Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders: Tips for Parents

Does your child have:

  • Persistent, disturbing worries, doubts, or fears?

  • Unreasonable, repetitive religious rituals?

  • Uncontrollable, inappropriate thoughts or mental images?

  • Habits or patterns of behavior that interfere with daily life?

  • A tendency to ask repeatedly for reassurance?

  • A need to do things “just right?”

  • Problems with frequent lateness or slowness?

  • Repetitive urges to wash, organize, or check?

  • Urges to hoard useless objects?

  • A tendency to avoid certain places or activities?

Your child may have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a common and treatable medical condition that affects more than one million children in the United States alone. Thanks to enormous advances in scientific research, effective treatment is now available for OCD.

If you are the parent of a child with OCD, you may feel alarmed and confused. Your child’s behavior does not make sense, and you might not know how to respond or where to turn for help. The torment of this disorder can disrupt the pleasures of childhood, interfere with family life and friendships, and cause problems at school.

You are not to blame for your child’s OCD, and neither is your child. OCD is a medical condition, like asthma or allergies. Scientists believe that a difference in the way the brain processes certain chemicals leads to obsessions and compulsions.

For many years, OCD was considered rare and untreatable. Research has revealed that OCD is a common neurobiological illness that affects men, women, and children of all races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Fortunately, effective treatment is now available through a form of cognitive behavior therapy that works by training the brain to respond differently to obsessions.

Children with this disorder are suffering and need effective treatment to cope. There is no reason to feel ashamed to seek help. Proper diagnosis and treatment can teach your child to regain control and manage the disorder. OCD is an enemy you and your child can learn to defeat together.

As a parent, you are in a powerful position to help your child by:

  • Understanding OCD
  • Finding the right therapist to provide treatment
  • Learning how to recognize and respond to symptoms at home

You may also need to help teachers understand how OCD affects your child at school. Proper treatment can give your child the skills needed to manage the disorder both at home and in the classroom.

Because OCD can be treated, you and your child can look forward to the future with optimism and hope. With proper treatment, your child can learn to manage the symptoms and return to the childhood pleasures of fun, learning, and friendship.

Common obsessions and compulsions

Fear of contamination or germs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fear of harm or danger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fear of losing something valuable . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fear of violating religious rules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Need for symmetry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Need for perfection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..
Preoccupation with religious observances
“Evening up” or arranging
Seeking reassurance or doing things “just right”

The Symptoms

Children with OCD suffer from obsessions and compulsions that distress them significantly enough to interfere with daily functioning and relationships.

Bradley OCD child

Obsessions are persistent fears or doubts and upsetting thoughts or images that a child cannot ignore or dismiss.

Compulsions are repetitive actions or rituals intended to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsessions. The relief is temporary, however, because performing compulsions ultimately reinforces the obsessions. Some compulsions are physical, such as washing, checking, tapping, or walking in a certain pattern. Others are mental, such as silent counting or compulsive praying.

Treatment Works

Effective treatment for OCD is available through:

  • A special kind of psychotherapy known as “exposure and response prevention” (ERP); or
  • A combination of ERP and antidepressant medication that affects levels of the neurotransmitter

Some children can learn to manage their OCD with ERP therapy alone. However, many experts believe that the most successful form of treatment is a combination of ERP and medication. Often, medication can be used on a temporary basis to ease OCD symptoms enough for the child to succeed with ERP.

Source: The OCD Education Station at www.ocdeducationstation.org/ocd-guides/how-to-help-your-child-a-parentsguide-to-ocd.

This article first appeared in the February, 2012 Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter Supplement.