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…
Do you know what is almost worse than having a child with OCD? Seeing your child be surrounded by people who just don’t get OCD. Siblings who tease their brother or sister for their “strange” behavior. Partners who tell your child to “just stop!” Relatives who think they are being helpful when they tell you “they’ll grow out of it.” And teachers who don’t understand how your child can have OCD when they just don’t see it. Explaining OCD to people who just don’t get it can be daunting. OCD can be complicated even for parents to understand.
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.
Do you like coffee? I do too. But not every cup of coffee is the same. Starbucks coffee is generally too strong. Dunkin Donuts coffee is liquid heaven. Therapy is the same way. Therapists are like coffee beans…there are a zillion types and not all of them are going to be good. This is especially true if you are looking for a child OCD or Anxiety therapist.
Sarah sits at the back of the room. Her face has gone pale. Her hands are getting clammy. The teacher hands out the test. She feels nauseous, confused. The room starts to spin. She runs out of the room. The teacher stares at the empty seat. What just happened? OCD and Anxiety in school are often an unnoticed or mislabeled issue.
They are the quiet kids who are afraid to raise their hands. The aggressive kids who are feeling cornered and trapped. The perfectionistic kids who never hand in work because it’s not perfect. They are the kids that don’t participate, are frequently absent and know the nurse by her first name.
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.
Your child is erasing and rewriting their homework…again. She is asking you over and over again if her answers sound right. She checks and rechecks that you understand what she is trying to tell you. Is she a perfectionist? Or could it be something more? Your son tightens one shoe and then the other. “No!” He shouts. The left one is not as tight as the right. He unties the shoes and begins again. Tying and tying. Over and over again. Does he have Sensory Processing Disorder or could it be something different? Just Right OCD is often missed. It can look like so many other issues.
So what is Just Right OCD and how do you help kids who have it? Let’s talk…
For some reason as parents we tend to feel this unrealistic weight and responsibility for everything that happens to our children. They got sick? What did we do to not keep them healthy? They got in a fight? Why didn’t we teach them how to solve their problems better? They are struggling in school? Why didn’t we enroll them in pre-school when they were in utero? So, I guess it makes sense that when our kids get anxiety and OCD we throw ourselves under the bus for that as well.
Sadly though, all this self-depreciation not only makes us less effective as a parent, but it hurts our kids with anxiety and OCD as well.
Anxiety is not always visible. It is not always obvious. Sometimes it is silently attacking your child from the inside out. It makes itself cozy in a child’s mind that is already filled with doubt and insecurity. Intrusive thoughts are confusing to kids. They are scary to kids. Heck, they are scary for parents. So how do you help your child deal with them? It is the opposite of what you may think…
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.
Parenting a child with anxiety or OCD can be confusing, overwhelming and lonely. If you have a child struggling with anxiety or OCD, you most likely have read one of Dawn Huebner’s books. Dawn Huebner is an anxiety expert and best selling author of What to Do When You Worry Too Much and What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck. Her new book Outsmarting Worry offers kids a wonderfully in-depth approach on how to beat their anxiety and/or OCD. Listen in as I talk to Dawn Huebner about her insights on how to parent kids with anxiety and OCD.
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….