Obsessions are thoughts, images or urges that a child doesn’t want but can’t stop thinking about. When a child has these thoughts, they might also feel very anxious or fearful.
Some examples of obsessions might be:
Compulsions are things a child feels they must do over and over. Sometimes children might do this to try to stop an obsessive thought. But sometimes children don’t know why they feel and behave this way.
Some examples of compulsions might include:
It’s not unusual for children to have obsessions and compulsions. They can be a part of children’s development. For example, your child might go through a stage of wanting their bedtime ritual to be exactly the same every night.
Obsessions and compulsions that don’t get in the way of your child’s or family’s life aren’t usually anything to worry about.
If children have unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviour, or both, which don’t go away and which interfere with daily life, they might have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Speak to a health professional if you notice your child has:
Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour affect children’s ability to relax and enjoy life. So if your child has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), they might also have challenges like:
Some families just get used to their child’s behaviour. But obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder. It won’t go away on its own. And sometimes children who have OCD go on to have other emotional health problems later in life. Getting professional treatment for your child with OCD is important.
If you think your child has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), see your GP for a referral to a psychologist, paediatrician or a child psychiatrist who can diagnose OCD.
This mental health professional will also develop a management plan for your child by talking with you, your child and possibly staff at your child’s school. This plan will probably include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to help your child change their thinking and behaviour when they’re anxious.
It might also include relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and mindfulness to help your child manage their symptoms and reduce the chance that the OCD will come back in the future.
In severe cases, your child’s health professional might recommend medication, if your child is older than five years.
Your GP will probably talk with you about a mental health treatment plan for your child. If you have a plan, you can get Medicare rebates for up to 20 sessions with a psychologist. If your child sees a psychiatrist, you can get Medicare rebates for these appointments.
Children with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) need help from a psychologist or psychiatrist to manage their anxieties. It’s a good idea to ask your child’s mental health professional for specific exercises or activities that you can do at home to support your child’s therapy.
In addition to any exercises that the mental health professional suggests you do with your child, there are a few simple strategies you can try at home with your child.
These might include the following:
When your child with OCD is learning to manage their anxiety, they’ll start small. For example, instead of turning the light on four times, they might turn it on only three times. So try to be patient with your child’s progress. Avoid criticising or getting frustrated with your child if they’re still doing their rituals.
We don’t know what causes obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
We do know that it’s common for children to develop OCD if family members have a history of anxiety or if children have been through a stressful or traumatic event.
And in some rare instances, children develop OCD symptoms after a streptococcal infection (a bacteria that can cause throat infections).
If your child develops OCD, it isn’t your child’s fault, and it isn’t your fault.
Looking after yourself helps you give your child what they need to grow and thrive. Staying active, eating healthy food and getting enough rest will help with your energy levels. Sharing support, advice and experiences with other parents can also be a big help. You could try joining an online or face-to-face support group to connect with other parents raising children diagnosed with OCD.