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Health Information For Parents
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that causes kids to have unwanted thoughts, feelings, and fears. These are called obsessions, and they can make kids feel anxious. To relieve the obsessions and anxiety, OCD leads kids to do behaviors called compulsions (also called rituals).
Obsessions are fears that kids with OCD can’t stop thinking about. They may realize their thoughts don’t make sense, but they still feel anxious about certain things.
These fears might include whether:
Compulsions (rituals) are behaviors that kids with OCD do repeatedly. OCD causes kids to feel they have to do rituals to “make sure” things are clean, safe, in order, even, or just right. To kids with OCD, rituals seem to have the power to prevent bad things from happening.
Rituals include things like:
Scientists don’t yet know why people get OCD, but they know biological factors play a role. Kids may get OCD because it’s in their genes or they had an infection. There may be differences in brain structures and brain activity in people with OCD. But whatever caused OCD, it’s not the child’s or parent’s fault.
Kids don’t always talk about the fears and behaviors OCD causes. They may feel embarrassed or confused about their fear and keep it to themselves. They may try to hide rituals they do. They may worry that others will tease them about their fears and rituals.
Kids with OCD feel unable to stop focusing on their obsessions. They feel like they have to do the rituals to guard against bad things they worry could happen. For some kids, doing a ritual is the only way they feel “everything’s OK.”
Many kids have OCD for a while before parents, teachers, or doctors realize it. Parents might only learn about the OCD if their child tells them, or if they notice the child seems overly worried or is doing behaviors that seem like rituals.
Sometimes, parents may notice other difficulties that can be a result of OCD. For example, OCD can cause kids to:
To diagnose OCD, you’ll meet with a child psychologist or psychiatrist, who will interview you and your child to learn more details. You and your child also may fill out checklists and questionnaires. These will help the psychologist or psychiatrist make a diagnosis. There are no lab tests to diagnose OCD.
When OCD is diagnosed, it can be a relief to kids and parents. OCD can get better with the right attention and care.
OCD is treated with medicine and therapy. For kids who need medicines, doctors give SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), like Zoloft, Prozac, and Luvox.
Therapists treat OCD with cognitive behavioral therapy. During this kind of talk-and-do therapy, kids learn about OCD and begin to understand it better. They learn that doing rituals keeps OCD going strong, and that not doing rituals helps to weaken OCD. They learn ways to face fears, cope with them, and resist doing rituals. Learning these skills helps stop the cycle of OCD.
Part of treatment is coaching parents on how they can help kids get better. Parents learn how to respond to OCD situations, and how to support their child’s progress without giving in to rituals.
Talk with your child about what’s going on. Talk supportively, listen, and show love. Say something that works for your child’s situation like, “I notice you worry about your covers being smooth, your socks being even, and your shoes lined up. I notice it gets you stressed if you can’t fix things just so.”
Say that something called OCD might be causing the worry and the fixing. Tell your child that a checkup with a 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.
Make an appointment with a child psychiatrist or psychologist. Your child’s doctor can help you find the right person.
Take part in your child’s therapy. Learn all you can about how parents can help when their child has OCD. Overcoming OCD is a process. There will be many therapy appointments, and it’s important to go to them all. Practice the things the therapist recommends. Encourage your child.
Get support, and give it. There are lots of resources and support for parents and families dealing with OCD. Knowing that you’re not alone can help you cope. Sharing success stories with other parents can give you hope and confidence.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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