You watch the child you once knew slowly disappear. The stress, the worry is slowly consuming them. Morphing them into someone you don’t completely recognize. Is this something you can handle? Are there things you should be doing differently? How are you supposed to know when you should get professional help for OCD or anxiety?
As a therapist, I get asked that question often. Here is my response…
Your child seems anxious. They are often paralyzed with fear. But, they also have many habits, quirks and tics. How can you tell what is anxiety and what might be OCD. And really – does it matter? It does. The treatment for anxiety and OCD are very different. In fact, some approaches to help anxiety can actually make OCD worse. Also, as parents you will want to respond in a different way depending on whether you are dealing with OCD or pure anxiety. So how can you tell the difference between anxiety and OCD. Let me tell you…
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Your child is starting to talk about “bad thoughts.” They worry they might hurt someone. They worry they might hurt themselves. This behavior is out of the blue. They promise they don’t want to kill themselves, but they worry it will happen anyway. They don’t want to jump in front of a car, but what if they do? They don’t want to stab you, but what if they do? The questions don’t stop there. What if something they do winds up killing those they love? What if they don’t wash well enough, pick up good enough, do things carefully enough. Would that put others at risk? Welcome to the world of Harm OCD. The one OCD theme that has parents running to professionals more than any other OCD theme.
It’s supposed to be the happiest time of year, right? Then why is your anxious child imploding behind the Christmas tree? Tons of parties, activities, and chaos might sound fun to you, but to an anxious kid – it can be a recipe for disaster. Helping your anxious child survive the holidays isn’t too hard. You just have to know where to begin. Let me give you a jump start…
If you describe yourself as “so OCD” chances are you aren’t. People with OCD don’t describe the disorder that way. They describe it as a painful, insidious illness that hijacks their thoughts and holds them ransom until they pay up with compulsion after compulsion. It isn’t a meme, an adjective or a joke. It is a debilitating and common disorder that impacts 1 out of every 200 children.
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.