All children have worries and doubts but sometimes with children it’s like their brain gets stuck or caught and they worry so much about having things ‘just right’ or ‘clean’ or ‘ safe’ that they do a certain action again and again to bring relief to themselves. Even when they want to stop the action they feel that they can’t, that they are ‘obsessed’or we also say it is a ‘compulsion’. This is OCD about you find about 1 in every 100 children develop OCD. For most kids it develops between the ages of seven and twelve, they may also have a parent that has OCD but they may not.
Children with OCD feel that they ‘have to do’ something in order for their brain to relax, be safe, be clean, or get rid of scary thoughts or fears. Children often say to me that they do it ‘just because,’ it is all about relieving their anxiety.
Is it serious?
Certainly is, if left without treatment, your child is likely to still have OCD as an adult. With therapy and sometimes medication as well the outlook is good with between 15-50% fading out by the teenage years.
Where does it stem from (in terms of it being an anxiety based behaviour)?
OCD is very real and comes under the branch of Anxiety as a psychological issue. There are many different types of anxiety – OCD is one of them.
OCD is an anxiety type of disorder which involves your child doing a repetitive action to bring mental relief, or is fear based. It’s important that you as a parent understand OCD so you can help your child. The types of behaviours that are very common are, washing – usually washing and re-washing their hands, as they are worried about germs and dirt; checking – continually checking to make sure everything is ok, this can be checking and re-checking the lights, the cupboards, their toy is in the right place, re-doing homework over and over and rubbing out; tapping – at certain counted steps or time they need to tap; counting- obsessed with counting and numbers, counting steps, tiled floors, cracks in cement often it also involves your child skipping numbers they do not like, or they think are unlucky; hoarding – they are afraid that they will be in trouble if they throw something out or something will go wrong if they do, so they want to keep everything; or generally doubting – if things are not just so and kept in the right order things may go wrong – so basically OCD is about having to do a certain behaviour again and again for the fear that “what if…..” will happen, they do the behaviour and this brings them relief and then they get caught into a vicious cycle.
What can you do?
If this sounds like your child, first I would start with some reading about anxiety and OCD you will soon know if you are ticking most of the boxes or not. If you are, make an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how anxious, sick, panicky or particular your child is. Be sure to tell them what type of impact it is having on your childs life. Your GP should refer you to a child psychologist that specializes in working with children and dealing with anxiety. Today you can use either your private health fund cover to help with the cost of the sessions or again ask your GP about ‘Mental Health Care Plan’ (not the best name I know!!) this plan, allows you to claim about ½ the cost back from medicare for about 6-10 sessions. If your GP does not refer you or take the issue seriously I would certainly go and see another GP.
A great book about anxiety in general is Bev Aisbett – “Living with It” which is cartoon like etc and easy to read, start to read this with your child. As a parent it will certainly help you to understand what it is like to have anxiety. Look for more specific books for parents written just for OCD.
What should you not do?
As a parent it’s hard to know what to do with an anxious child – what you want to do is too protect them, however by rescuing or saving them from anxious situations all you do is reinforce in their brain that ‘see told you, going to that party is scary, best to stay behind mum, its safe!’
Avoid telling them, it’s no big deal and to ‘just join in’, or ‘stop tapping’ or ‘stop checking’. Point out helpfully what they are doing and that it is the anxiety, and encourage them to think about their plan and actions of how to cope with their anxiety. You can’t do it for them.
I tend to talk to children in terms of what anxiety is first ie. that anxiety is a normal feeling we get when we have to perform or stand up in front of the class. It makes us a little nervous but usually it helps us to perform better. Sometimes your brain gets a little muddled and over reacts to things that really shouldn’t make you nervous or anxious. There is a difference between being ‘chased by a bear’ anxiety that makes us run fast or fight and going into say washing your hands about 15 times each go because you are thinking “what it….” You need to start being a bit of a detective and find the clues as to what makes you anxious, what you then do, and notice that when you are distracted and stop thinking about it the symptoms fade away. This is anxiety – distract yourself and have a plan of what to do.