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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Children

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Sometimes parents may find their children repetitively perform a behavior or rituals, such as washing hands, going in and out of doorways, having irresistible urge to arrange things in a special ways and collecting things with no seeming values. These behaviors often happen at an unusual high frequency to the extent that they interfere with your child’s and family members’ routines.

All the children have fears, worries and doubts. However, children with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are often having a hard time getting rid of their thoughts, even though they might be aware that these thoughts don’t actually make sense (obsessions). As an effort to neutralize or prevent bad events from happening, they are compelled to engage into behaviors or mental rituals (compulsions) that don’t seem to connect to their thoughts in a realistic way; for example, repeatedly counting the steps as he/she walks to prevent peer exclusions.

Children’s obsessions can be different from adults. While it is not uncommon that both children and adults shared some similar obsessions, including:

  • Fear of contamination

  • Fear of dirt or germs

  • Fear of personal and family members ‘safety

  • Fear of illness

  • Irresistible needs for order and symmetry

  • Fear of making mistakes or saying wrong words

  • Unusual preoccupation towards certain objects or life events

Some of the children’s obsessions are seen to be revolved around specific themes involving family members and friends such as death of family members, friends ‘betrayals and social exclusion. Adults or teens with OCD are reported to have stronger sexually-focused obsessions.

Compulsions in OCD refer to the behaviors that a child/teen can’t control but to perform the rituals to “make sure” the things that they fear of (obsessions) will not happen. Some of the common compulsive behaviors are including:

  • Wash hands

  • Shower

  • Mental counting

  • Repeat a words, phrase or number

  • Make sure the items are in certain order

  • Make sure the body movements associated with daily routines (i.e., sit, walk, sleep etc.) are in specific designed manner

  • Avoiding “bad” or “unlucky” things

  • Hoarding

How Can Parents Help?

  • Talk to your child: It is always important to listen to your child’s inner fear and discuss with him/her without any judgement. Always remember that your child is also in a great distress like parents do.

  • Seek for professional help: A psychologist or psychiatrist would be the right person to evaluate and intervene in your child’s OCD symptoms. If you’re unsure who to look for, your child’s pediatrician can assist you in the recommendations.

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