Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can affect people of any age including kids. This condition triggers fears, doubts, and worries, taking over and interrupting a person’s normal thoughts and routines.
Getting relief from obsessive thoughts can be achieved by developing beneficial rituals. To a person with OCD, the rituals have the power to make things comfortable and natural, preventing excessive worrying.
Kids often feel powerless to stop focusing on obsessive thoughts, which can be very scary, upsetting and stressful.
Fortunately, the right attention and care can help these cases.
OCD can be recognized through obsessions and compulsive rituals.
Obsessions in kids are shown through irritable, sad, anxious or upset behaviors. Kids with OCD often get obsessed with:
things being symmetrical, straight or even
things being done in a specific way or order
worrying whether something is dirty
worrying whether they have sinned or offended someone
sounds, words, colors or numbers that seem lucky or unlucky
aggressive or sexual thoughts
whether illness or harm might happen to them or their family members
Kids with OCD become afraid of what might happen if something is dirty or uneven, or if they see an “unlucky” number or color. They worry that the bad things they’re afraid of will come true. They may think that having bad thoughts means they are bad. Obsessions make it hard to concentrate on schoolwork or enjoy activities.
Kids with OCD struggle to escape from their uncomfortable thoughts by performing specific rituals. They do these rituals to “make sure” things are clean, in order, or perfect. These rituals include:
washing and cleaning
repeating specific behaviors or words
walking through a hallway several times in a row
touching or tapping a certain number of times or a set way
constant checking that a door is locked or an appliance is off
ordering or arranging objects in a straight line or according to a set pattern
counting — like counting to a certain number, or counting over and over
Doing a ritual gives kids with OCD temporary relief from fear, worry, or bad thoughts. But the more kids do a ritual, the more they feel the urge to do it again. Eventually, the ritual doesn’t bring as much relief as it once did. So a kid may do it over, then over again. This is called “getting stuck.”
A kid with OCD may get stuck hand washing for so long he can’t get to bed on time. Or a kid may get stuck packing and re-packing a backpack so many times that she misses the bus. Getting stuck in a ritual can make kids (and parents) feel frustrated, upset, and exhausted.
Kids and teens with OCD often feel embarrassed. They might be afraid they’ll be teased about their rituals. They often hide rituals or do them in a way that others don’t notice. Because rituals can be upsetting, kids start to avoid situations that trigger the need to do them.
OCD affects students at school. A need to erase, rewrite, or re-do work slows kids down. Some kids won’t write the correct answer on a test if it uses a “bad” number or word. They would rather get a poor grade than “risk” the bad thing they imagine might happen if they break OCD’s “rules.”
Some kids tell a parent what’s bothering or scaring them. But other kids may keep the worries and rituals to themselves. Parents may not realize what’s causing their child’s difficulties.
Why Do Kids Get OCD?
Scientists don’t yet know why some people get OCD. Kids may get OCD because it’s in their genes or they had an infection. And, there may be differences in certain brain structures and brain activity in people with OCD. But whatever caused OCD to happen in the first place, it’s not the child’s fault.
People with OCD can’t control their condition or get better on their own. But the right diagnosis and therapy can help them get better and get on with life.
OCD can get better with the right attention and care. But problems also can continue or get worse if they’re not treated. If you think your child might have OCD, here’s what to do.
Talk with your child about what’s going on. Talk supportively, listen, and show love. Tell your child what you’ve noticed and that you know it’s stressful for him. Say that something called OCD might be causing your child to be worrying and “fixing” things in these ways. Say that a check-up with the doctor can find out if this is what’s going on. Reassure your child that this can get better and that you want to help.
Kids with OCD sometimes feel ashamed or embarrassed at first. They may try to hide a ritual or deny doing it. But it can be a relief to a kid if someone understands what’s going on.
Schedule a visit to your child’s pediatrician. Tell the doctor what you have noticed. Encourage your child to speak up, too. The doctor will probably examine your child and ask questions. That helps the doctor decide if the symptoms could be OCD or another health condition. The doctor may refer you to a mental health professional for more evaluation and treatment, and can help you find a therapist who specializes in treating OCD.
When OCD is diagnosed, it can be a relief to kids and parents. Now they can focus on getting better.
Therapists treat OCD with cognitive behavioral therapy. During this type of talk-and-do therapy, kids and teens learn helpful new ways to think about OCD. They learn that doing rituals keeps OCD going strong, and that not doing rituals helps to weaken OCD.
As they go through the therapy, kids and teens learn ways to face fears and resist doing rituals. Learning these skills helps reset the brain’s activity to a healthier way of working. That can stop the cycle of obsessive-compulsive messages and urges. Sometimes, doctors also prescribe medicines to treat OCD. But most kids don’t need medicine to get well.
During treatment, parents will learn what they can do to help kids get better. It’s not easy at first — and the treatment takes time, practice, and patience. There can be successes and setbacks along the way. But it works well for most people who stick with it.
Many resources and support are available for parents and families dealing with OCD. Knowing that you’re not alone can help you cope and give you hope and confidence.
Background on OCD
The first thing that one should know about OCD is that it is a brain disorder that causes a child to have often irresistible obsessions and impulses. As stated, most parents may in some way blame themselves or their partners for having been careless and letting their child fall prey to OCD. It is crucial that these parents understand that as severe as obsessive compulsive disorder may be, it is not their fault in any way. Once the parents have come to terms that they could not have done anything to avoid it, they often ask what could have caused the disorder.
A lot of researches have been done on the genes that may be involved in the inheritance of OCD. However, to date scientists have been unable to pinpoint a particular gene that is responsible for the disorder itself. However, studies indicate that the disorder does have a highly likely genetic component. Thus, it is only a matter of time before the researchers find if the cause of the disorders lies within our genes.
A strong link has been found by scientists that identifies the child’s environment as one of the major factors that may influence development of OCD. This is not to mean that the parents caused the OCD. The OCD environment factor should be taken to mean that certain elements in the child’s environment may introduce the obsessive habits that the child may eventually take up.
The Child’s Brain function
Perhaps the most important cause is the way a child’s brain functions. The brain may be biologically constructed in a way that promotes the development of OCD. A common cause for OCD symptoms has been found with serotonin secretions secreted by the brain. If the child’s brain constantly secretes low amounts of serotonin, it may result in the development of OCD.
The exact causes of obsessive compulsive disorder are unknown. Research is currently underway to identify these causes and ways of how to better prevent them.