It can be so difficult and trying to watch your child struggle, there is nothing more you want than to “fix” it all for them. Unfortunately we can’t “fix” their OCD but we can support them on their journey to management of the illness. As a parent of a child with OCD its imperative to get your child to proper care as soon as possible. The earlier you recognize symptoms and get your child to the proper professional/intervention the better the outcome. Take advantage of the text, resources and videos throughout the website to better understand what OCD is and how OCD treatment works. With the proper help there is hope for your child and your family.
OCD in Children
It is normal for children to have fears and worries as they grow up. It is also normal for them to have quirky routines, such as saying goodnight in a certain pattern, or lining up their toys. But normal fears come and go over time, and childhood routines are often comforting or enjoyable. In contrast, there is nothing pleasing, soothing or enjoyable about OCD.
OCD consists of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are scary and unwanted thoughts or images that pop into the mind uninvited, and don’t seem to stop. Compulsions are behaviors that those with OCD do over and over again, to try to make the upsetting thoughts stop, or to prevent the fears from coming true. For example, children with OCD might worry that they said or did something bad, and ask their parents to tell them it’s okay, multiple times per hour. They may worry that germs will make them sick, and take showers three times a day. But, no matter how much they wash or ask for reassurance or do any other ritual, the obsessions keep coming, and the compulsions don’t seem to make them better.
Unlike normal fears and routines, the behaviors of OCD are usually extreme. Children usually know they don’t make sense, but still very feel very anxious, and can’t seem to stop. They sometimes describe their obsessions as “bad thoughts.” They may have a hard time describing what the thoughts are. They may feel ashamed and confused, and not want to talk about it. They may try to hide their rituals, because they’re afraid of being teased.
OCD affects about 1% to 2% of children and teens, which means that millions of children worldwide suffer from OCD. It can begin as early as the preschool years, but commonly during between the elementary and high school years.
The Many Faces of OCD
OCD can be confusing for parents and teachers too, because there are many different obsessions and rituals, and they can change over time. Obsessions generally fall into four broad groups:
- Something bad will happen to them or loved ones (e.g., getting hurt or sick, dying, or bad luck).
- Being “bad” by breaking rules, or sinning (e.g., saying swear words, cheating, or doubting God)
- Images or urges about “bad” things (e.g., stabbing a parent, poking one’s eye out, or unwanted sex)
- Urges for things to be “just right”(e.g., straight, even, or placed in an exact way, symmetrical)
There are many different types of rituals, but common ones are:
- Asking for reassurance, confessing, apologizing, or praying too much, even when unnecessary
- Saying magical or lucky words, numbers or names, silently or out loud
- Checking, touching, tapping things over and over
- Repeating, counting, erasing, rewriting, or starting things over, until it feels right
- Keeping things symmetric on both sides of the body, or doing actions evenly, so it feels right
- Ordering and arranging things in very specific ways
- Saving things that are usually thrown away, like candy wrappers or pencil shavings
OCD and other conditions
OCD can be mistaken for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, because OCD makes children stressed, restless, and distracted. Tics and Tourette Syndrome, depression, generalized anxiety, and autism spectrum conditions can also accompany OCD.
What Parents Can Do
OCD is no one’s fault. It is not misbehavior, and it not caused by parenting. The good news is, OCD is very treatable, and children and teens can learn strategies to manage it well. As a parent, you are in a powerful position to help by:
- Understanding OCD – what it is and what it is not
- Learning how to recognize red flags
- Helping your child understand OCD, that it’s not their fault and there is help and hope [suggested book reference: Up and Down the Worry Hill]
- Learning about the best treatments available
- Finding the right therapist to provide treatment
- Learning how to react and respond in ways that help your child manage OCD [suggested book reference: What to Do When Your Child has OCD]
Red Flags for OCD
Many kids may have OCD symptoms for a while before parents, teachers, or even doctors realize it. Parents might only find out if their child tells them, or if they notice that their child seems very worried or is repeating certain behaviors excessively. Sometimes, parents may notice other difficulties that can be early signs or clues for OCD, such as:
- Trouble concentrating on schoolwork or not completing homework
- Not able to enjoy or participate in previously-enjoyed activities
- Being irritable, upset, sad, or anxious over little things or no obvious reason, like a
- Being unsure of themselves, and having trouble making minor decisions, like what to eat or what to wear
- Being late or taking too long to get through daily tasks, like getting dressed, completing homework, or getting ready for bed
- Getting upset and losing their temper if something is out of place or not perfect
- Insisting that a parent say or do something an exact way, and getting very upset if they don’t