Raising an OCD child and its challenges

Dr Manjiri Deshpande, a Child Psychiatrist, Doctorz, shares how to identify the OCD symptoms in children, and how to tackle them


As a parent or a guardian, have you ever witnessed a series of repetitive behavior patterns or some sort of strong obsessions and unwanted anxiety in your child? Does your child happen to be extremely slow while dressing up or completing homework? Does he or she indulge in constantly erasing written sentences, and then rewrite them again till the time he or she feels it’s right? Has the episode of repeating sentences over and over again become an everyday ritual for your child at home? Have you ever caught your kid switching an electronic device on and off over and over again? If these incidences occur daily, there is a possibility of these to be signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Most of us might relate OCD to occur only in adults. Various studies indicate that although OCD is known to affect 1 to 3 percent of adults, almost 80 percent of those starts displaying symptoms before the age of 18.

OCD is a grave ailment, characterized by disturbing thoughts and views, repetitive behavioural patterns, and high anxiety and stress levels which possibly makes everyday situations intolerable – predominantly for children suffering from this condition.

It is vital to know that this disorder is not just limited with a fascination for cleanliness, but in reality, it’s an intensely misinterpreted condition which can cause unwanted mayhem on child’s day-to-day activities such as playing with friends, going to school, or enjoying hobbies.

Symptoms of OCD

There is a strong possibility for parents to confuse the desperate OCD symptoms with that of ADHD, depression, or nervousness. Hence, it is significant to conduct an exact diagnosis, as an appropriate and timely medical treatment for OCD is crucial to manage and bring anxiety levels under control and to allow the child to retain control over the life.

Symptoms that a child or adolescent suffering from OCD may display:

  • Repetitive obsessions characterized by unwanted, intrusive thoughts, ideas, visual images and fears that incite fretfulness in the child’s mind.
  • Certain compulsions or mental acts are carried out by the child to reduce or to get rid of the anxiety produced by the obsessive thoughts.
  • The mean age at which it presents in children is between 7-12 years of age.

 Causes of OCD

There is no clarity as to what exactly causes OCD. It’s common for children to develop OCD if family members show a history of disquiet or if the child has been through a traumatic event. One can never blame the child or the parent if in case a child develops OCD. Children with OCD will continue to do their chores even if they’re penalised for doing them.

Examples of obsessions faced by the child include:

  • The child may display an obsession with cleanliness and an urge to prevent themselves from germs, dirt or illness at an early age. It can be noted by the child continually washing hands and legs after returning home from play or school
  • Expresses recurrent doubts on aspects like whether the notebook is complete or not
  • Excessive fixation with symmetry, order, and exactness
  • Excessive drive to know or remember facts that seem very trivial
  • Unreasonable attention to detail
  • Aggressive thoughts and urges (may be more likely in teens)
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Regular repetition of words spoken by self or others or repeating sounds, words, numbers or music notes again and again.
  • Rigidly follows self-imposed rules of order like arranging personal items in the room in a particular way, and becoming very upset if someone disrupts the arrangement.
  • Constantly asking the same questions, and insisting on parents or teachers to answer the same.


OCD can be treated in children if diagnosed early on. Medical experts use a grouping of therapy and medication, and it may include a behavioral therapy approach.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most operative medications for the treatment of OCD in children, adolescents, and adults as well.

The physicians or mental health professionals may also suggest family therapy, as parents play a fundamental role in the treatment and recovery of the child.

Managing anxiety levels in kids

A parent can aid their child by putting together some strategies to handle doubts and face fears and dreads. These approaches may include:

Try and indulge the child in relaxation exercises like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and yoga and meditation

Start the tactic of positive self-talk with the children. For example, instead of discouraging them, keep telling them, ‘Yes, I can stop doing this,’ or ‘I will be OK if I don’t perform this activity.’

Try distracting their attention by making them read a book or by showing some educational programme. It will distract him from worries.

Set small challenges for the child, and reward them on accomplishing them. For example, a child who frequently washes hands will earn star stickers, if he or she lets dirt stay on his hands for a long time before washing, and restricts washing hands to just one time.

Energy has to be put to tackle a toddler suffering from OCD, as continuous monitoring can be annoying and draining. However, remember effective parenting skills can go a long way in correcting the child’s behavioural issue.

The aim is to help the child cut down the habitual, compulsive behaviour. After all, children with OCD only demand for unconditional love, support, and encouragement, to make the most of their abilities.