Your child is bombarded with “bad thoughts.” They are asking you bizarre questions that are stopping you dead in your tracks. What if I hurt myself? What if I hurt you? What if I set the house on fire? What if I jump in front of a train? What if I left a scratch on your car? They riddle every conversation with apologies and more questions. They are consumed with worry. They don’t want to have these thoughts. They don’t want to hurt themselves or other people. But they can’t make these thoughts stop. These thoughts scare you. These thoughts scare them. Welcome to the world of Harm OCD. Harm OCD is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.
Clinical Separation anxiety is not about age. It isn’t a baby thing – it is an anxiety thing. In fact many kids with separation anxiety don’t develop this issue until they are past puberty. Imagine if your mind told you that any separation, distance or lack of communication can put you and the person you love in jeopardy. Imagine if every time you couldn’t reach your loved one you wholeheartedly believed they were dead. Imagine if every time you weren’t with the one you loved you believed you weren’t safe. Separation anxiety can cause palatable fear within a child. It can make a child feel insecure and vulnerable. It can hold a child back and stagnant any emotional growth.
“How did it go?” You ask your child after yet another therapy session. “Fine.” Your child flatly replies. It’s been months and it is always the same thing. No reaction after therapy. No behavioral changes at home. Is your child’s therapy working? Are there goals? What is going on in there?
Anxiety and OCD fill your child’s mind with lies and games. It will often tell your child that no one will understand. That no one will help. That parents, relatives, therapists and friends can’t help – won’t help. That they are not on the child’s “side.” It is “us against them” anxiety and OCD will whisper. Keep it to yourself. No one will understand. People will think you are crazy, weird, disturbed. These OCD and anxiety games, tricks and lies will deflate kids and suck out any trace of motivation they might have had to crush these issues.
You’ve identified your child’s issue. They have anxiety. Maybe they have OCD. You’ve soaked up every article, book and podcast on the topic. You painstakingly located a therapist to work with your child. Everything is in place – except your child’s motivation. Why doesn’t your child want to work on their issues? How do you get them motivated to crush anxiety or OCD?
One of the hardest decisions for a parent is whether or not to medicate a child with anxiety or OCD. For many parents who aren’t raising a child with anxiety or OCD this may be a no brainer. But when your child is paralyzed with fear, unable to eat, unable to go to school, is scrubbing their hands until they bleed – you might have a different perspective on medicating kids with anxiety or OCD.
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.
I’m embarrassed. I’m weird. I’m crazy. These are statements I hear every week from kids with OCD. Kids who think they are alone. Kids who don’t understand their disorder. Kids who don’t realize that there are kids all over the world, just like them. Chris Baier understands this struggle all too well. When his daughter Vanessa was just nine she changed from a happy-go-lucky child to a child filled with worries and compulsions. Vanessa also felt alone. She felt like no one else understood what she was going through.
When I stare at my son spit a mouthful of food out and discretely tuck it under his plate my heart stops. When I spot my youngest daughter picking at her skin until it bleeds my stomach starts to hurt. When my kids stay up late at night because they are fearful they will be killed if they fall sleep my heart sinks. Anxiety and OCD are hard to stomach. It is hard to watch our children struggle and not allow it to be OUR struggle. To not allow it to be our defeat. How can it not be? But if you want to survive this whole business of raising kids with anxiety and OCD, perspective and separation are key.
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.
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.
Most of us know that Strep can attack our joints. Most of us know that Strep can attack our heart. But did you know that Strep can attack our brain? It hides behind OCD symptoms. It hides behind children who all of a sudden are afraid to eat, afraid to sleep. Who start to wet the bed. Who start to rage. Who start to develop compulsions, tics and struggles they’ve never had before. It hides under the mystery and denial of PANDAS/PANS.
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.