Tips for Parents: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder | PDF
Español/Spanish: Consejos para padres - Consejos para padres - El trastorno obsesivo compulsivo
Many kids, especially at the “tween” age, can display odd ritualistic behaviors. For most, this is just a passing phase, but for 2-8% of kids between 7 and 12, it can indicate a mental disorder called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This Tips for Parents will help you better understand Obsessive Compulsive Disordder.
What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health disorder. Those affected can’t stop obsessive thoughts, worries or images in their minds, and often develop ritualistic behaviors as a way to temporarily relieve the obsessions. OCD can be genetic, especially if there is a history of other family members having it, but it can also be triggered by environmental factors.
Ritualistic Behavior Examples
A preteen girl spends a large amount of her time keeping her bedroom and everything in it in a particular order. When someone enters her room, she views it as trespassing and experiences anxiety. Her anxiety worsens when the trespasser (often a sibling) moves things out of order and she begs her mother to make them leave. She is very demanding with her friends and only will allow them to play in her room or with her things if they follow her rules. Her mother believes this is a personality quirk, and tries to respect her daughter's wishes about her room without indulging the more extreme requests.
Another preteen girl does certain "rituals" each day that she feels will help the day to go well. These rituals have changed over time, from counting the number of cats she sees on the way to school to writing certain words and phrases in a note every day to her father. Her father has been diagnosed with mid-level OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and so her mother is conscious that her daughter's behaviors could become a real issue if allowed to continue without intervention.
When to Become Concerned
When do a child's personality quirks cross the line into a mental health issue? What's the difference between a child who just likes a tidy room and a child who has OCD? That depends, in some part, on whom you ask. But there are some indicators that you should speak with your child's physician or consult a mental health expert:
- The child's need for tidiness or cleanliness in an area of the home or on their own person seems to cause them a lot of worry or anxiety; or they spend significantly more time than the average child their age would in maintaining a certain order, level of cleanliness, or appearance.
- The child has certain rituals that they must complete in order to feel "normal" or OK. These can be counting or cleaning rituals; having to say or write the same thing repeatedly, even when it doesn't seem to make sense; or rituals about how they walk, move, or gesture. These can also include "checking" behaviors--where the child checks something, such as how their clothing is situated, whether the door is locked, or if their computer is turned off, over and over again.
- Many kids, especially at the preteen age, develop odd quirks that may include these types of rituals. However, you should become concerned when the child gets overly upset if the rituals are interrupted or if they consume a large amount of the child's time.
- Obsessive thinking. This means that a child is unusually preoccupied or worried about a particular thing, and has a difficult time thinking about other things. The child may appear unfocused, distracted, or distant. Or, they may continue to discuss a particular thought or worry over and over. Obsessive thinking in kids often focuses around worries about germs, cleanliness, illness, accidents and death to themselves or loved ones or about doing well in school.
For more information:
National Institute of Mental Health: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Kidshealth.org's Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder article
You may also find these Tips for Parents helpful:
Tips for Parents: The Tween Years
Tips for Parents: Special Education
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