Raising an OCD child

The chronic disorder of obsessive-compulsive disorder can wreak havoc in a child’s life. But there’s hope through therapy and medication

OCD is characterised by disturbing thoughts and views, repetitive behavioural patterns and high anxiety and stress levels.

Have you, as a parent or a guardian, ever happened to witness in your child a series of repetitive behaviour patterns or some sort of strong obsessions and unwanted anxiety? Does your child happen to be extremely slow while dressing up or completing homework? Does he or she indulge in constantly erasing written sentences and then rewrite them again till the time he or she feels it’s right? Has the episode of repeating sentences over and over again become an everyday ritual for your child at home? If these incidences have been occurring on a daily basis, there is a major possibility for these to be signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Most of us think that OCD occurs only in adults. ‘How is it possible that my child has fallen trap to this disorder?’ ask many anxious parents. Various studies conducted clearly indicate that although OCD is known to affect 1 to 3% of adults, almost 80% of those happen to start displaying symptoms very early on in life, that is before 18 years of age.

OCD is a grave ailment characterised by disturbing thoughts and views, repetitive behavioural patterns and high anxiety and stress levels that have a possibility to make everyday situations seem intolerable, predominantly for children suffering from this serious condition. It is vital to know that the disorder is not just limited to a fascination for cleanliness. In reality, it’s an intensely misinterpreted condition that can cause unwanted mayhem on the child’s day-to-day activities.

Decoding the symptoms

There is a strong possibility for parents to confuse the disparate OCD symptoms with that of ADHD, depression or generalised nervousness. Hence, it is very significant to conduct an exact diagnosis, as an appropriate and timely medical treatment for OCD is important to manage and bring anxiety levels under control. Below mentioned are some symptoms that are typically displayed by a child or adolescent suffering from this mental disorder:

• Repetitive obsessions characterised by unwanted, intrusive thoughts, ideas, visual images and fears that incite fretfulness in the child’s mind.

• Certain compulsions or mental acts are carried out by the child to reduce or to get rid of the anxiety produced by the obsessive thoughts.

• The mean age at which it presents in children is between 7-12 years of age.

What causes OCD? 

There is no clarity on what exactly causes OCD. It’s very common for children to develop OCD if family members show a history of disquiet, or if the child has been through a traumatic event. One can never blame the child or the parent if in case a child develops OCD. Children with OCD will continue to do their rituals even if they’re penalised for performing them.

Examples of obsessions faced by the child include:

• The child may display an extreme obsession with cleanliness and an urge to prevent themselves from germs, dirt or illness at an early age. This can be noted by the child continually washing hands and legs after returning home from play or school.

• Expresses recurrent doubts on aspects like whether the notebook is complete or not.

• Excessive fixation with symmetry, order and exactness.

• Excessive drive to know or remember facts that seem very trivial.

• Unreasonable attention to detail.

• Aggressive thoughts and urges.

Examples of compulsive behaviours in OCD kids may include:

• Washing hands excessively and frequently over about 100 times a day.

• Constantly checking their notes or handwriting followed by excessive counting and recounting of numbers.

• Regular repetition of words spoken by self or others or repeating sounds, words, numbers or music notes again and again.

• Rigidly follows self-imposed rules of order like arranging personal items in the room in a particular way and becoming very upset if someone disrupts the arrangement.

• Constantly and overly asking the same questions and insisting on parents or teachers to answer the same.

Treatment for OCD

This disorder can be effectively treated in children, particularly if diagnosed early on. Medical experts typically use a grouping of therapy and medication. OCD therapy usually encompasses a mental behavioural therapy approach. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) signify the most operative class of medications for the treatment of OCD in children, adolescents, and also in adults. A physician or mental health professional may also suggest family therapy owing to the fact that parents play a fundamental role in their child’s treatment and phase of recovery.

How to manage anxiety in kids?

You, as a parent, can aid your child by putting together some functional strategies for handling doubts and facing fears and dreads. These approaches might include:

• Try and indulge your child in relaxation exercises like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, yoga and meditation.

• Start the tactic of positive self-talk with your kids. For example, instead of discouraging them, keep telling them ‘Yes, I can stop doing this’, ‘I will be OK if I don’t perform this activity’. Try distracting your child’s attention by making him read a book or by showing him some educational programme. This will distract him from worries.

• You can set small challenges for your child and use rewards and prizes to facilitate him to accomplish them. When your child successfully achieves the test, he or she gets a suitable reward. For example, a child who constantly has the habit of washing hands will earn star stickers if he or she lets dirt stay on his hands for a longer period of time before washing, and restricts the washing to just one time.

It may take you a lot of your energy to tackle your toddler suffering from OCD. The endless monitoring can be annoying and draining. But always remember your effective parenting skills can go a long way in correcting your child’s behavioural issue.  

(The author is a child psychiatrist, Docterz)

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