Your daughter clutches her chest. She is struggling to breath. She is looking pale. Sweat gathers on her forehead. Her eyes fill with fear. You have seen this look before. In fact you see it multiple times a week. Your daughter isn’t having a medical emergency, she is having a panic attack. Having a child with panic attacks can leave you feeling powerless. How are you supposed to help a child who feels like they are dying?
Imagine you are in a room full of snakes. You are told to go to the other side of the room to take the trash out. You might be pretty oppositional about the request. You might shout back. You might even go ballistic. Anxiety or OCD can feel the same way. Our kids are under an enormous amount of invisible pressure. They are often going through their school day full of metaphorical land mines. All too often they take this built up stress with them and explode in the comfort of their own home.
Doubt is a big part of OCD. It makes you doubt you are clean. It makes you doubt you are safe. But imagine if the doubt OCD brings makes you doubt who you are and what you are capable of doing? Welcome to the world of Scrupulosity OCD,sometimes referred to as Moral OCD, Religious OCD or even Bad Thought OCD. What if I become a killer? What if I am a bad kid? What if I hurt someone? What if I hurt myself? What if I drink, smoke, do drugs, get tattoos?! What if I turn into the worst version of myself? Will I go to Hell? Will you leave me? Never speak to me again? Scrupulosity OCD is one of the hardest OCD themes to cope with because it feels so real. Because it attacks the very essence of who the person is and who they want to become. The worst part about it – most parents and children don’t even know they have OCD.
Anxiety loves to bother kids at bedtime. No matter what age or what type of anxiety a child has, bedtime is universally a struggle for anxious kids. Why is that? It is quiet. It is dark. All activities and distractions are turned off. Minds want to review the day. Ears want to analyze strange sounds. Eyes want to figure out mysterious shadows. Hearts want to be “kept safe.” When your child is scared to sleep, it impacts the whole family. Anxious kids don’t get a fitful rest. Parents don’t get a fitful rest – and the mood and irritability is set for destruction the next day.
Anxiety loves avoidance. It feeds off avoidance. It grows bigger, strong and more ferocious with avoidance. So it is no wonder that anxiety will make going to school one of the most difficult things an anxious child can do. The sad reality is – the more a child avoids school, the more they will fear going to school. It is a vicious cycle that many anxious kids can’t seem to stop. So how do you help when a child refuses to go to school? The key is in explaining how anxiety works. Explaining what feeds anxiety. Teaching them how anxiety grows bigger and stronger when it is fed delicious avoidance.
It might seem like your child is nauseous every waking moment. They are getting ready for school – they feel sick. It is time for bed – they feel sick. You might have dragged them to every stomach specialist in town, only to hear those dreaded words, “I think you should take her to a therapist.” Relax, your child isn’t making it up. They aren’t trying to manipulate you either. Yes, they are doubled over in pain before school. And yes, they seem to be completely fine after you let them stay home. But…anxiety can look that way. The fear of throwing up and the nausea that goes with it is very real. It is just caused by anxiety, not some stomach bug.
Kids with anxiety and OCD often have an intimate connection with technology. It is where they go to distract themselves from their scary thoughts. It is where their obsessive nature takes over. It is the cause of huge meltdowns. It is the platform for google searches and rumination. It is the arena for bullying and low self-esteem.
What’s your child’s relationship with technology? Do you know how to harness its power for good? Technology is not the enemy. In fact, it can be a great resource if you know how to use it. Join me for an insightful discussion with Dr. Adam Pletter, a psychologist and national expert in technology.
It is hard to watch your child with OCD struggle. It is hard to try and motivate them to fight the urge to do compulsions. It is hard to watch as they get stuck over and over again. Parents need support. Kids need support. The more a child can understand how OCD works and how to crush it – the better! That is why I have made YouTube videos directly for kids with OCD and anxiety. In this week’s episode I am teaching kids how to deal with OCD thoughts.
The hardest part about having anxiety is the onslaught of anxious thoughts day after day after day. Now imagine you are just a kid. A kid who is learning how to tie his shoes. To multiply and divide. To make friends and keep friends. The constant flood of anxious thoughts is enough to make a child stop dead in their tracks. It is enough to make them want to retreat, to not get out of bed. It can derail their education and their ability to socialize.
Do you know why child OCD and anxiety can be so hard to get rid of typically? Because most kids subscribe to the OCD and anxiety channel in their brain. It is playing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You can’t compete with that. A therapist can’t compete with that. Until your child learns how to change the channel in their brain or at least not subscribe to the OCD and anxiety network, little progress can be made.
So how do you get kids to change the channel? It is actually a hard skill for all of us, not just kids. But, it can be done! This week on Ask the Child Therapist Kids Edition I am talking to kids about how to pay attention to what is playing in their head and how to have some say in the programming.
Having OCD is hard enough, but being a kid or teenager with OCD is even harder. Many children with OCD think they are the only ones suffering with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They don’t realize that OCD in kids is much more common than they think! They struggle alone and many wonder how on earth they are supposed to beat OCD.
Anxiety and OCD love to hide. They love when kids deny they exist. They love when you can’t see them. They love when they are missed. So it makes sense that the first line of defense in your child’s battle with anxiety or OCD should be communication. When your child learns how to talk about anxiety and OCD – the problems can no longer hide.
So you might be saying, yeah that’s great, but how exactly do I get my kid to talk? Well that might be a bit tricky. Some kids don’t like to talk about anxiety or OCD. Some kids want to deny they are having issues right up until they implode. And some kids just need a little help with how to communicate such overwhelming and often embarrassing feelings.
If you want some creative ideas on how to get kids to talk about anxiety and OCD, have them watch this YouTube video I created just for them. I talk about why it is important that they communicate with you about their struggles and some out of the box ideas on how to do it!
Is anxiety and OCD bullying your child? Do you find your child spends much of their time avoiding fears and giving in to their anxiety or OCD bully? Families can feel like they are held hostage by anxiety and OCD. It can feel like every decision, every activity is controlled by this outside force.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it is important that your child can see that taking back power is the way to emotional freedom! So how do you do that? Especially if your child is paralyzed with fear or shutdown and won’t talk about it?
Kids can’t fight anxiety until they understand anxiety. Parents often skip this step and wonder why their child’s anxiety never gets better. The best way to help kids with anxiety is to take the time to explain how anxiety works. So how do you explain anxiety to them in a way where they’ll not only get it, but be motivated to work on it?
Have them watch my YouTube video made just for anxious kids to watch. In this short video I explain what anxiety is, why kids get it and how it works. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for new videos every week created just for kids with anxiety and OCD.
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…