Most children have fears and concerns that sometimes translate into anxiety. However, kids with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can’t get their worries out of their heads no matter how hard they try. And, they will try very hard while exhibiting unusual and repetitive behaviors.

OCD is a neurologically based disorder that causes anxiety. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry says that approximately one in 200 children and teenagers in the United States have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. This involves obsessions and compulsions that interfere with everyday life.

The obsessions can involve uncontrollable thoughts or images that are sometimes scary, while playing over and over again in a child’s mind. The compulsions are rituals or behaviors that are performed in an attempt to make the bad thoughts go away. Naturally, this is all very troubling to a child which increases their anxiety level.

Some of the obsessions a child may have are:

  • Fear of contamination or germs
  • Anxious about getting hurt or sick
  • Afraid of causing harm to someone
  • Worried about losing things or forgetting something important
  • Engrossed with bodily wastes or fluids
  • Preoccupied with sexual or aggressive thoughts
  • Obsessed with religion or morality
  • Need for symmetry and order
  • Superstitious about colors or numbers

Common compulsions they may exhibit are:

  • Grooming rituals such as washing hands or brushing teeth a certain way or a specific number of times
  • Cleaning rituals such as excessively washing a dish
  • Checking rituals such as repeatedly making sure a door is locked or homework has been done
  • Repeating or counting rituals such as walking through a doorway three times or knocking in a sequence
  • Collecting or hoarding items of little or no value
  • Arranging and rearranging things in order

A child with OCD impacts the entire family because the disorder significantly affects the family dynamics. To effectively treat the disorder, it’s important to work with a mental health professional who uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Working together, the therapist can help the entire family develop a healthy, collaborative relationship for a successful outcome.

Other things that parents can do to help a child with OCD are:

  • Remain calm and speak in a positive manner. Reacting in frustration can cause the child further distress and anxiety.
  • Do not be negative or critical as this may intensify the OCD symptoms.
  • Identify the rituals and compulsions for what they are without becoming over-involved or participating in them.
  • Encourage your child to participate in enjoyable activities such as music, sports, etc.
  • Adjust your expectations to realistically reflect your child’s circumstances. Do not be judgmental. Your child is wonderfully unique and should not be compared to others.
  • Remember that changes will occur gradually by taking one step at a time, one day at a time.


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