Mental health is never simple, but it can be especially complicated in children, who are always changing and developing new patterns in thought and behavior. Many parents write to us with concerns about OCD. Because we aren’t able to diagnose anyone at NOCD, there’s no definitive answer. But we’ve found some helpful resources– let’s take a look.
Like adults, kids with OCD have obsessions and compulsions and are prone to hiding these symptoms out of embarrassment or a lack of understanding. Compulsions in kids and adults serve the same purpose: getting rid of distress caused by obsessions, which are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, and urges. Both symptoms develop (and change) over time.
Parents might be able to spot these symptoms when their kids demonstrate sudden emotional changes, struggle to focus on schoolwork and other activities, and take a long time to make decisions or perform everyday tasks like brushing their teeth. There are plenty of other signs, but most involve excessive carefulness and evidence of resulting discomfort. Kids might also start to demand that their parents or other family members do things in the correct way, as dictated by their own obsessive-compulsive cycle.
Research suggests at least 1 in 100 children around the world has OCD. If you think your child might be among them, it’s important to start with empathy. It can be frustrating and confusing to feel like kids are acting out or unfairly demanding very specific things of their relatives, but try your best to step back and recognize that they’re probably not doing so in an attempt to make your life harder. In fact, they’re most likely acting out of intense fear and debilitating anxiety.
Even as you try to bring empathy to the situation, you don’t need to force yourself not to get frustrated or feel helpless at times. These feelings are common, as is the desire to solve the situation by yourself. But it’s probably unwise to try, considering you’re very close to the situation and don’t have the required expertise. Repetitive behaviors might seem predictable (and therefore simple to approach) after you’ve seen them so many times, but they’re actually complex– especially when you factor in all of the thoughts and feelings underlying them, invisible to you and embarrassing for your child.
The predictable, but most useful, next step is to take your kid to a child psychologist or child psychiatrist for an evaluation. Even the most research-backed, fanciest websites aren’t sufficient for you to make a diagnosis yourself, and a licensed professional will know what to look for. If they suspect a child has OCD, they can rule out physical causes like PANDAS and discuss treatment options with you and your child. Treatment might include therapy, medication, or a combination. It will likely involve some effort by the family as a whole, but your child’s clinician can help you make those changes.
Whether you’re waiting for your child’s first appointment or looking for inspiration during their treatment, check out the documentary UNSTUCK for helpful information and first-hand stories from kids with OCD and their family members.
Looking to discuss the complexities of parenting a child with OCD? Chat with sympathetic, well-informed people around the world in the NOCD app!