How to Identify Symptoms of OCD in Children


Most children and teens have general worries, but there are some who can’t stop worrying, no matter how badly they want to or try to. This constant worrying leads to certain repetitive behaviors and interferes with the child leading a normal life. Here are some symptoms that will help you to determine if your child might have OCD.

Understand Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is an anxiety disorder where the brain gets stuck on one particular task or thought, causing the child to feel that if it isn’t completed, something bad or life-threatening will happen. The child relieves this anxiety by completing the task or thought over and over again until the anxiety has been neutralized. OCD is often diagnosed in children aged seven to twelve and the child may be embarrassed by his or her behavior and try to hide it from family and friends.

Understand obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are repeated impulses or thoughts that cause anxiety or distress to the child. To neutralize the anxiety, the child will either ignore the thoughts or replace them with another action, or a compulsion. An example is that a child washed his hands but is still worried there is dirt on them. The child will continue to wash his or her hands over and over again until he or she feels they are clean (anxiety being neutralized through the repeated behavior). In some younger children, the behavior will occur without the obsessive thoughts preceding it.

What are some of the different kinds of obsessions? Some obsessions may involve food. The child may feel like he or she can only eat certain foods and nothing else. A child may also have a fear of germs, dirt, contamination, or illness or have a need to have things symmetrical, in order, and precise. A child may have an obsession with lucky and unlucky numbers. These are just a few of the many obsessions a child with OCD may have.

What are some of the different kinds of compulsions? Grooming rituals include brushing of teeth, showering, and washing of hands. Repeating rituals include flushing the toilet over and over again; checking to make sure an appliance is turned off; having the need to move through spaces in a particular way; or going in and out of doorways. A child may have counting rituals (i.e. having to say a number over and over) or cleaning rituals related to his or her home (i.e. the toilet seat has to be wiped down every time before sitting down on it). The child may hoard and collect things or order and arrange objects.

Recognizing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Often times, it is hard to recognize if you are child has OCD because he or she will suppress the thoughts until they can’t be contained any longer. Your child may ask you to engage in the ritual with him or her. If you don’t engage in the ritual, your child may throw a tantrum, show signs of worry, or exhibit other difficult behaviors. You can look for certain signs that might tell you if your child is suffering from OCD. These include but are not limited to high, unexplained utility bills; raw, chapped hands (due to constant washing); unusually high usage of soap or paper towels; hours of unproductive time spent doing homework; dramatic increase in laundry; or a continual fear that something bad will happen to the child or family member.

If you believe your child may have OCD, don’t hesitate to visit your health care provider. There are treatments available, including behavioral therapy and medications. Your child can’t control his or her thoughts, so you as the parent need to intervene. Constantly remind your child how much you love him or her and how special he or she is! You and your child can get through this! Don’t give up!

Tips & Warnings

  • Remember, OCD is not something the child can stop on his own, no matter how badly he wants to. It is a disorder and the child has no control over it.
  • If a child is showing behaviors characteristic of OCD, don’t mock or put the child down. Help the child through it and seek professional help for your child!

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