Megan felt miserable. She and her family had relocated in the middle of the school year to another city. She was missing her friends and changes were difficult for her. It seemed the problems began one morning when she was getting ready for school.
While washing her hair, she thought she had swallowed some of the shampoo. She wondered if it was toxic. She worried she’d get sick and die. She rinsed her mouth incessantly until she felt safe.
“Is it poisonous?” she would ask her mom, every day before taking a shower. Her mom would reassure her that it was harmless.
But Megan wasn’t satisfied with the answer. She couldn’t take a chance and took safety measures each time. Soon, her worries increased and transferred to other things like soap and toothpaste. Smells of certain products also became threatening to her. She avoided places, situations, people, and products that could cause her harm. Megan was unhappy, and her parents felt lost.
Many children are anxious for different reasons, and parents need to be aware of the difference between OCD and other mental and emotional challenges. When children wash, rinse, clean, check, repeat, fix, order, count, or show other outward manifestations of OCD, parents can easily determine the problem is probably OCD. However, children may experience violent, religious, sexual, and neutral obsessions that may accompany some outward but also internal compulsions. Parents may have more difficulty identifying the compulsions and thus recognizing the problem as OCD.
Maintaining a close relationship and open communication with your children can help you discover what they are thinking. Children afflicted with OCD may become irritable, demanding and bossy. They may ask you to do certain behaviors to ease their anxiety. Children may ask questions not necessarily for information purposes but to feel comforted and reassured. They may stay away from situations, places, and people they didn’t avoid previously. When you begin to feel overwhelmed by your child’s troublesome behavior, you know something is amiss.
Getting the right information can be the first step toward recovery. Find out your family’s mental health history. OCD is a physiological and behavioral illness. It’s also a genetic predisposition. You may discover ancestors and relatives who have suffered from OCD or similar illnesses. Then you can help your child realize OCD is heritable and is no one’s fault. This will help normalize the challenge.
OCD can be triggered by a stressful or traumatic experience. Puberty itself can be stressful enough that it could trigger OCD. Read reputable books and websites to help you understand OCD better.