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284: What If My Kid Seems Oppositional And Defiant?

If you’re a parent with a kiddo who’s constantly angry and acting out, a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can seem like an explanation for a lot of disruptive behavior. But what if that defiance and opposition are actually caused by other sensitivity? I’ve worked with so many parents who struggle to understand why their strong-willed kid is lashing out. An ODD diagnosis can seem like an answer, but the label doesn’t come with the tools to actually help their sensitive little human cope with their big feelings. Let’s talk about why I think ODD is a symptom, not a cause, and how to approach your struggling kiddo with the empathy they need to become a success story.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why I’m convinced the behavior we label as oppositional and defiant is really our kids asking for help the only way they know how. 
  • All the other specialness that an ODD label can cause us to overlook.
  • What strong-willed kids are looking for when they use external conflict to compensate for internal discomfort.
  • Why we try to think our way through situations when we should learn how to feel through them instead.

And much more! 

As always, thanks for listening. Head over to Facebook, where you can join my free group Mastermind Parenting Community. We post tips and tools and do pop-up Live conversations where I do extra teaching and coaching to support you in helping your strong-willed children so that they can FEEL better and DO better. If you enjoyed this episode and think that others could benefit from listening, please share it!

About Randi Rubenstein

Randi Rubenstein helps parents with a strong-willed kiddo become a happier family and enjoy the simple things again like bike rides and beach vacays.

She’s the founder of Mastermind Parenting, host of the Mastermind Parenting podcast, and author of The Parent Gap. Randi works with parents across the U.S.

At Mastermind Parenting, we believe every human deserves to have a family that gets along.

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Randi Rubenstein: [00:00:00] My name is Randi Rubenstein, and welcome to the Mastermind Parenting Podcast. At Mastermind Parenting, we’re on a mission to support strong-willed kids and the families that love them. 

Hello. Hello. Hello. How is everyone this week? How are you guys doing? We’re into April. We’re springing into April. All things spring cleaning and that good stuff is going on in my life. I am recording this midday where I start to feel a little tired, maybe I want to nap, and then I decided I’m going to record a podcast because that always gives me a burst of energy talking to all of you lovelies out there. And today I have a lovely topic, oh so lovely, Oppositional Defiance Disorder. 

You know, 

I have parents come to me all the time because, when I tell anyone, yeah, [00:01:00] my jam are those kids, the ones that can be categorized as strong willed or the ones that, you know, most people are scratching their heads about or worrying that, is there something wrong with my kid? Quite often schools are like, oh, you got so and so in your class. I love those kids because, those kids, to me, every time I hear about one of these strong-willed kids, these difficult kids, these kids that God forbid somebody has labeled as ODD, I just know they are like waiting to be a success story. 

I’ve just seen it too many times and um, it’s super exciting to me when I get to work with a parent who comes and tells me that their kid has been labeled as, possibly ODD. Or if they don’t figure this out, it looks like they’re going down the [00:02:00] road of ODD. And I’m like, oh, hell no. No, no, no, no, no. No, you’ve come to the right place. 

So behind the scenes for years, I’ve felt like this ODD diagnosis was a bullshit diagnosis. Um, I have no credibility or credentials to be saying that. And I just know it, I know it in my core. I know these are the kids that are so angry and frustrated and just, they’re dying to have adults figure out how to help them. They’re this little seedling that feels like they’re dying and they’re waiting to bloom and sprout and, and be amazing. and we just have to know how to help them. 

And so somebody sent me a resource recently. A social media reel, let’s be honest. It’s the resources that [00:03:00] most of us are getting, the bite sized resources. And it’s this, this child psychiatrist that is out in L. A. I do not know him personally. His name is Steven Storage. And I looked him up after listening to his short reel. I’m going to play his short reel for you all because he, he does have the credentials to say ODD is a bullshit diagnosis and this is what it’s really about. And I want to kind of unpack, um, what he says and my thoughts on it and what to do about it. 

Because I think like so many doctors and medical professionals, they’re good with the labels. A lot of times they have great evaluations to help us figure out what is going on, if our kid has a brain that is wired, 

if they have an ADHD brain, if they’re highly sensitive or if they’re on the spectrum or if there’s some kind of learning [00:04:00] difference, I think that medical professionals can really help us to have some awareness and to understand our kids better and, um, so that we can figure out how to help them. 

The problem is, and I’ve heard this from so many people and I even experienced this myself with my own kids, is quite often you get these labels, but then you don’t get the, what do I do about it? How do I help them? What actually is going to air quotes work with my child to help pull my child out of this dark place? Like, how am I going to help my child to learn the way their brain is intended to learn, to develop the skills that they need? 

So I’m, I, I want to talk about that.

Um, but first let’s talk about this guy before I, before I play his video. I looked him up and it says, Dr. Storage was raised in Southern California. He’s a proud father of two boys. So he’s a doctor who has [00:05:00] his own kids, we like that. 

He’s a diplomat at the Medical Board of California for Physicians and Surgeons. And he’s also a diplomat. I don’t know what that exactly means, but in both, maybe it means that he has some kind of a leadership role. He’s a diplomat in both child, adolescent, as well as adult psychiatry for the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, which sounds like with some awards, Magna Cum Laude, with a degree in molecular and cell biology, and her, earned his medical degree from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he served as class president for two years. It sounds like he’s a real overachiever. 

He completed his general psychiatry residency at Stanford Hospital and Clinics, and his Child Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at the University of Southern California where he served as a chief fellow. He is now a part of that, [00:06:00] of Dr. Amen, uh, his clinics, Dr., the Amen Clinics. Dr. Storage was clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at USC and he worked on a busy inpatient psychiatric consultation service at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Um, so this guy sounds like he’s got all of the fancy credentials, so we can all take a breath that he doesn’t seem to be a pop psychologist or a social media influencer, um, telling us all the things. I know, the way we operate here in our community is we are left brain people. We like to do our research and we seek professionals. We seek professionals that we know have, you know, done the training that we can believe in and we want their scientists brains looking at our specific situations, um, to help us figure out how to help our kids. 

So [00:07:00] let’s hear what Dr. Storage has to say about oppositional defiance disorder.

Dr. Steven Storage: Oppositional Defiant Disorder, in my opinion, is not a diagnosis. It is a symptom. So if a parent tells me that their child has oppositional defiant disorder, I’m thinking where is that coming from? And here are five of the top reasons that I see. 

Number one, ADHD. Children with ADHD tend to be more conflict seeking because conflict increases dopamine level in the brain, which they may lack. And so that can come off as oppositionality. 

Number two, Depression. Children with depression have a tendency to appear more irritable, and that, too, can come off as being oppositional. 

Number three, Anxiety. If someone has anxiety, they are desperately trying to control their environment to feel less anxious. If you’re overly controlling, that can look like rejecting what other people are telling you to do. 

Number four, OCD. In [00:08:00] OCD, our brain tends to get stuck in thought loops, and actually it’s the same circuitry in ODD as in OCD that is involved. 

And lastly, number five, Autism Spectrum Disorder. Children who are on the spectrum have a tendency to be inflexible and rigid when it comes to certain topics, and that too can come off as oppositionality.

Randi Rubenstein: So you heard it from this doctor. He also thinks that the oppositional or defiant behavior is a symptom. Now he does what so many other medical professionals do. He gives a label. It’s a symptom of a kid that is ADHD. Well, why might a kid who is ADHD be oppositional and defiant? Hmm. 

And [00:09:00] it may have to do with a kid that is, you know, showing up with some OCD ten tendencies, right? Um, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Um, a kid who is seeking a lot of order in their environment, right? They’re trying to control all the things to the point that it starts to take over their life. That’s, I know, a very limited amount about OCD.

Um, a kid that has anxiety. Right? A kid that has so much anxiety that it is debilitating them. a kid with so much anxiety is gonna, you know, sometimes act in this oppositional or defiant way because they feel so out of control inside their body, that they’re seeking to control, you know, through anger and controlling, you can’t make me, I won’t listen. And so they want to control everything outside of themselves.[00:10:00] 

Um, and kids on the spectrum, which what we know is people on the spectrum, they quite often have low vagal tone, which means, you know, their nervous system is quite often dysregulated. 

You know what it feels like when when you’re dysregulated in your nervous system, it might be that you know, you didn’t get enough sleep or you slept really crummy and then the next day it’s like every little thing is setting you off. You just feel kind of yuck inside your body, but also you’re on edge, um, maybe you’re quick to, you know, lose your temper, you feel dysregulated inside your body. You’re dysregulated in your nervous system. And, you know, okay, great. These labels, I know they’re real, but what do we do about them? And how do we actually help our kids? 

And so if a kid has any of these diagnoses and they’re showing up [00:11:00] with Oppositional Defiant behavior? What do they actually need from us? What are they looking for, right? What are they looking for? 

They’re looking to feel more balanced in their nervous system. I think every single one of those disorders, you know, he talked about the kid that has ADHD being oppositional because quite often what happens is I call it the fight dance. So, a kid that is constantly wanting to power struggle with you or argue with you or you say black, they say white. Um, anything you ask them, you know, ask them to do, their answer is no or they won’t. You can’t make me. They’re, they’re looking for that fight dance. 

And that fight dance, what it does is, you know, if I’m feeling dysregulated in my [00:12:00] body and you fight with me. Right? Well, now it’s game on. Because when a dysregulated person starts to get into an argument or you find somebody who will do that fight dance, who will dance with you, um, now, number one, you’re not all alone in your dysregulation. Like you’ve now invited them over to the land of dysregulation.

And so since humans are pack animals, like it feels terrible to be all alone in whatever it is that we’re feeling. And naturally we co regulate with each other. Like, misery loves company. There’s a reason that saying exists. It’s because misery is lonely and loneliness is like human kryptonite.

So if I’m miserable and I’m all by myself. And no one is doing this consciously. This is subconscious. This is [00:13:00] primal, right? These kids that are looking for that fight dance. You know, if I’m super argumentative and, and trying to power struggle and you take the bait and you fight back with me or you power struggle or you lecture me or you, you know, start yelling at me, whatever it is, well at least I don’t have to be all alone in my misery. So weirdly, nobody, again, nobody consciously recognizes this, um, weirdly I’m not all alone in these uncomfortable feelings, this feeling of dysregulation. So it serves that purpose. Now I don’t have to be all alone. 

It also serves the purpose that whenever we fight, whenever you yell, you know, it’s like when you know, you’re like, I’m not going to yell at my kids. I’m not going to yell at my kids. I’m not going to yell at my kids. And then you’re like, what the hell were you thinking? And you didn’t want to yell at your kids, but something [00:14:00] happened and it was like you were a tea kettle and it was just like before you knew it, the steam had to escape.

So why? Why does that happen? Well, when we have, you know, that feeling in our body where it’s like building and building and building and building, when it’s released, there’s something that happens to us biochemically inside our bodies. There’s a little bit of an adrenaline rush that happens. 

And you know, we think we’re such, we’re these evolved, amazing modern humans, but really, really, really, really, we operate from such a primitive place so much of the time. We think we’re operating from these brilliant left hemispheres where we’re in the year 2024 right now. And, you know, things like AI are being developed. We think we’re so modern, but humans [00:15:00] are feeling animals like way more than we’re thinking animals. The feeling part of us overrides the thinking part. Every time. 

You know, they’ve done studies where the modern human and the archaeological studies of like the cave human, we’re like 99. 9 percent the same as we were when we were cave people. So we think we’re so evolved. These brilliant modern brains can solve all the world problems, but the problem is, is that this feeling part of us is what’s driving the car most of the time. The feeling part, right? Like what do we end up buying? It’s what, how we feel. How is that thing that I’m buying going to make me feel? No one really thinks about that, but it is the feeling part of us that determines what we actually do. 

So when the feeling part is [00:16:00] too much in your body, you’ve got this feeling of like a nervous system that’s going bzzz and you’re dysregulated. Right. And a kid is, a little tiny human, is feeling that, that feeling in their body. And then like, their body has a memory of when they power struggle with you, when they fight, when they say no, and then you can’t make me and I won’t. There’s this pattern that is created and, and the body has a memory, they don’t realize this is what’s going on. Their body takes over. 

So they engage you in this fight dance and then you being a human, you, your body takes over and you, the steam is building, the steam and you’re like the human tea kettle and then bam, you blast them back. And now we’re fight dancing and now we’re co regulating. And now we’re both having these adrenaline [00:17:00] rushes, maybe eventually it results with the small human in tears, which also is helping to balance him biochemically. He’s having a release or she’s having a release. 

So there’s all this happening, right? This is all this happening for the kid who maybe is living in a really frustrated place and they haven’t developed the skills for calming their bodies down, and they don’t feel understood a lot of the time. And they feel like the adults in their life at school at home, the kids in their life at school at home, don’t really want to hang around with them. Are not particularly happy with them. 

And it becomes this vicious cycle where these kids are quite often, of course, yeah, depression, I think depression probably [00:18:00] falls in all the categories. It’s pretty freaking depressing if this is your existence. And then you go to some well qualified doctor, not this one. This one sounds like he’s, you know, preaching the gospel, but you go to some very qualified medical professional that your parents take you to. 

And before you know it, your parents are getting this diagnosis that you’re, you’ve got ODD.

Or maybe you’re getting this different diagnosis, but no one’s telling your parents how to actually help you, how to help you or why you’re doing what you’re doing. And how your behavior doesn’t mean in any way what it, actually looks like. That you’re, you’re a little tiny human in pain. 

And the reason that you’re being so difficult is because it’s almost like if you could shake the big humans and say, help me, [00:19:00] please. Don’t yell at me. Help me. Help me learn the skills to understand what’s going on in my body. Listen to me, teach me how to talk with, and use my words instead of pushing everyone away.

 Because when I push everyone away, I’m actually quite lonely. And then it’s just making me feel angrier and more depressed inside.

I need my big people to learn some new skills so that you can teach me some new skills. And I can start to feel better because when I feel better, I’ll do better and we’ll be better, right? And we’ll be better. And Mom and Dad, like you won’t feel like a failure because you see me failing, right? You’ll realize that you do have the family that you’ve always wanted. Like I need you to help me. I need you to help me. 

[00:20:00] So I was just so happy to find this doctor, to hear him say it. I was a little nervous when I went to look up his credentials, I was like, please don’t be a quack. Please don’t be a quack. When he had all these fancy credentials, I was like, yeah, I think I need to record a podcast about this. 

Um, look, you’ve, if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, as you know, I have lots of podcast episodes about how to have productive conversations with your kids, um, how to listen, how to become more embodied yourself, how to help them to listen to their body, um, how to learn you know, new skills yourself, new ways of thinking and communicating and mastering your mind, Mastermind Parenting.

If we could get to that place that, you know, feels like freedom for humans, all through mastering our [00:21:00] minds without including the body, I think I’d be the first person to get there, but as I’ve learned and I continue to learn, um, we are feeling animals before we are thinking animals, so in order to truly master our minds, we have to include our bodies. We have to include our bodies, we have to learn how to listen to the whispers of our bodies. 

Um, and 

for those of us, raising my hand here, who have been numbers and avoiders and deniers and overers, you know, whatever your over behavior is to avoid feeling those feelings in your body. Um, unfortunately, those strategies, I’ll call them strategies, right? Those strategies have helped you when life felt too hard to feel. 

But if you have a difficult kid [00:22:00] or strong willed kid or an oppositional kid, they are shaking you by the shoulders saying, I need you to dig into this work. I need you to dig in and to, to learn how to listen to your body and to go to the next step. I like to say the next, uh, level of the video game of you so that you can help me. 

Like, all your kid wants is to feel better. It really is. And, and if you have a kid that a medical professional has given them a label, and you’re an advocate and you make sure they get, you know, the extra resources, um, at school, you know, all the academic extra resources, and you’ve really started studying like how they are wired and, and how they are designed to live and be and learn. 

Like I think that knowledge is power, [00:23:00] awareness is so important, and I also want to say that I know many of you are banging your heads against the wall saying, okay, great, you’ve told me the what. But you haven’t given me the how. How do I actually help them? What do I need to do? Um, so that’s what we, that’s what I’m doing. 

You’re listening to the podcast. If you are ready to go deeper, if you want to work directly with me, I would love to have a conversation with you. We have a self study course that you can take, um, but also I run a small boutique coaching practice and, um, and I dig in deep. We help a lot of kids. We help a lot of kids. 

So, um, if you’re feeling called to go deeper, please do not hesitate to book a call with us. We’re going to put the link in the show notes, um, but that’s what I got for you [00:24:00] this week. Until next time, bye for now.

Thanks for listening today, guys. I hope you picked up some tips, tools, maybe some baby steps for creating more balance and boundaries in your life. And I just wanted to let you know, if you want to continue moving the needle forward in creating this for yourself, having a happier household, I want you to go to my website and check out We have three beginning programs, and if you need some accountability and more support then please look for the one that would be a good fit for you.

And, as always, we’re on all the social channels under mastermind parenting, on Instagram it’s mastermind_parenting. And, you know, periodically I do pop up on different Instagram lives, Facebook lives where I give you teaching and coaching and I love engaging with you live [00:25:00] to help you help your strong-willed kids so that they can feel better, because when they feel better they do better, and I love, love, love getting to know you guys. 

So thanks for listening. If you like this podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review. Super super appreciative

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