Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has been documented in children as early as age three. However, children this young have not been studied to a great extent. From studies representing children diagnosed with OCD at older ages (6 to 14 years old), we know that more boys than girls develop the disorder. We also know that children with OCD are more likely to have family members who are suffering from other disorders such as disruptive behavioral disorders, other anxiety disorders, and tic disorders.
Obsessions and compulsions
Obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images or urges that occur repeatedly and feel like they are out of control. These unwanted thoughts and worries cause significant anxiety and distress for the child. Compulsions are sometimes referred to as rituals. They are behaviors the child feels he or she must do in order to get rid of disturbing feelings or thoughts that are caused by obsessions. Some children may perform odd behaviors with the feeling that the action will prevent a bad thing from happening. Depending on the level of insight, children may engage in compulsions even though they understand rationally that the behavior cannot stop a bad thing from happening; however, the action reduces the anxiety so they will do it anyway.
If your child is experiencing OCD, some of the common obsessions he or she may demonstrate include:
- unreasonable fear of contamination from germs
- excessive fear of getting sick or dying
- extreme worry about doing something wrong or bad things happening
- feeling that things have to be “just right”
Compulsions are behaviors that happen with the intention of reducing distress or anxiety. Some common compulsions seen in children and adolescents with OCD are:
- repeated checking and re-checking (making sure doors are locked, cooking appliances are off, etc.)
- excessive hand-washing or cleaning
- repeating actions until they are “just right”
- frequent apologizing or obsessing
- excessively seeking reassurance
- mental compulsions (excessive praying, mental reviewing)
If you think your child is struggling with OCD, a diagnosis from a professional is needed. Effective treatment for OCD is available and does not necessarily require medication. Exposure and response prevention therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy are effective methods for OCD. Therapy for a child is extremely helpful, because it provides a valuable opportunity to teach your child the skills he or she needs to manage emotions, anxiety, and OCD symptoms. With early diagnosis and treatment, your child will have the best chance of reducing symptoms so they can relax and enjoy life more. Understanding how to reduce anxiety is not only helpful for improving quality of life, but it is also essential to increase your child’s ability to learn at school, as anxiety can interfere with learning.
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