Has OCD taken over your home?
As a parent of a child or teen dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you might feel a range of emotions on any given day. You may find it hard to understand why they behave a certain way or may even begin to blame yourself for their poor health conditions. Most of the time, you may want to provide reassurance and try to comfort by shielding them from the things that trigger their anxiety. Of course, you want to support and protect your distressed child, but you may inadvertently be reinforcing patterns of OCD by doing so. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a form of anxiety disorder that affects 1-2% of the population. Exploring ways to help your child or teen with OCD can be challenging, but these strategies and tips will surely help and encourage you.
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
OCD is a clinically recognized disorder that features recurring, unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses called obsessions that drives an individual to perform repetitive behaviours or mental rituals known as compulsions. Throughout life, everyone will experience forms of unwanted thoughts; sometimes, the content of these thoughts could be disturbing or simply weird. Most of the time, we don't interpret this thought as meaningful and thus can easily dismiss it. However, for an individual with OCD, unwanted, intrusive thoughts and the rituals associated with lessening the anxiety cause significant distress and impairment in daily routine and need to be addressed.
Most Common Signs of OCD
Parents can play a significant role in catching early signs and symptoms of OCD in their children, especially since the problems they experience can be subtle at first. Children and teens with OCD usually experience both obsessions and compulsions; below is a list of the most common ones seen.
• Worry that a loved one might end up getting hurt, sick, or killed
• Intense concern that they are going to get hurt, sick, or die
• Intense fear of touching things because they are potentially dirty and may be deadly
• Preoccupation with making sure every item is placed in a particular order
• Checking and rechecking (more than twice) to ensure the doors are locked
• Repeating pointless behaviours- going up and down the stairs or turning the light
switches on and off
• Excessive washing or cleaning behaviours include showering, tooth brushing,
changing clothes, and hand washing.
• Arranging items in a particular order
How Parents and Family Can Help
1. Educate: Most of the time, your child/ is unaware that their thoughts are distorted or highly unusual, and they try to cope with it alone. Help them understand what OCD is and assist them in identifying their obsessions and compulsions. Explain to them that anyone can have a strange or scary thought, as distressing and unusual as OCD thoughts and rituals may seem, they are all part of the OCD that is trying to trick them.
2. Stop accommodating: There are many ways a family tends to accommodate a child's OCD fears; they may stop going on vacations, allow the child/teen to miss school repeatedly, change their communication style, or even encourage their loved one to perform compulsions or avoid anxiety-generating situations to feel better. Accommodating OCD does not help end the cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Thus, it is imperative to identify how a family accommodates the child's fears, in order to break the cycle of obsessions and compulsions.
3. Stop providing reassurance: Reassurance seeking is one of the many forms of family accommodation. As parents, you naturally want to provide a safe and comforting environment for your child and will do your best to calm your child's anxiety. Since many children and teens dealing with OCD cannot tolerate uncertainty, they ask their parents, friends, or relatives to provide them with repeated reassurance. Examples of these include: "Is it safe for me to touch this?", "Will I be, okay?", "Do you think I'm a bad person?", despite being provided with the answer several times. Not providing reassurance can help your child learn to tolerate uncertainty, which is a skill for life.
4. Name the OCD: Teach them to separate themself from the OCD by giving the OCD a funny name and calling it by its name whenever it tries to bully your child. Kids often name their OCD after vegetables they don’t like! For example, they say "Brussel Sprout wants me to rewash my hands again. or "Spinach is telling me to stay away from the knives or I will hurt someone".
5. Separate the process from the content: It is less important to focus on the OCD thoughts that are encouraging your child to perform a compulsion. It is more pertinent to help your child identify that it's the OCD bully speaking and not their own rationale thought. For example, helping your child by asking, "Is the OCD bully trying to make you do that?" or "Is the OCD trying to trick you again?"
6. Get Professional Help: The evidenced based, gold standard treatment for OCD is Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy involves "exposing" the child to their fears gradually and systematically so that they no longer avoid things or situations; response prevention means the child resists performing a compulsion to manage their anxiety.
Prudovski, A. (2022). OCD, is That You Again? How to Know if Your New Thought is OCD, and 6 Concrete OCD-Repelling Strategies for You to Start Practicing Right Away. OCD & Anxiety Clinic, Ontario • Turning Point Psychology. Retrieved 13 May 2022, from https://www.turningpointpsychology.ca/blog/how-to-know-if-your-new-thought-is-ocd.
Prudovski, A. (2022). Don't Argue with a Brain Glitch. (10 Do's and 5 Don'ts for Parents of Kids with OCD). OCD & Anxiety Clinic, Ontario • Turning Point Psychology. Retrieved 13 May 2022, from https://www.turningpointpsychology.ca/blog/children-with-ocd-guidelines-for-parents.
Spiro, L. (2022). The Parents' Role in OCD Treatment - Child Mind Institute. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved 13 May 2022, from https://childmind.org/article/kids-and-ocd-the-parents-role-in-treatment/.