OCD in Children

Pediatric OCD

The factors triggering obsessive-compulsive disorder in children are similar to those for adults: genetic, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral and environmental. However, there are some unique characteristics of OCD in children.

Childhood OCD isn’t the result of bad parenting, a hectic schedule or a difficult divorce. Parents may blame themselves, assuming their own failures or shortcomings brought on a child’s OCD. While stress may make OCD worse in a child already predisposed to it, such conditions don’t cause OCD.

Signs of OCD in Children

Parents often ask about symptoms of childhood OCD. Typically, children have symptoms in a few categories. Having some of these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean your child has OCD, but they may indicate a need for further assessment by a pediatrician or child therapist.

Symptoms in children:

  • Bedtime rituals – Having to follow certain tasks in the exact same way and order when tucking your child into bed (e.g., arrange pillows, tuck in covers, get a drink, check for monsters, etc.).
  • Child’s ritual – When your child insists on doing things in a certain way and will start over if interrupted.
  • Movements – A gesture or movement children adopt to counteract distressing thoughts (e.g., skin picking, blowing air on their hands, tapping/touching things for no reason, nose sniffing or eye movements).
  • Special numbers – Children with OCD may develop a special number that helps ward off negative thoughts. This may lead to avoiding certain numbers, counting steps or skipping certain steps on stairs, or repeating something a certain number of times

Routines vs. Rituals

Parents sometimes wonder if their children’s routines put them at risk for OCD. It’s important to remember the difference between routines and rituals.

Routines, such as your bedtime habits, provide a sense of order and structure for your child. Routines are comforting, but normally your child won’t have a meltdown when slight changes are necessary.

Rituals are different. Your child may panic and insist you follow the ritual exactly. He or she may express concern that if these rituals are done wrong, something bad may happen.

Helping a Child with OCD

If you or a loved one need treatment for OCD, Mercy can help. With proper treatment, many patients have been able to lessen these symptoms and live full lives.

Learn about treating OCD in children.

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