The parent-child relationship is one of the most important aspects of helping your child battle OCD.
OCD sufferers with a supportive parent, in my experience, reduce their symptoms more effectively. If the child or teen can talk to you about their hidden symptoms, they feel relief because it lessens their secrecy and shame. This in turn lessens their anxiety which can reduce their symptoms.
If you have the kind of relationship where daily non-judgmental conversation is common, your child or teen will own up to their multiple variations of obsessions and compulsions. This can range from washing their hands when they fear germs to not saying out loud what they are afraid of because they irrationally feel that saying something makes it happen. Being able to share that pain helps relieve it.
Ten Tips for Parents to Help Children and Teens with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
1. By all means seek help from a psychotherapist (licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist) with years of experience in the disorder and a medical psychopharmacologist (psychiatrist) for a medication evaluation.
2. Tell your child you do not judge them personally for their struggle, are not critical of their symptoms, and accept the huge strain it has on their daily life.
3. Do not dismiss their symptoms with words that suggest “everybody has problems” or has some OCD.
4. Do not suggest they lack self-discipline. These symptoms are not within your child’s or teen’s control. They are not lazy or unwilling to try to stop their compulsions—they desperately wish they could. Compassion, not criticism, is crucial because it lowers anxiety which lowers the symptoms.
5. Recognize that this disorder is based on severe anxiety that is being communicated through the symptoms. Help your child identify areas of extreme stress and reduce it. This is hardly a cure-all, but it reduces anxiety.
6. If you have to watch what you say about feared subjects because these topics raise your child’s or teen’s anxiety, be considerate. This takes patience and trial and error, but if it gives your child more anxiety free hours it’s worth it.
7. Different cultures have different superstitions where carrying out or not carrying out certain actions ward off bad things from supposedly occurring. These beliefs raise anxiety when discussed. To the extent possible, hold back from warning your child or teen about such ‘bad omens ‘ because they are internalized by the person with OCD who worries about them excessively.
8. When your child or teen seeks reassurance that they are safe from harm, the child may be willing to discuss how much and how often they need this reassurance. This discussion may be helpful in itself to provide a sense of security. Banning reassurance entirely raises anxiety a great deal. Reassuring constantly may also not be helpful in the long run. This is where a good relationship permits conversation about how much reassurance is actually reassuring.
9. Try not to overreact to symptoms because it heightens anxiety and heightens the symptoms. For example, if your child is afraid of germs and constantly checks expiration dates on foods, or won’t eat leftovers, or keeps different food separated from each other on a plate so they won’t touch, don’t fuss or tell your child to “stop that nonsense.” Such comments actually increase anxiety and increase the symptom.
10. Above all, remember to tell your struggling child or teen that you accept them as they are while they are going through their psychotherapy. Tell them how much you love them, no matter what, and comfort them with words of encouragement and praise for tolerating such difficult times.
Does your child suffer with OCD. Leave comments and questions.
Laurie Hollman, PhD., is a long-experienced psychoanalyst and psychotherapist with an upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, with pre-sale discounts for print and kindle editions on Amazon.