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When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Of course, many of us, at some point in time or consistently, engage in one or even a few of the above obsessions or compulsions. For example, on a stressful morning, it is not abnormal to check that you’ve locked the front door twice. You may hold onto old newspapers or magazines for what others consider an excessive period of time. But if you notice your child engaged in several of these activities over a period of weeks, observe him or her very carefully for signs of the following, which may indicate the presence of real obsessive-compulsive behavior and possibly full-blown OCD:

  • stress
  • sleep deprivation
  • depression or shame
  • agitation
  • slowness in performing everyday tasks such as getting dressed in the morning or preparing for bed
  • manic need to keep busy
  • academic difficulties, including slowness to complete easy work
  • behavioral difficulties such as angry outbursts when questioned about odd rituals or desires (such as his or her need for symmetry)
  • social difficulties or a desire to spend excessive time alone
  • family conflict over usually mundane details, such as the way the table is set

Obviously, many kids have superstitions (avoiding sidewalk cracks, wearing a lucky T-shirt), obsessions (baseball cards, musical groups) and compulsions (hair flipping, nail biting), and many of the above manifestations affect non-OCD children for an infinite number of reasons. What you are looking for is signs of the obsessions and compulsions and several of the manifestations in a child who appears to have a lot on his or her mind.

Getting Help

Talk to your child if you think you may be on to something — he or she may well be relieved you have noticed and could be eager to tell you what’s going on. If not, you will still glean information based on his or her reaction. Then it’s time to get help.

For a referral, contact the OC Foundation at (203) 315-2190 or at According to Chansky, what you want is a behavior therapist who is also an expert in childhood OCD. Although you may eventually want to talk to a psychiatrist about SSRIs, your therapist can help you make that decision; medication is not always necessary to treat OCD in kids.

Remember That No One’s at Fault

You must know and believe that your child is not trying to aggravate you with obsessive-compulsive behavior, no matter how annoying it may be. He or she can’t help it — OCD is a biochemical brain glitch, not a psychological condition, and the behaviors most likely annoy your child even more than they annoy you.

OCD has nothing to do with your parenting skills, your neurosis, or anyone’s neurosis, any more than the chickenpox or the flu. And although this is especially difficult for parents, whose instincts tell them to do all they can to ease their child’s pain, understand that you are not helping your child by participating in his or her obsessive-compulsive rituals. The best thing you can do is help your child learn to stop.

When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Amy Wilensky

APA Reference
Wilensky, A. (2018). When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.