FIGHTING THE OCD MONSTER
*Your 6-year-old wonders if there’s poison in her food. She can’t eat a meal without asking.
*Your 10-year-old apologizes incessantly, fearful he has offended someone.
*Your 12-year-old has to do everything in multiples of two, growing panic-stricken if she loses track or is interrupted.
One in 100 children suffers from OCD. This means there are 4-5 kids with OCD in every average-size elementary school, and about 20-30 in every high school. OCD doesn’t discriminate. It affects children and adults of both genders, all races and ethnicities. It occurs in every socioeconomic level and all over the world.
OCD is more than hand washing. It’s about thoughts and urges that get stuck in your child’s mind, terrifying her, tormenting him. It’s about rituals intended to ward off harm. It’s about things feeling “not right” to your child. And it’s about questions—endless questions about certainty, safety, questions that drive you crazy and break your heart.
OCD is a neurobiological problem and there is nothing you or your child did to cause it. While it appears random and bizarre, it’s actually quite common and predictable. OCD is related to certain glitches in brain chemistry.
The good news is OCD is treatable.
The “gold standard” for treating OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT teaches kids new ways to think about and respond to the thoughts and urges. Children learn to retrain their brains to become unstuck.
Children overcome OCD through exposure response prevention (ERP). The idea is to teach kids to experience an OCD thought or compulsion without trying to neutralize it with a ritual. Checking, asking, backtracking, counting, repeating, chanting, and re-doing are all examples of rituals. The two steps of 1) not doing the rituals and 2) learning to manage the accompanying nervousness until it recedes will effectively desensitize children. The more you practice ERP the more the obsessions and compulsions lose their appeal. With the exposure exercises, kids are literally rewiring their brains. ERP works!
Extremely Helpful OCD Books:
What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming OCD, by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D.
Freeing Your Child From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, by Tamar Chansky, Ph.D.
Talking Back to OCD, by John March, MD
The OCD Workbook, by Bruce Hyman, Ph.D.
Very Useful Links
Finally, please contact me if you have any questions. I know firsthand that there is no worse feeling for a parent than helplessness. But rest assured, OCD can be conquered!