5 Ways OCD in Children Affects Everyday Life

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted thoughts and ritualized or repetitive behaviors. Those with OCD often feel powerless to stop the thoughts or behaviors, even if they understand they are irrational. As many as 1 in every 200 children suffer from OCD [American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry]. The obsessions and compulsions can interfere in your child’s daily life in several ways.


    With OCD, the need to complete rituals and routines can interfere with other activities. For example, your child might need to complete certain rituals each morning before school. This can sometimes make him late for school or, if the ritual is disrupted or left incomplete, the entire day becomes stressful. Your teen might have developed a nighttime routine she must do before falling asleep. When she has other activities during her normal “routine time” she feels uncomfortable. She still must complete the rituals or she won’t be able to sleep, even if that means staying up well past the time she should be asleep, leaving her exhausted the following day. Other routines and rituals might interfere with family time or family obligations, causing parents and siblings frustration.

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    Your child might be easily frustrated when routines and rituals are disrupted. Imagine your child must count each step between the car and the front door. You, or another family member, ask a question and he loses count. He might become angry or frustrated and have the need to go back to the car and start again. This can happen with any routine or ritual. You might also set limits on rituals, and while these might be reasonable, they cause your child’s anxiety levels to increase.


    Your child might complain of physical ailments. According to the International OCD Foundation, the combination of stress, poor nutrition and loss of sleep can cause physical illness.


    Your child might struggle in school or have trouble keeping up with the schoolwork. He might need additional time to complete certain rituals before starting homework or school work. He might have the need to rewrite assignments several times to make sure every letter is perfectly shaped or every number is in line with the other numbers on the page. He might miss school because of lack of sleep or other physical illness. He might have a problem paying attention in class.


    Your child might have low self-esteem. Children with OCD can feel different or that they don’t fit in with their classmates. They might be picked on for their “strange” or “odd” behavior. They might think they are crazy. They might have trouble relating to peers or feel enormous stress trying to hide their obsessions or compulsions from their classmates. They might avoid social situations or miss out on social opportunities because of their need for their rituals and routines.


    If your child has OCD, it is important to seek treatment. Start with your pediatrician or family doctor and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist that specializes in treating children and adolescents. Treatment for children often includes exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Based on your child’s age, the doctor might also suggest some medications. Many doctors will include family education as part of a treatment plan, so you, as a parent, will understand about OCD and best support your child. It is important for parents to not let the obsessions or compulsions rule the household or other family member’s actions, but at the same time, you might need to modify your expectations to help your child. Always keep in mind that it is the OCD, not your child, that is causing the behaviors and try to praise your child for any improvement, no matter how small.

Published On: May 21, 2014