What Parents Should Know About Children and OCD
While popular media would have people believe that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) exclusively affects adults, children can develop the condition. In fact, as many as one in 100 kids live with OCD. Parents who know about this disorder’s symptoms, causes, and treatment options can look out for signs of OCD in children and help their kids if the problem ever arises.
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Symptoms of OCD in Children
In both children and adults, the symptoms of OCD can be categorized into two types: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are things that the patient thinks about constantly, even when the thoughts cause distress. The child may have these thoughts at inappropriate times and may even know that the thoughts are illogical.
Children with OCD may have obsessive thoughts about:
- Being “good enough” or avoiding doing anything bad
- Their own health and safety
- The health and safety of the people they love
- Cleanliness and germs
- Keeping things in perfect order
These obsessive thoughts often cause or go hand-in-hand with compulsive behaviors. Often, a child believes that performing the compulsions will stop something bad from happening.
For example, a child who obsesses over cleanliness and germs may feel compelled to wash his hand four times after using the restroom. Even when a child knows the compulsion is illogical, failing to complete it causes severe anxiety.
Causes of Childhood OCD
When children show signs of OCD, some parents feel guilty and ashamed. While there is no single known cause of OCD, researchers agree that parents should not feel as though they did something wrong. Children can develop OCD even when they have an idyllic life, so parenting is not to blame for this disorder.
In some rare cases, an infection can cause pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections, or PANDAS for short. This can cause OCD in children after having strep throat. While this diagnosis is rare and controversial, it’s important for parents to know about the possibility.
How Doctors Test for OCD in Children
If you notice symptoms of OCD in your child, you should know that you do not have to go about this alone. Psychiatrists can help you determine if your child does have OCD or something else is going on. Based on these assessments, you can find a treatment plan that works for your family.
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In an effort to find the correct diagnosis, the mental health professional will talk to you and your child about symptoms. They will use your answers to fill out assessments that help determine if your child has OCD. If the child has this disorder, your initial reaction may be fear. However, many families come to feel like getting the diagnosis was a relief and the first step in getting help.
Treating OCD in Children
In treating your child’s OCD, the professional team may recommend medication, individual therapy, and/or family therapy. You do not have to consent to anything that you do not feel comfortable doing, and compassionate professionals will help you find a treatment plan that you feel good about.
The most common medications for OCD in children are SSRIs, including Zoloft. Many therapists recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for children with OCD. They learn to recognize negative thoughts, turn them around, and rely on healthy coping mechanisms. Family therapy can also help you and your loves ones learn how to best support your child with OCD.