Looking back to what I now know suggests that my 3 1/2 year old son’s long lasting temper tantrums may have been an indication that something was up. I just didn’t know what it was and wasn’t sure how to become better informed. All I remember is that it seemed like it was his way or the highway. He eventually grew out of those temper tantrums by the time he started pre-school.
When Jeff was in elementary school, he would erase numbers and letters until they looked “just right!” At night I would spend a few minutes with each of my sons saying good night. When it was his turn, we would talk and then say good night. But as I was leaving the room he would say, “Say good night mom.” I would say, “Good night Jeff, I love you.” Then he would say, “Mom, say good night again!” This interaction seemed to last all night. It didn’t of course, but it seemed like it. Years later when I understood OCD, I realized Jeff just wanted me to keep saying good night until it sounded “just right.”
As he continued to get older, Jeff excelled in academics and sports. There was no reason to be concerned about him being a super achiever and trying to always be the best, or so I thought.
Parents are so fortunate in this Internet era. They can immediately access great resources to educate themselves and know what may be the reason for their children’s behaviors.
It has been said that we can learn from the past, prepare for the future, and live in the present. Parents can learn from this writer’s past experiences to help them focus in the present and help their kids to do so as well. They can also learn how to prevent their child’s OCD from worsening in the future.
Here are some crucial reminders:
- Don’t delay treatment. When your child shows OCD symptoms, don’t make the assumption that he will grow out of them. Most of the time, symptoms aggravate, and the longer your child creates mental and external habits, the stronger the pathways will be.
- You are your child’s main advocate. Follow your instincts and do what it takes to ensure your child gets the proper treatment. As you seek professional help, be open with your provider. When she provides suggestions or skills and you either don’t agree or think they may not work for your child, let her know. Your child’s therapist knows OCD, but you know your child best.
- Inform yourself and loved ones about OCD. When parents understand OCD and explain it to their children, they in turn develop a more positive attitude and are more willing to receive treatment. Find ways to normalize OCD. You or your children don’t need to feel embarrassed about it. Keep in mind that your attitude towards the illness will influence your child’s perspective as well.
- Remember the dangers of enabling. Even though we wish for our kids to be free of emotional and physical pain, it is part of life. OCD can be challenging and for that same reason, they will need to learn to manage it. Provide love, support, understanding, and empathy. Notice your natural instinct to over protect them and abstain from doing what they can do for themselves, or from doing rituals for them. Be patient and take one day at a time.
- External rituals may not be obvious. This doesn’t mean OCD is absent. Your children’s OCD may target relationships with loved ones, fear of harming them, or harming themselves. They may worry excessively about their sexuality or religion and moral values. Their mental compulsions may be unnoticed, and they could be suffering in silence.
- OCD can affect children’s self love. Despite being intelligent, talented and super-achievers, your children may feel excessive guilt or shame. Intrusive thoughts may create self-loathing. Stay positive and focus on the process. Your children will gain skills to notice how thoughts and feelings come and go. They will discover they don’t need to be stuck with them.
- Connect with your children emotionally every day. Notice opportunities where you can engage them in conversation or play. Enter their world unconditionally. Listen and be present with them mentally and emotionally. When they share their OCD challenges, acknowledge and validate their feelings. Refrain from providing immediate advice or reassurance. Remember, maintaining a positive relationship with your child is more important than anything else!
Though OCD is a chronic illness, it can be managed and your child can live a functioning and value-focused life. Don’t despair or lose hope. Quite often we focus on what is not there instead of noticing what is there. Keep in mind that your children have talents, strengths, and many interests. They may have OCD, but they are more than their OCD! A great life awaits them. You can lead the way!