If you’re noticing that your child is exhibiting recurring thoughts or obsessions to cope with stress, such as wanting to wear the same shirt for good luck or compulsively washing their hands, they may be experiencing obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.
Kids with OCD live with unwanted (obsessive) thoughts that can cause them to feel fearful and anxious. These thoughts trigger strong urges (compulsions) to do things they believe will protect them or someone they care about, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
According to the International OCD Foundation, around 500,000 children and youth in the U.S. have OCD. The National Institute of Mental Health says that, if left untreated, these obsessions and compulsions can interfere with daily life.
Some common obsessions or repeated thoughts your child may be showing:
- Fear of losing or forgetting something
- Need to have things ordered or symmetrical
- Fear of germs or contamination
Common compulsions include:
- Excessive cleaning or handwashing
- Repeatedly checking things, like whether a door is locked
- Compulsive counting
- Repeating words, especially silently
- Struggling to make choices, even small ones
OCD symptoms can appear at any time in one’s life, but they usually start between late childhood and young adulthood, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Risk factors include genetics, biology, even trauma, in some cases during the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s birth.
Parents can schedule an appointment with the child’s healthcare provider for an evaluation. If OCD is diagnosed, treatment might include behavior therapy and medication to help decrease their anxiety and cope with symptoms. Finding and treating OCD early can give your child a real advantage in learning new skills that can ease the disorder’s impact on everyday life.
For parents of a child who’s been diagnosed with OCD, work as a family to support your child and each other with these tips.