Parenting a Child with OCD? Avoid Making These 5 Mistakes

Your child is doing it again. They are walking in a weird pattern. They are paralyzed in front of the sink. They are asking the same question over and over again, and you can’t make them stop. You’ve poured over all the typical parenting books, but this chapter is definitely missing. What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to help your child get unstuck? It is painful to watch any child with OCD, but when it’s your own, it’s excruciating.

They are doing it again. Those bizarre behaviors that make your heart sink. How are you supposed to help your child with OCD?

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.

 

In my therapy practice, I have worked with many parents raising a child with OCD. They all have the same crazed look in their eyes, pleading with me to make it stop.

 

I roll up my sleeves and get started. Not only with the child with OCD, but with the family as well.

 

When you have a child with OCD, you can play a big role in helping or inadvertently hurting the issue. My goal is to teach every parent to be a helper.

 

I start by teaching them to not do these 5 things:

 

#1) Don’t assume your child with OCD will “grow out of it.”

 

Sometimes denial is bliss. If I don’t acknowledge the problem, it will go away. Unfortunately, that is faulty thinking that wastes valuable time. Time that could be spent teaching a child with OCD invaluable skills on how to crush the OCD beast.

 

Don’t listen to well-intentioned, but ill-informed family and friends. Don’t even listen to any misinformed pediatricians who may not give OCD the quick attention it desperately deserves.

 

Trust your gut. Trust your mama (or papa) instincts. Get your kid help and get them help right away. The sooner a child is treated, the better the long-term prognosis.

 

#2) Don’t tell your child with OCD to just “stop it!”

 

OCD is not a behavioral disorder it’s a brain disorder. Being such, your child cannot help it when their brain is telling them to tap five times or to wash their hands until it feels “just right.”

 

When parents tell their kids to just “stop it,” they are communicating to their child that they don’t have a clue about how OCD works. Your child probably already feels crazy and “weird” for having those thoughts and compulsions, you don’t want to add to those self-hating thoughts.

 

Stopping a compulsive behavior is not a simple feat. Imagine you have the worst itch you’ve ever had. I mean poison ivy – bad. If I told you to stop itching it would it make it any easier to not itch? Probably not. For most kids with OCD, that’s the level of intensity they feel when a compulsion is itching their brain. They’re going to need a lot more support than just a quick “stop it” from you.

 

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#3) Don’t inadvertently partner with your child’s OCD

 

Your child’s afraid to touch the remote. You turn the channels for him. Your child can’t touch the towel, so you do it for him. Your child can only sit on the left passenger seat of the car, so you make sure no one else sits there.

 

When you pave the bumpy road of OCD for your child you aren’t doing them any favors in the long run.

 

It can be hard to watch your child suffer and not do anything to make it better. Especially if touching the remote or securing the “right” seat for them will do the trick…in the short term. But, long term it is creating more damage.

 

Your child needs to learn to bully OCD back and when you partner with their OCD, that makes it even harder to do.

 

Backing off and not being a part of your child’s OCD may take time. Some children have such acute distress, it is only humane to help them get through their day. I totally get that. I tell parents to just be aware that the ultimate goal is to not enable the OCD.

 

I like personifying OCD and making it a character your child has to beat. Naming it a silly name is even better and makes it easier to talk about in all situations. I suggest that over time parents use language like, “Tell your OCD I am not going to help him.”

 

That way your child knows that you are not trying to be unsupportive, but rather you are trying to help them beat OCD.

 

#4) Don’t let OCD fool you

 

OCD is very shifty. It doesn’t want to be discovered. Kids are often OCD’s accomplice. They want to quietly do their rituals without anyone focusing on them or their bizarre behavior.

 

Parents don’t often look hard enough or deep enough when it comes to OCD. They will come into my office concerned about one or two of their child’s compulsive behaviors, missing at least a dozen that are undercover.

 

When your child has OCD you have to pay close attention. You don’t want to over scrutinize every action, but you also don’t want to be naïve and have your head in the sand.

 

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You want to subtly watch your child’s behavior. Ask yourself questions like:

Are they repeating behaviors for no reason?
Are they doing things a certain number of times (in 3’s for example)?
Do they walk in weird patterns around the house?
Do they make strange facial gestures or grimaces?
Do they move their eyes in odd ways?
Do they tap in patterns?
Do they carry their hands like they are separate from their body?
Do they avoid touching something consistently?
Do they ask questions over and over again and never seem satisfied?
Do they take an unusually long time to do a simple task?
Do they adamantly avoid doing something and get distressed when you make them do it?

 

These questions are just a few of hundreds of questions you can ask yourself when watching your child’s behavior.

 

If you aren’t sure, ask your child – “What makes you do that?” or “What’s the worst part about doing that?” and see what they say. Some kids are embarrassed and will quickly offer up an excuse even if it is OCD, but others will be forthcoming if you take the time to ask.

 

The more rituals that go unnoticed, the worse the OCD can become. When you remove the secrecy around those ritualistic behaviors, your child is much more likely to work on them.

 

#5 Don’t unknowingly complete your child’s OCD rituals

 

Parents don’t always know that they are implicitly involved in their child’s rituals. If your child constantly “confesses” behaviors or thoughts that he hasn’t actually done – he may have confessional OCD.

 

A form of checking behavior involves asking the parent if the thought or behavior is okay. Some kids want reassurance that their thought is normal or their perception is wrong.

 

Here are some examples of confessional checking behavior. Most of these behaviors are typically directed at the mom (lucky us):

 

“Mom, I just had a thought that you are fat.”
“Was my tone rude just now?”
“I had a thought that I wanted to take that knife and stab you.” (When they aren’t angry)
“I think I cheated on my test. I don’t know how, but I feel I did.”
“I am sorry I bumped you.” (When they didn’t)
“I think I might have dented the car when I walked by.”

 

This is just a handful of the zillions of comments and questions your child can ask you when they have confessional OCD.

 

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You complete the loop when you say things like:

 

“You weren’t being rude just now. It’s okay.”
“We all have scary thoughts, but we don’t do them. It’s okay.”
“You are an honest person. You didn’t cheat on your test.”
“You didn’t bump me. It’s okay.”
“You didn’t dent the car. Look, it is completely fine.”

 

Even though offering your child reassurance may not seem like a bad thing, when it is a compulsive behavior, you are completing the ritualistic loop.

 

The loop looks something like this:

 

#1) Irrational thought (obsessive thinking): I think I dented the car.
#2) Compulsive behavior (ask for reassurance): “Mom, I’m sorry. I think I dented the car.”
#3) Assurance received (ritualistic loop complete): “Honey, it’s okay. You didn’t dent it.”

 

Unfortunately, your reassurances don’t last long. It feeds the OCD loop and makes it stronger. Your child will have more questions. New questions. New concerns. The OCD loop is always hungry for more.

 

You can help your child by not completing the loop.

 

#1) Irrational thought (obsessive thinking): I think I dented the car.
#2) Compulsive behavior (ask for reassurance): “Mom, I’m sorry. I think I dented the car.”
#3) Loop interrupted: “Tell your OCD I am not talking to him.”

 

Starting this process might be upsetting for your child at first, but over time they will learn that you will not complete their OCD loop.

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Parenting a child with OCD can feel like a scary, lonely experience. But you are not alone. Below are some resources to support you.

 

I am currently hard at work creating my new online class, Parenting Kids with OCD. It will be full of instructional videos and How-To handouts that will walk you step-by-step through the process of teaching your child to beat OCD. What I teach kids in therapy isn’t rocket science and I’ll teach it to you!

 

Rumor has it I offer the class for 50% off for the first 48 hours. If you want to be notified when enrollment begins (and make that 48-hour window) sign up below:

 

 

Other Articles on Childhood OCD:

 

Dear Mom & Dad, It’s Me – Your Kid with OCD

4 Things Parents Get Wrong About Childhood OCD

5 Tips on How to Parent a Child with OCD

OCD in Children: Are you Missing the Signs?

 

Recommended Books on Childhood OCD:

 

 

Additional Support and Resources on Child OCD:

International OCD Foundation

Helping a Child Who has OCD