Helping A Child Who Has OCD: A Guide

Did you know more than half a million children in the United States suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? This disorder often revolves around compulsions, rituals, and reassurance-seeking behaviors in an attempt to get rid of or reduce the anxiety associated with a certain obsession. As a parent, you may naturally want to comfort your child. However, giving that reassurance only perpetuates OCD thoughts and behaviors. This may seem counterintuitive, making helping a child who has OCD complex and often confusing.

Parenting A Child Who Has OCD

Most of those with OCD struggle greatly with recurrent, intrusive thoughts and unwanted urges that feel too powerful to ignore. Luckily, getting proper treatment can help your child take control of their OCD and go on to live a normal, happy, and healthy life. Here at Wake Forest Pediatrics, we want to give you the tools and tips on how to provide helpful support for your child. Continue reading to learn more about helping a child who has OCD:

Recognize Triggers And Signals

Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder can be sneaky with their compulsions and rituals. Try not to let the OCD fool you by subtly watching your child’s behavior. You may want to ask yourself questions such as:

  • Is my child repeating certain behaviors for no reason?
  • Is my child doing things a certain number of times (in 3’s, for example)?
  • Does my child tap in patterns?
  • Do they make strange facial gestures or move their eyes in odd ways?
  • Does my child avoid touching some things consistently?
  • Does my child adamantly avoid doing certain things and get distressed when you make them do it, or they are faced with it? 

Being educated on common obsessive thoughts and behaviors is essential in recognizing triggers and signals in your child. By keeping track of these triggers, you can help anticipate when your child may feel urges, where you can then help them to resist their compulsions. 

Educate Yourself On Reassurance Seeking

As a parent reassuring your child that everything is going to be ok comes as second nature. However, reassurance-seeking in children with OCD can actually be counterproductive and can worsen your child’s symptoms in the long run, as it only offers temporary relief. Instead of reassuring your child, try to get them to challenge the obsessive thought. If reassurance is constantly given, it becomes needed more often, and sometimes it may become difficult to proceed without that reassurance. Getting educated on this disorder and receiving support for yourself is always recommended when dealing with a child who has OCD. 

Help Build Coping Skills And Offer Support

The Child Mind Institute suggests much of the work done in therapy treatments involves practice outside of sessions, requiring parents to participate in the treatment. Additionally, therapies like exposure and response therapy (ERP) can be intensive and may evoke high levels of anxiety. Some coping skills that may help your child include:

  • Encourage them to keep an OCD journal
  • Physically refocus their attention 
  • Encourage them to challenge their compulsions
  • Explore alternative therapies

Helping a child who has OCD almost always involves offering support and aiding them in building coping skills. Parents can play a role in supporting their child — but remember, reassurance can be a vicious and counterproductive cycle. 

Common Treatments For OCD

Just as with most conditions, treatment for OCD varies depending on an individual basis. Some may need long-term intensive therapies, while others may suffice off medication alone. Common treatments for helping a child who has OCD include:

  • Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP)
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication

Although treatment has proven effective, it is still important to know how to manage OCD in your child and offer them the support they need. 

If you are helping a child who has OCD and have been struggling to find the best way to get them proper treatment, you are not alone. Wake Forest Pediatrics can provide your child with an evaluation and develop an individualized treatment plan that works best for them. We know it can be challenging to find help, but we are here and ready to assist! For more information, call our Wake Forest office at 919-556-4779 or our Knightdale office at 919-266-5059, or visit our website.

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