Childhood OCD (or C-OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects children and adolescents.

Obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, or both characterize it. OCD can be difficult for parents to recognize. If you think your child may be suffering from this condition, getting them help as soon as possible is important. In this article, we look at what childhood OCD is, the symptoms, and how it’s treated in children.

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What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes unwanted, repetitive thoughts and behaviors. It’s also known as an “intrusive thought disorder” because it makes you feel like your thoughts are invading your mind. It can be very upsetting to have these thoughts, and some people with OCD try to get rid of them by performing certain actions repeatedly (called compulsions).

People who have OCD might spend hours washing their hands or cleaning their house, or they might check things over and over again to make sure they’re done right. There isn’t one specific cause for OCD, but it seems to run in families. People with OCD tend to share certain genes, which means they may have a genetic predisposition toward this condition.

The main types of obsessions include:

  • Contamination concerns
  • Doubts and checking rituals

The main types of compulsions include:

  • Excessive washing or cleaning, sometimes in a ritualistic way
  • Counting, arranging things in a certain order, performing repetitive actions (such as touching objects a certain number of times), and repeating words silently to prevent bad things from happening

What is OCD like in children?

Children with OCD may be obsessed with germs or have an overwhelming fear of being left alone. They might be convinced that they will harm someone or even themselves.

Children with OCD are also often perfectionists, making their symptoms even harder to recognize and treat. A child who has a hard time doing math homework because the numbers don’t add up correctly might be showing signs of OCD; if a child is afraid of getting things wrong and feels anxious or guilty afterward, this could also be a sign of OCD.

OCD-related behaviors in children often look different from those in adults. For example, a child might get stuck on certain tasks for hours, like repeatedly drawing until the lines are perfect, or refuse to eat certain foods because they’re dirty or “wrong.” Sometimes these behaviors will become so severe that they interfere with schoolwork or home life; other times, they seem like normal childhood behavior.

How is OCD diagnosed in children?

OCD is diagnosed in children by a mental health professional, who will evaluate the child’s symptoms and ask questions about their behavior. The child may be asked to complete a checklist of symptoms, including washing and cleaning rituals, repetitive thoughts or behaviors, ordering or precisely arranging items, or having excessive fear of germs. The doctor may also ask if the child has experienced any changes in behavior since birth.

The doctor will likely not give the child a physical exam but may refer him to other specialists for testing to rule out other conditions. Healthcare professionals use a rating scale called the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive scale (Y-BCOS) to measure the severity of the child’s symptoms.

How is OCD treated in children?

Treatment for OCD is usually effective when it is provided early. One of the best ways to treat OCD in children is with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps the child learn how to recognize and manage their anxiety and can also help them identify their triggers.

In addition to CBT, medication can be used to help treat OCD in children. Medications are usually used with CBT to reduce the severity of symptoms and make the patient more receptive to therapy. Treatment for OCD is usually effective when it is provided early. Medications like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants) can help reduce anxiety surrounding OCD symptoms. In contrast, cognitive behavioral therapy helps children learn coping skills they can use after they stop taking medication.

If your child is being treated for OCD, you must work with them on identifying and managing their triggers. Practicing good coping strategies when anxiety occurs and tracking progress over time so that you can see how effective your treatment plan is for them.

How to help your child with OCD

Here are a few ways you can help your child who is experiencing OCD symptoms:

Talk with your child

One of the most effective ways to help your child with OCD is to talk with him or her. This cannot be easy, but you must try. You’ll need to ask questions like:

  • Talk about what triggers your child’s OCD symptoms. What are they afraid will happen if they don’t do something? You might be surprised at how much control your child has over his or her OCD symptoms.
  • Ask about what your child does when he or she feels the urge to perform a compulsion. What does he or she do to make the feeling go away? This will help you understand what’s happening in your child’s mind and heart when OCD symptoms come up.
  • You may also want to ask your child why he or she thinks his or her OCD is happening now. Has anything changed in his or her life recently?
  • Finally, talk about ways to help each other through this difficult time together as a family.

Take an active part in therapy

Take an active part in your child’s therapy. It’s important for kids to feel like they’re in charge of their treatment so that they don’t feel like they’re being told what to do by someone else. Let them know that you want to be involved so that you can help them keep track of what they need to do each day and so that you can support them through each step along the way.

Talk to your child about their thoughts and feelings about therapy. It might be scary for them to talk about their obsessive thoughts aloud, but if they feel safe doing so with you around, they’ll feel more comfortable opening up in therapy sessions. If there are things they don’t want to talk about in front of you (or only want to talk about in front of certain people), make sure they know that it’s okay for them to say so. If possible, help them find another way for those conversations to happen. You can also encourage healthy coping techniques to deal with their thoughts and feelings from therapy sessions.