5 Tips on How to Parent a Child with OCD

Do you struggle with how to parent a child with OCD?


Watching your child suffer from irrational beliefs and partaking in bizarre rituals is heartbreaking. The parenting handbook left out the chapter on how to parent a child with OCD. How are you supposed to react? How can you help them stop their compulsive behavior? Should you be stern? Should you ignore it?

 

Parenting a child with OCD is one of the hardest jobs a parent will ever have to face.

Parenting a child with OCD can be confusing. Should you give in to their rituals? Should you stop them? How are you supposed to help them? Here are 5 ways parents can help.

 

These are the questions I typically get when working with parents in my practice. Here are five basic tips I have learned from working with children with OCD:

 

1) Educate you and your child on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

 

Time and time again I sit on the opposite side of the couch talking to a nervous and uncomfortable child. They whisper to me how they have silly beliefs. I offer them reassurance and they reluctantly tell me more. They sheepishly tell me how they have to touch corners, or count in their head, or wash their hands every time they have a bad thought. They apologize for their bizarre thoughts and stare at me – waiting for me to officially declare them “crazy.”

 

No matter how often this happens – it breaks my heart. I tell the child that I have heard this before. That they are not alone. That there is a name for this. That it is common. And that there is help. Their eyes open wide and they say, “there is?!” with palpable relief.

 

You can help your child by explaining to them what OCD is and how it affects their thinking. If you don’t understand OCD yourself – it is helpful to acquire this knowledge so you are better prepared to help your child. You can read my other article – OCD in Children: Are you Missing the Signs or watch my video on the same topic.

 

There are some great books that help children understand OCD on their level. Some parents shy away from using the word OCD, but I have found that children find great comfort in knowing that their issue has a name and that they are not alone. My favorite book for children is:

 

OTHER ARTICLES:  The Best and Worst Parenting Styles for Anxious Children

My favorite book for parents is:

 

2) Give the OCD a name like Mr. Bossy

 

Often children don’t know how to talk about their OCD. They are embarrassed by their thoughts. They are dependent on their rituals. When you tell them to stop doing ritualistic behavior they may feel like you are attacking them – not their OCD. They sometimes feel angry. Why would you tell me to stop doing something that is keeping me “safe.”

 

Help your child externalize their OCD by giving it a name. You can call it Mr. Worry or Mr. Bossy. Some kids like to get creative and come up with their own names. I have had kids call it Mr. Germs or Mr. Numbers – depending on their OCD theme.

 

One approach is to tell your child something like:

 

Mr. Bossy is a trickster and he likes to boss you around and make you feel worried. He wants you to avoid stuff and follow his silly rules. When you do what he wants – he grows bigger. When he grows bigger – he can bother you more. When you turn into Super (insert your child’s name here) – you can fight Mr. Bossy and beat him. When you ignore him or argue about his silly rules you shrink him and make him smaller – less powerful.

 

Books on OCD can help you reiterate this message – or help you create one of your own if this approach doesn’t resonate with you or your child.

 

3) Do not get overzealous and point out all of your child’s rituals

 

When your child has a problem you want to fix it as soon as you can. This can make parents overzealous with their efforts to beat their child’s OCD for them. Unfortunately this is your child’s battle. You can offer your help and guidance, but you can’t fix this for your child. In fact, if you point out every ritualistic behavior you see – you may unintentionally cause your child to become more secretive about their OCD issues. Stopping ritualistic behavior does not happen overnight. Initial success may be as simple as them just recognizing it is an OCD thought or being able to briefly delay a ritual.

 

4) Don’t be part of their rituals

 

OTHER ARTICLES:  When Parenting an Anxious Child Avoid These 9 No-Nos

 One area you do have control over is your participation in rituals. Some children involve their parents in their ritualistic behavior. If possible, you do not want to enable or participate in rituals. You can tell your child, “I am not helping Mr. Bossy boss you around. You can listen to him, but I won’t!”

 

5) keep an eye out for new rituals so you can work together as a team

 

Children can get defensive about their rules and rituals and they may not want you to recognize any new rules or behaviors. Even though children do not want to have OCD, they are often slaves to the rituals that provide them with brief relief from their worrying. Therefore it is important to keep an eye out for odd or irrational behavior.

 

Often when one type of OCD behavior has been eliminated – another rule or behavior replaces it. That is why it is important to give your child the skills to beat OCD and not just the specific behavior or rule they are currently doing. When you discover your child is doing a new ritual – gently address this with them and let them know you are here to help them beat Mr. Bossy.

 

OCD can be a challenging issue! It can consume little minds and impede their social and emotional growth. The sooner children are given the skills to overcome their OCD – the better the long term prognosis will be. I encourage you to follow these tips, educate yourself by reading books on OCD and seek out professional guidance and support for you and your child as needed.

 

For more information and resources on OCD you can visit iocdf.org or take this quick 8 minute Video Lesson on how to parent a child with OCD here. 

Parenting a child with OCD can be a challenge. Learn the best parenting approaches to help your child.

 

OTHER ARTICLES:  Ask the Child Therapist Episode 20: Teaching Feelings to Kids Who Struggle to Express Emotions

 

 

More Anxiety Articles

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Additional Support:

Does anxiety or OCD run in your family? If so, your children are more at risk to get it too. Do you know what early signs to look for?

 

A teen support book on anxiety that your kid will actually read:

This book offers teen help, without the psychobabble. A must read for teens suffering with anxiety and parents who are trying to understand it!

If you are at a loss as to how to help your child manage anxiety, take the e-course Teach Your Kids to Crush Anxiety taught by a child therapist. Learn all the tools she teaches kids and teach them to your child. You don’t have to feel powerless.

 

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Great Books on OCD:

Other OCD Articles:

You might think a child has OCD if they are afraid of germs and are a neat freak - but that is completely inaccurate!

 

 

13 responses to “5 Tips on How to Parent a Child with OCD”

  1. Good advice. I think any parent who has a child with OCD wold take a lot of comfort and practical help from this 🙂
    Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes
    Debbie
    http://www.myrandommusings.blogspot.com
    Random Musings recently posted…Book Review: Send Them To Hell By Sebastian WilliamsMy Profile

  2. Jill says:

    This is such GREAT advice. One of my children has OCD and it’s a constant battle of the mind and body. I never thought of giving OCD a name like Mr. Bossy. They just say “My OCD” is telling me this. I like your suggestions better! We have the children’s book. I will certainly purchase the parent’s book. Thank you so much! By the way, I’m stopping by from Grammie Time!

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Thanks for stopping by Jill. I am so glad to hear that you found the suggestions helpful! I think naming it helps distance the OCD from the child and makes it slightly easier to battle.

  3. Alison says:

    What great information on childhood OCD. This post is a great resource!
    Alison recently posted…Our Favorite Resources for Developmental MilestonesMy Profile

  4. Mrs. AOK says:

    Thank you SO much for sharing this informative article with us at Mommy Monday!
    I pinned this hoping other parents will read this. Thank You.
    Mrs. AOK recently posted…Thank You Notes: Jimmy, Family, and HubbyMy Profile

  5. Lauren says:

    Love this advice! I think the most important tip is to educate both your child and yourself about OCD. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Good information and resources. I think it is so important for parents to educate themselves in every way possible.

  7. […] and Anxiety. Young children are very resilient and adaptive. Once your child is armed with tools on how to fight their OCD – they will have much more success decreasing and possibly eliminating their […]

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