is hypothesis and conjecture which, though based on experience and research, is NOT considered scientifically valid and has NOT been proven by any studies that I know of.

Possible Behavioral Management Techniques for Children with Oppositional-Defiant Disorder and Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder
Based in part on the theories and works of Stanley Milgram

Keith Miller

In 1963, a social psychologist named Stanley Milgram set about to perform one of the most important studies in social psychology. Known commonly as the Obedience Experiment, Milgram studied how obedient individuals would be to authority, as well as what factors would influence the amount of obedience people would exhibit. This experiment is one of, if not the, most famous experiment of all time. I will not go into detail on the experiment itself, instead choosing to jump directly into the concepts and hypotheses which I have formulated based on his study and my knowledge and experience with Oppositional-Defiant Disorder and Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder in youth.

By manipulation of variables within his experiment, Milgram identified several factors which influenced the obedience or disobedience of the subjects. These factors included the appearance of the situation, the appearance of the authority, the diffusion of responsibility, the proximity of the authority, the proximity of the target to be performed, and whether or not the individual had an ally. Of these, we will focus mainly on the appearance of the situation and the authority, and the proximity of the authority.

The first I will discuss is the appearance of the situation. In a normal individual, obedience is increased by the formality of the situation in which they are. That is, an individual is more likely to obey a direct order from a judge in a courtroom, from a baker in a bakery, or a police officer in a prison. However, individuals with ODD demonstrated a marked defiance to authority. That is, rather than being more likely to obey a perceived authority, they are more likely to resist. It follows, therefore, that by removing an “official” edge from a situation, one could potentially increase compliance.

Equally important to the appearance of the situation is the appearance of the authority. Individuals are more likely to obey those who they perceive as authorities, whether those authorities are real or imagined. To draw from previous examples, one is more likely to obey a judge who is wearing robes, a baker who is wearing a culinary hat, or a police officer who is in uniform. Furthermore, one is more likely to obey a non-authority if the non-authority can create the appearance of being an authority. Thus, security officers, having no actual real legal authority whatsoever, still demand respect by the sheer virtue of the fact that they are wearing a uniform.

In a child with ODD, this perceived authority is seen as a threat. The ODD child sees all authority as a threat to their own person. Obedience to authorities is the same in the mind of a child with ODD as self-destruction or suicide. By acquiescing to the will of another, they are actively destroying themselves, in their own minds. Therefore, the best way to gain compliance and obedience is to remove the perception of an authority as such.
In my three years experience working with children, I have had the opportunity to work with several children with ADHD and ODD. I have observed that obedience, compliance, and conformance can be better achieved by peers or those closer to peers than by supreme authorities. For example, in the day camp situation which I worked, an ODD child would actively defy the higher authorities, directors, older staff members, and so further. However, when presented with the exact same order by someone in a lower status, that is, a regular counselor or a younger staff member, the level of obedience rose dramatically.

In working with ODD children, and thinking back over my own youth, I have observed that children with ODD are more likely respond to requests than commands. A direct order is a threat. When a child with ODD is given a command, this triggers an almost automatic reaction of assertion. Why obey this directive? This direct command is impugning to free will, and therefore destructive of the self. In the mind of a child with ODD, choice is existence. What else exists, after all, but our own ability to act and choose and decide as we will?

I will give now give two situational examples, one from my observations, and one from my own experience, and then I will develop these points into something we can use to improve our ability to achieve compliance and obedience from children with ODD.

When working with an ODD child this summer, I noticed that the child would be very oppositional and problematic when chided or given an order in a harsh manner. “Stop that now, go sit over there!” was virtually ineffective, and led only to further resistance at a later time. However, often times I would have the opportunity to sit and speak plainly with this child, often when they were already in trouble and therefore separated from the group. I could speak plainly with the child, build rapport, and most importantly, gain obedience and compliance, because of several factors, which I will soon discuss.

In my own youth, I also often found myself in trouble. I spent more time in trouble at summer camps than I did normally. I spent more time in school doing detentions and after school “work details” than anyone else I know of in the history of my fine alma mater. I therefore know that I tend to be far more obedient to requests than commands, and I much rather have choice than not. I also have always been far more obedient to authorities who present themselves as my friends, and not as my bosses. Very important is that I also have a pretty good sense for when someone is putting me on about being “doing this for your own good,” so it’s important to be sincerely interested in being the child’s friend than his or her boss.

What actions can we take, then, to increase obedience in children with ODD? I propose that there are several actions we can take. Many of these are supported by substantial amounts of research, but others are simply based on my own observations and experiences, as well as theories and psychological principles with which I am familiar.

1) Present choices rather than imperatives. What I mean by this is quite simple…rather than giving a single order and expecting it to be carried out, phrase the command in terms of “You can either choose to do this, or choose to do this.” Make sure that the child understands the consequences of both courses of action, but allow them to choose whichever course of action they please. By allowing the child to choose, it removes the perceived threat of losing their individuality, and therefore it makes them more comfortable in deciding on their own to do what you want them to.
2) Present commands in the form of requests, rather than orders. Rather than saying “Go clean your room,” say “Will you please clean your room?” Follow this by making a statement outlining the consequences of any courses of action. “If you clean your room, then…. But if you don’t, then….”
3) Deemphasize the superior role of the person giving the order. By appearing to be a friend or a peer, the child is less likely to feel threatened by the idea that they are succumbing to an unjust authority. Creating the appearance of equality as individuals will allow the child to feel more at ease choosing to answer the request of another.
4) Create a situation in which the authority of the individual giving the order is less readily apparent. Rather than standing at the front of a classroom or in the frame of a door overlooking a room like some form of tyrannical potentate, approach the child, gain close proximity (but not so close as to make the child feel trapped), and speak plainly as one equal to another. This will create the feeling of friendship and equality, therefore removing the need to defy an authority.
5) Befriend the child as best as possible, and carefully ensure them that you are not trying to change them, but to help them to achieve their own goals. Very rarely do children WANT to misbehave or cause trouble; they do so simply as a defense mechanism to prevent the outside world from destroying them by taking away their free will. Don’t tell a child “You need to behave better.” Rather, speak to them as a friend helping another friend would. “The reason you keep getting in trouble is because… I’m not yelling at you right now, I’m just telling you that you won’t get in trouble as often if you choose not to do … anymore. Is there any way I can help you not get in trouble?”
6) Make sure that consequences for actions are very apparent, and very well enforced; but then allow the child to choose their own course of action. When providing a choice, it is important that the child is able to make an informed choice based on consequences. When told “You can choose to clean your room, or leave it a mess” what thinking individual would choose to clean their room? Instead, complete the consequence sequence. “You can choose to clean your room, which will make it easier to walk around in and it’ll be healthier and more fun to play in, or you can choose not to, which will just let it get worse, less fun, and I wouldn’t have a choice but to punish you.” Also, make sure the child sees the good consequences of choosing the correct course of action. Simply threatening punishment for incorrect choices will only lead to more defiant behavior. Present the punishment as an inevitable consequence of bad action, and not as a form of judgment being laid down from above. Remind the child that you are not the one who is deciding to punish them, you are only doing your job, and if the child chooses poorly, punishment simple HAS to happen, not because you want it to, but because they chose that course of action. By doing this, the child will begin to understand that authority figures are not “the enemy,” imposing their will on those below them, but simply other people, who have the unfortunate job of punishing those below for disobedience, but who MUST do that job, and have no choice in the matter.
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Last edited by Trooper Keith; 10-21-04 at 11:31 AM..
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Old 10-21-04, 11:50 AM
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Here is what I have written before lunch. Note that point 7 is simply a repetition of part of point 6...I decided point 6 was too long and divided it into 2 points...so that's why it is repeated. In a final draft, point 6 will be smaller and point 7 will be there.

CONTINUED ---

7) Present the punishment as an inevitable consequence of bad action, and not as a form of judgment being laid down from above. Remind the child that you are not the one who is deciding to punish them, you are only doing your job, and if the child chooses poorly, punishment simple HAS to happen, not because you want it to, but because they chose that course of action. By doing this, the child will begin to understand that authority figures are not “the enemy,” imposing their will on those below them, but simply other people, who have the unfortunate job of punishing those below for disobedience, but who MUST do that job, and have no choice in the matter.

Now that we have these strategies, we ought to develop methods which go along with them. All of these methods ought to be applied whenever possible. In order to achieve a solid rapport, it is necessary to spend time with the child. This time spent should be spent as a friend and not as an authority figure. By demonstrating to the child that we, as authorities, are just the same as they are, we can serve to remove the ideation in the child’s mind that we are somehow out to get them. In my experience, I have been infinitely more successful in attaining obedience from children with ODD when I have explained to them the nature of my position.

When working as a camp counselor, we had a child with relatively severe ODD. He often resisted authority, and caused trouble with counselors and other children. He would constantly seek attention, and often interrupt us in our duties, not because he wanted to bother us, but because he wanted the attention. Many times, he would be yelled at by my coworkers, and he would often be responsive to the orders, but then use passive-aggressive techniques to get back at us, so to speak.

I made it a point, when speaking to him or enforcing a punishment, that he knew I was not the one making the judgment. I explained to him very simply: I am doing a job. I, myself, personally, would not care whatever if he was causing trouble, because I was a troublemaker in my youth as well. So it was not ME who had to punish him. It was the nature of my authority. I had to punish him because I had a job to do. I then explained to him that my job was not to punish him, but to make sure consequences for actions are carried out. I explained that I had no choice but to punish misbehavior and that I had to do so to everyone, not just him.

After I explained this to him, we spoke on the matter for a while. He was far more obedient to me after this. When I would have to chide him in the future, instead of yelling at him, or warning him “I am going to punish you!” I made a simple, humble request. I would say “Please don’t make me do my job. I hate having to punish you, so please don’t make me have to by making bad choices.” When the situation in his mind changed from one in which I was punishing him out of spite and of my own free will, and he realized that he was in total control over the situation as to whether he would get punished or not, his obedience to me went up infinitely, insomuch that there was never a time in which he would disobey me.

Some of my coworkers, however, were not so successful. They did not have the rapport I had, and they did not use the same kind of techniques I did. They did not separate themselves from their office as I did, in the mind of this child. Therefore, he continued to defy them on occasion. Nevertheless, his behavior improved drastically following a series of several conversations we had throughout the summer.

Similarly, in my own youth, I often responded better to individuals who were not trying to lay down the law from above. When I understood that my actions determined the consequences, I learned quickly that it was not the teachers and adults that caused me to be punished, but my own actions. Of course, this simply led me to be very good at concealing any of my actions which would have negative consequences. Nevertheless, my overall behavior was much better in the classes of teachers whom I liked and with whom I got along well than not.

It should be mentioned that at times becoming too friendly with an ODD child will cause the opposite effect of what I described above. In one such case, a coworker of mine developed a friendship with the same child, and then lost the respect of authority from that child. It is important to separate times and functions. I had success when I could say “Now I am cool and joking around” and then change that by simply saying “Now I am serious, you must listen to me.” By informing the child of when you are being serious or you are being relaxed, you allow the child to make relations for what behavior is acceptable, when. You also create effective and consistent frameworks. Instead of being authoritative one minute and friendly the next, which can be very confusing, you create two separate times and occasions, and therefore two separate expectations of behavior.
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Old 10-22-04, 12:15 AM
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Old 10-22-04, 03:00 AM
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If you'd like to make them, sure...I was really just putting it out here as a group of theories...
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Old 10-22-04, 07:05 PM
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Very well done.
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