While obsessive-compulsive disorder usually first makes its appearance in the teen or young adult years,(1) OCD still affects an estimated 1 in 200 children. (2) Children with obsessive-compulsive disorder demonstrate a wide variety of symptoms that negatively impact their day to day lives.
If your child has been diagnosed with OCD, or you suspect that they may have OCD, then you might be wondering what steps you can take to provide them with support. When parenting a child with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it can be helpful to remember these dos and don’ts:
Do Help Your Child Understand OCD
Understandably, parents of children with obsessive-compulsive disorder often worry about labeling their child. However, children with OCD are usually grateful to know that there is a name for their intrusive thoughts and compulsions. Talk with your child’s mental health professional about how best to educate your child in an age-appropriate way about their condition. This way, when OCD symptoms surface, your child will understand that those symptoms are just that — symptoms — and not a reflection of their actual thoughts.
Don’t Overly Reassure Your Child
This one can be difficult for parents. When your child’s OCD symptoms lead them to ask for reassurance, it’s natural to want to respond by letting the child know that everything is okay. The problem is that repeatedly reassuring your child can create what is known as a reassurance loop. Your child will receive temporary relief after you reassure them, but then another fear will appear that also requires reassurance. This cycle feeds the OCD.
Instead, try to help your child get unstuck without backing completely away from their need for reassurance. For example, if your child expresses concern that something bad will happen if they don’t tap the table eight times, try not to respond by telling them that nothing bad will happen. Instead, say something like, “It sounds like your OCD is playing tricks on you right now.”
Do Educate Yourself on OCD
Your child’s mental health provider can guide you toward books and websites that can help you become more informed about obsessive-compulsive disorder. This knowledge will help you better react and respond to your child’s OCD symptoms. Your child’s physician might also know of local resources or support groups that could benefit you and your child.
Don’t Punish a Child Because of Their OCD Symptoms
It’s important to remember that obsessive-compulsive disorder is a neurobiological disorder and not something within the child’s control. Punishing a child for their compulsions or rituals is inappropriate and will not make OCD go away. Instead, continue to treat your child with compassion and understanding.
Don’t Accommodate OCD
Showing empathy for your child’s struggle is essential, but you still want to make sure that you aren’t making accommodations for their obsessive-compulsive disorder. The therapies used to treat OCD, including certain types of cognitive-behavioral therapy, all involve teaching a person with OCD to face their obsessions, compulsions, and fears. If you participate in your child’s rituals, such as by purchasing extra soap for excessive hand washing or taking a certain number of steps forward or backward when walking with them, then you are unintentionally enabling the brain to continue its OCD cycles.
Talk with your child’s therapist about how you can stop accommodating your child’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. You can also talk appropriately with your child about why you can’t continually reassure them or participate in their rituals. One way to do this is to explain that OCD is like a bully. In order for the bullying to get better, you have to stop giving the bully — the OCD — what it wants.
Services at NeuroBehavioral Associates
NeuroBehavioral Associates provides comprehensive neuropsychological assessments for children, teenagers, and adults with known or suspected cognitive, learning, or neurodevelopmental differences. We also offer specific treatment services, referrals, and parent resources.
Contact us today for more information on how we can help you or your child. You can also contact us by phone at 410-772-7155.
- Frye, D. (2021, April 29). What Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Looks Like in Children. ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/ocd-in-children-recognizing-symptoms-and-getting-help/
- Mennitto, D. (2018, December 3). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders – Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Outpatient Services at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/child_adolescent/patient_information/outpatient/broadway_campus/ocd.html