Sure, nobody likes shots. But your child goes ballistic at just the mere mention of shots. Their fear of needles is so intense that it takes a small army to hold them down and get the job done. You find yourself just avoiding the whole thing if possible. But even if you decide to avoid shots altogether (which is not the subject of this episode and let’s not make it that), there are still medical mysteries that only our blood can reveal. Our blood that is trapped behind layers of skin. Skin that has to be poked to figure those mysteries out.
So how do you help kids who have a fear of needles? Here is where to start…
Your child stands there with their arms crossed. This is dumb. This is stupid. I don’t want to go. You never. She never. I never. It’s not fair. You’re not fair. Life is not fair. I hate this. I hate her. I hate you. It is as if someone hijacked your sweet child and replaced them with a ball of negativity. A ball of black darkness that you want to run and hide from. A ball of bad attitude that has the power of permeating your house and everyone in it.
Child anxiety and OCD not only overwhelms a child, but it can sour a child. It can suck the joy out of everything, leaving behind a child who is so miserable, they rarely see the sparkle of life anymore.
She grabs the door. She pulls once with her left hand and then once with her right. She sits waiting for the bus. Tap tap goes her left foot. Tap tap goes her right. The teacher hands out crayons. The little boy next to her hands her five. Five is not right, she quickly hands one back. She waits for her mom to pick her up. Her eyes scan the corners of the building. One, two, three, four she counts to herself. All is safe. All is right in her little world controlled by symmetry OCD. Symmetry OCD is almost always missed by parents. The subtle movements to balance the body, the small gestures to tap just right. The mental games hidden in the dark recesses of the mind. It is often only discovered after years of balancing. Years of counting. Years of compulsions. Let’s talk about how to spot Symmetry OCD and how to help kids who have that OCD theme.
Do you feel like you are bossed around by your child’s OCD? Do you find yourself doing things a particular way, so as not to upset your child? Most kids will involve their parents in their rituals. So what are you supposed to do?
There are ways to empower your child, without empowering your child’s OCD. Here’s how….
My daughter stands over the balcony. “I’m scared. I can’t sleep.” I look up at her little body. “Brave face!” I encourage. She sighs and then strikes her brave face power pose. Her head held up high, her arms on both hips, her lips pursed and eyes ready for battle. “Good!” I say. “Now what do you need to tell yourself?” She holds her pose and says the words I was hoping she would say, “I am safe in this house! We are all safe in this house!” And with that she is off to go try again.
Your child denies they have a problem. They deny all their compulsions. They don’t want your help. They don’t want to go to therapy. What are you supposed to do with that? Do you force them to fight OCD? Do you throw up your hands and give up? Or is there a way to help kids with OCD, even without them being a willing participant?
I was on Facebook Live talking about ways parents can help their kids with OCD, even if their child doesn’t want help. I have put the conversation on YouTube.
It’s always something. Right now it is doorways. She has to tap them twice as she enters or leaves a room. Next month that will go away and something equally bizarre and irrational will come and take its place. But she’s not hurting anyone. She just always has some “quirky” behavior. But what if it isn’t quirky behavior. What if it isn’t a habit or a routine? What if it is an OCD compulsion. A compulsion that when done over and over again strengths her need to do more and more compulsions.
OCD loves when others write it off. It loves when it is not taken seriously. It hides behind words like habits, routines and quirks. It hides behind ignorance. If a child is showing any OCD compulsions it is important to start working on the issue right away. When OCD hasn’t been around for years and years it is much easier to defeat.
So are you missing your child’s compulsions? Let me explain how to spot the difference.
You are in the car trying to coax your child to go to school. You are in their bedroom trying to help them calm down. You are at the dinner table, negotiating what they will eat. All the while, little eyes watch from a distance. They watch as they are late to school. They listen as they wait for you to come into their room. They silently eat as all eyes are focused on the little mouth that refuses to eat. They quickly move out of the way, when angry, anxious fists come flying in their direction. Having a sibling with child OCD or anxiety can be overwhelming, confusing and scary.
“He’s really oppositional!” The mom vents. “Honestly it takes a miracle to get him to do anything. Don’t even get me started on how long it takes him to get out of the house in the morning.” She takes a breath and continues, “And no one can go into his room. One time I entered his room without his permission and he had a complete meltdown.” This is often my initial introduction to a teen whose main issue isn’t opposition, but rather OCD. OCD symptoms in teens are often misconstrued as oppositional or quirky behavior.
Her small frame sits, hunched over on my therapy couch. She looks at the ceiling. She looks at the floor. She looks everywhere and anywhere as long as it is not my eyes. Finally, she opens her mouth to speak. “I have bad thoughts.” She whispers. “Sometimes to get rid of them I have to do things in threes.” She sits, waiting for the condemnation. Waiting for the concern and judgment to ooze from my face. I sit nodding and she continues. She tells me things I have heard a zillion times before. Things that come from living in the shadows of child OCD.
Your child is balled up on the floor – again. She has been like this for hours. Nothing you do or say seems to penetrate her wall of pure terror. You remind her of all the tools she’s learned in therapy, but the words just drip off her limp body. It looks like another school day will be passing her by. How long can this go on? When should you start considering anxiety and OCD medication for her?
You are at your wit’s end. Your child’s mind is spinning out of control. It is waaay past her bedtime. “But what if…” you hear her little voice start to say. “Enough! Just go to bed!” You shout, feeling guilty before you even finish your sentence. How can you get that little mind to stop? What can reduce anxiety in kids?
Maybe I can help? I am a big fan of teaching kids to tackle their thoughts behind their anxiety. But once that is done, kids need a go-to distraction. One of my favorite approaches is teaching kids how to make, what I call, a world. It is a great visual imagery tool that can be very effective!
It seems like just yesterday you were wiping her bottom and picking up Cheerios off the floor. And now you are scrolling down the grocery aisle going through the list of school supplies, trying to find an 8 pack of washable markers. When did this happen? When you look at your daughter she still looks so young. Is she ready for the stream of kids and chaos school will bring? Is there anything you should be doing to prepare her for the first day of kindergarten?
It’s bedtime and instead of winding down, your house is winding up. “I’m scared,” you hear. “I’m too scared to sleep!” You hear over and over again. Your child pleads. Can they sleep with you? Can you sleep with them? Can they sleep on the couch next to you? You’ve tried everything. Threatening, negotiating, sympathizing…nothing works. Are you doomed to a life of sleepless nights or can this be fixed?
It’s bedtime. You are arming yourself for battle. You muster up all your energy. It’s going to be a long night. You are already running on fumes from the frequent interruptions in your sleep the night before. How long can you function like this? What on earth can make a child so afraid to sleep? Especially a child who has experienced nothing but security and stability?