HomeHealth2 signs your child has OCD, according to a child psychologist

2 signs your child has OCD, according to a child psychologist

The term “OCD” is often misdiagnosed in someone who has a strict morning routine or a tidy desk.

Having OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, has little to do with your cleaning habits or lack of flexibility and more to do with your ability to handle unpleasant thoughts, says Irina Gorelik, a child psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group.

“If any of us get a thought that’s upsetting, we might be able to go through with it,” she says. “But for someone with OCD, it causes a very disturbing response and so they want to engage in a behavior that makes the thought go away.”

Think of the disorder in two parts, Gorelik says:

  1. Obsession: intrusive thoughts, urges or images that cause distress and are unwanted
  2. compulsion: the behavior used to reduce the level of stress caused by the obsession

In children, it’s usually easy to diagnose, she says, because it presents in noticeable ways.

Here are two signs that your child may have OCD and tips to support it.

2 signs your child has OCD

They need reassurance about their safety and yours

Your child may repeatedly ask you if he is okay, even if he is not in obvious or immediate danger. The same goes for their loved ones.

“I’ve had patients who were afraid something bad might happen to their families, so the compulsion is to check in with their families repeatedly,” she says. “They may say ‘I love you’, but not in a normal way, in a way that feels like they… need to say it.”

Some other symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Fear of germs and compulsive hand washing
  • Constant worry about getting sick
  • Excessive affection. For example, they don’t want to go to a sleepover because they think something could happen to you or them if you’re not together

They need reassurance that they haven’t hurt anyone

Just as a child with OCD may worry about hurting themselves or their family, they may also worry that they have hurt others.

Some specific symptoms may include:

  • Confess a bad thought, such as curse or hurt someone.
  • Asking “Do you still love me?” repeatedly

I’ve had patients worried that something bad might happen to their family, so the compulsion is to check in with their family repeatedly.

Irina Gorelik

child psychologist

Some Parents Even Feed OCD Anxiety

For diagnosis, Gorelik says these obsessions and compulsions are typically time-consuming. They can take an hour or more per day.

The compulsion acts as a “band-aid” over the obsession, Gorelik says. And as a parent, you may want to comfort your child.

“It may come naturally for parents to reassure your kids and say, ‘You’re not hurt, no one is hurting you,’ but that actually feeds the fear,” she says.

It would be more helpful to tell your child that worrying is normal and that you can sit with that worry and choose not to be compulsive.

For example, if you think that your parents might be in danger, it clearly causes fear. But that doesn’t mean you have to call your parents every 10 minutes. Let the feeling pass.

“Learn to sit with the thoughts and tolerate the thoughts,” she says.

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