Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that affects your thoughts and actions. If your child has OCD, he has constant unwanted thoughts about something that causes anxiety. Your child may do certain actions over and over to help control the anxiety. For example, if he constantly worries about germs or getting sick, he may wash his hands every hour. The constant thoughts are called obsessions. The actions are called compulsions. Your child may spend hours each day doing certain actions over and over. These are called rituals. Your child may have only obsessions, only compulsions, or both
Your child may always have this disorder, but treatment can help him recognize and manage the symptoms. OCD may last for weeks or months and then disappear or reduce dramatically. It may reappear during the adult years. Advances in therapy and new medicines are helping many people with OCD.
The exact cause of this disorder is not known. What is known is that:
Children may show signs of OCD as early as the preschool years, but it is most commonly diagnosed when children are between the ages of 10 and 15.
Children with OCD may have just obsessions or just compulsions, but most often they have both. Many children with OCD know that their thoughts and actions are not normal.
The kinds of obsessions and compulsions children have depend on their age. The obsessions and compulsions may change as the child gets older. Children with OCD may have symptoms such as:
Along with the main symptoms, children with OCD may:
Symptoms may happen only in certain places, for example, at home but not at school. They may also happen at a certain time, such as bedtime or when children are getting ready for school.
A child with OCD may want to change what family members do. For instance, the child may insist that laundry be washed multiple times, demand that parents check their homework repeatedly, or get angry if household items are not in order.
Along with OCD, children and teens may have other problems such as:
Your child's healthcare provider or a mental health therapist will ask about the child's symptoms, medical and family history, and any medicines the child is taking. He will make sure that your child does not have a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms.
It is important to have an experienced professional working with your child or teen. Your child's therapist will need to check your child's symptoms and medicines often.
There are several behavioral treatments that help teach children to control or stop their obsessive acts. Behavioral therapies help children stop doing the compulsive behaviors and to not feel anxiety about not doing them.
Exposure and response prevention therapy has provided relief for many children with OCD. It consists of having your child confront his fears by gradually increasing his exposure to them. For example, if a child washes their hands all the time because they are afraid of being dirty, the therapist might have the child touch something dirty. Then the two of them might stand at the sink without washing hands until the anxiety goes away. This therapy takes time, and much of the work is done at home as well as with the therapist. Children learn ways to control their body's response to anxiety, like breathing exercises. With practice, obsessive thoughts don't make them as anxious, and they can prevent compulsive behaviors for longer periods of time.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps children learn about what thoughts go with their urges to act and how to control them. CBT also teaches skills for managing anxiety about symptoms.
Family therapy may also be helpful. Family therapy treats the whole family rather than just the child. Children often feel very supported when parents and siblings attend therapy with them and work as a group.
If a child has severe symptoms, both behavioral therapy and medicine may be best. Several types of medicines can help treat OCD. Your child’s healthcare provider will work with you and your child to select the best medicine. Your child may need to take more than one type of medicine.
N-acetylcysteine may be helpful as an add-on treatment for OCD. Supplements are not tested or standardized and may vary in strength and effects. They may have side effects and are not always safe. Talk with your child’s provider before you try herbs or dietary supplements to treat your child’s OCD.
You may find yourself frequently washing or not touching things, or doing things a certain way, to relieve the distress of the person with OCD. Talk with your child's therapist to help decide whether family members should continue to participate in the child's symptoms.
Stay in touch with teachers, babysitters, and other people who care for your child to share information about symptoms your child may be having.
Get emergency care if your child or teenager has ideas of suicide, harming himself, or harming others.
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