My Way or the Highway
Treating OCD in children and also being the mom of a toddler has been an interesting experience. There have been plenty of times when my 5 year old, Eli, engaged in full on obsessive-compulsive behaviors. First, it was Eli lining up his toy cars and trucks in an absolute, straight line. Then, it was wanting to take an item of clothing off whenever he got a stain on it. Luckily, I knew enough about anxiety and development to know that this was likely just a phase.
When a child has OCD, they will feel like they have to do things a certain way. They feel like they have to do a ritual, otherwise something bad might happen. Their fear may include that someone would get sick, that they would get hurt, etc. Sometimes, it just means that it wouldn’t feel okay.
Normal VS Dysfunctional
If you’re concerned about whether your child’s behaviors are normal, consider the following.
Preference vs need: A preference is something that we’d like to do, but we don’t need to do. A need, on the other hand, implies a sense that something bad will happen if we don’t get it. Can your child roll with the punches, postpone the behavior, or move onto something else easily? If they can, that’s a great sign that they just have certain preferences. If they’re extremely upset, then that may point to more of a need.
Interference: Consider the extent to which these behaviors are interfering with your life. What’s the extent of the distress when your child doesn’t get their way? There is a big difference between a normal, totally developmentally appropriate tantrum and anxiety that causes the child difficulty participating in activities, schoolwork, etc.
Involving other people in the behaviors: Are these behaviors something the child does on their own? Or are the needs of your child so extreme that they often want other people to bend to their will? As parents, we often want to do whatever we can do comfort our children. However, by participating in these behaviors, we exacerbate these symptoms and make matters worse. This is called family accommodation and is one of the biggest issues in the maintenance and worsening of OCD.
Supporting Your Child
So what are some things you can do as a parent to help support your child with OCD?
Be supportive. This sounds like “I can tell this is really scary for you right now and I want you to know I’m here for you”. This is different from validating the fears, because we don’t necessarily want to do that. Find a way to be supportive without being judgmental about the obsession/compulsion.
Try not to engage in the accommodations. As tempting as it might be to give into your child when they are at the peak of a tantrum, try not to surrender. Instead, be supportive (see #1), stick to your guns, and try to move on.
Encourage flexibility and rolling with the punches. A lot of these issues boil down to a difficulty with a child being flexible. Instead, children may tend to be rigid in their needs and desires. We need to do what we can to encourage our children to be flexible. Try to encourage your child to consider other ways of thinking about things.
Symptoms VS OCD
Remember that we all have a little bit of these symptoms in us from time to time. A child can have obsessive-compulsive symptoms while not having OCD. We all have our instances when we like things a certain way. We all have safety behaviors during times of high stress and anxiety. It’s just a matter of when these things get out of control that they become problematic.
If you’re concerned about OCD in children, there are lots of resources available. I recommend checking out IOCDF.org for a list of resources, as well as lots of awesome, educational information about this topic. A trusted doctor or mental health professional will be able to talk to you more in depth about your specific child’s behaviors.
If you need need to rework some of these behaviors in the household, I’ve got you covered. I have a “How to Support Without Accommodating” masterclass just for you. This masterclass will teach you all about supporting your child without accommodating the OCD, and I even provide you with exact scripts to use when your child is giving you a hard time. Click here to access the masterclass now.
Comment below if you have any questions about OCD in children! Or any strange child quirks you’d like to share because #solidarity. Am I right?
PS: If you enjoyed this blog post, make sure to check out my podcast “All The Hard Things” with my first episode, “OCD and Anxiety in Motherhood”. I go way more in depth about OCD and share my own experience with it as a mom. Having a child with OCD is no joke, but you’re definitely not alone.
Remember: this blog post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as mental health or medical advice. Always check with your own physician or medical or mental health professional before trying or implementing any information read here.