How Can I Tell If My Child Has OCD?

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What Are The Symptoms Of OCD In Kids?

BY BRITTANY MCGILL

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD is an anxiety disorder that affects 1 in every 200 children. So what is it?

Hand washing is a common compulsion in kids with OCD

Hand washing is a common compulsion in kids with OCD

Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted thoughts about events that cause intense anxiety and distress. They might be about a specific bad event, or a more general feeling that something awful is going to happen.

Compulsions are the behaviours a child feels compelled to perform to neutralise their anxiety or to prevent the bad event from occurring. For example, a child who worries about germs might cope with this fear by repeatedly washing their hands.

OCD can cause huge stress and upheaval in the lives of families. Parents can spend copious amounts of time accommodating the OCD – whether this involves giving in to a child’s demands for order or cleanliness, or avoiding certain events or situations because your child becomes too upset. As a parent, it makes sense that your instinctive response is to do whatever will make your child feel better, but unfortunately accommodation feeds the OCD and makes it bigger, stronger, and harder to manage in the long-term.

Working out whether to seek help for your child’s anxiety can be a tricky process. It’s not uncommon for kids to display symptoms that mimic OCD – kids who thrive on order and routine for example but not as a symptom of OCD – and some kids will find it hard to explain why they feel the need to perform their rituals other than to say they have to do it ‘until it feels right’.

If you’re questioning whether your child needs professional help, ask yourself this:

If my child can’t finish their ritual do they become distressed?
Are my child’s rituals interrupting our family life?
Do my child’s rituals get in the way of them doing things they want to do?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s probably worthwhile making an appointment to see your GP. Your GP can provide you with a referral to see a child clinical psychologist with specialist experience with anxiety and OCD. A clinical psychologist will be able to undertake a more detailed assessment and work with your family to address your child’s symptoms. Rest assured that OCD is very treatable using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Brittany McGill is a clinical psychologist registrar who completed her postgraduate clinical training at the University of New South Wales. She is interested in anxiety and mood disorders across the lifespan and uses cognitive-behavioural and other evidence-based strategies to help people achieve positive change in their lives.


 

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