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Parenting Children With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Updated: Dec 14, 2023


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a major psychiatric disorder affecting more than four

million Americans. OCD is a strange and serious sickness of ritual and doubt run wild and is

much more common than formerly believed. There may be more than one million Americans

younger than 18 years of age with this disorder. OCD is also an adult illness. Between one-third and one-half of adult cases of OCD have their onset in childhood.

Obsessions and compulsions vary in frequency and intensity. Many individuals have habits that cause minimal or no disruption in their lives. However, when the thoughts and rituals of OCD are intense, many aspects of the victim’s life disintegrate. With severe compulsions, endless rituals dominate each day. The most crippling obsessions create absurd, embarrassing or frightening thoughts that repeat in the mind in an endless loop.

In recent years, OCD has received increased attention, due to the realization that it is both a

serious and prevalent disorder. Researchers of OCD believe this disorder is a genetic problem,

and effective treatment options are rapidly emerging. Early recognition and treatment of this

disorder may prevent suffering, disruption of life and, perhaps, even deaths.

Life may be as difficult for family members as it is for the OCD child. It is therefore important

that the family members receive the support and counseling they may need to cope successfully

with their situation. It is also important that they maintain a realistic perspective of the OCD

child and the disorder. Here are some suggestions that may prove helpful.

  • Learn to recognize the symptoms of OCD. Changes are usually gradual but significant.

  • Modify expectations during stressful time. Stress, or any type of change, can cause an increase in OCD symptoms.

  • Measure the child’s progress according to his or her level of functioning. Do not compare the child to other children with OCD. Everyone experiences different levels of distress, ranging from mild to severe.

  • Be content with small improvements. Help the child accept a realistic measurement to judge progress. Day-to-day comparisons may be inaccurate, because OCD has a waxing and waning course. Look at the overall changes that may have taken place since the onset of treatment.

  • Create a supportive home environment. Increase your understanding of OCD, its symptoms and treatment. Avoid criticism. Try to project a non-judgmental attitude that shows acceptance of the child. However, acceptance and understanding should not mean condoning compulsive behaviors.

  • Keep communications clear and simple. Provide encouragement to resist compulsive rituals and to divert obsessive thoughts. An agreement between the child and the family, with the common goal of avoiding and reducing rituals, is critical. Some families can do this on their own. Other families may profit from the help of a trained mediator (who should be a medical or mental health professional).

  • Set limits, yet be sensitive to the child’s moods. If possible, do not get involved with the child’s rituals.

  • Maintain a structured and consistent family routine. As much as possible, do not allow OCD symptoms to disrupt the functioning of the household. Routine and structure help the OCD child reduce rituals.

  • Give the child recognition for small accomplishments. Use praise as a reward to increase the child’s self-esteem and confidence to continue the hard work of coping.

  • Use humor. Gently poking fun at the irrationality of the symptoms helps to strengthen the child’s rational ability to distance himself or herself from the OCD.

  • Support the child’s medication regime. Consult with the treating physician about any changes in behavior or difficulties with side-effects.

  • Be flexible. There are many factors influencing the OCD child’s ability to resist compulsions, including biological differences. Children who do not have OCD have different habits within their normalcy; likewise, children with OCD are not all the same.

  • Remember that family members need time to care for themselves. Separate time away from the OCD child allows family members to maintain a realistic perspective of daily life, helps prevent burnout and promotes everybody’s well-being. *

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