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Is the door locked? Is the stove turned off? Did I put all my books in my book bag? I need to check that the water faucet is turned off. For children and teens who suffer from OCD, these worries lead to repetitive behaviors, called Checking. Not every child or teen with OCD has the Checking symptom, but parents of children with this OCD symptom are all too familiar with the torment of a child who must check and check and check to feel comfortable.
In a previous OCD article OCD and Worry in Children and Teens, the O in OCD was described as an Obsession; an intrusive, unpleasant worry thought that is difficult to stop. For children who experience the OCD symptom of Checking, the obsession is often related to the fear that something terrible will happen. For example, if the door isn’t locked, a robbery will happen or, if the stove isn’t turned off, the house will start on fire. The fear of a terrible thing happening leads to a sense of urgency to do something to make sure it WON’T happen. It also leads to a behavior; a Compulsion (the C in OCD) called Checking, which at least temporarily, makes the worry better.
Let’s say a child is afraid of a robbery. He or she may think What if a robber breaks in? (That’s the Obsession) This leads to the Compulsion (I need to make sure the door is locked.) For most children and teens, checking the door one time is enough to make them feel comfortable. But for many children with OCD, once is not enough. If the child doesn’t give in to the need to check, the result is a feeling of heightened anxiety which is relieved only by Checking. Although Checking may relieve the anxiety for a short time, the worry returns, as does the need to Check – again and again and again. Checking can last from minutes to hours.
Unfortunately, every time the young person Checks, the stronger OCD becomes. Effective treatment for OCD involves helping kids resist the urge to Check, by teaching thinking and behavior skills designed to help manage the feeling of increased anxiety. Kids can learn to say NO to OCD .
If you would like to learn more about thinking and behavior skills to reduce worry and anxiety, check out the Outsmart Your Worry Tool Kit for Kids®.
Many parents ask about the relationship between OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Worry or Anxiety. They are related: OCD is one of many worry problems that fall under the umbrella of Anxiety Disorders. Kids with OCD worry a lot, usually about something bad that might happen and what they can do to prevent it.
The O in OCD stands for Obsessions. Obsessions are intrusive, unpleasant thoughts that are difficult to stop. OCD obsessions are different than the exciting obsessions people talk about, such as I’m obsessed with sports or I’m obsessed with shopping. OCD obsessions are negative and scary, such as, What if I get really sick? or What if I accidentally set my house on fire?
Obsessions cause a lot of worry in kids. Compulsions (the C in OCD) are behaviors which are designed to reduce child worry caused by the Obsessions. For example, children may engage in excessive hand washing to get rid of germs and check the stove many times every day to make sure the flame is off. Mental rituals can also be considered OCD behaviors. For example, some children repeat certain words, phrases, or songs silently in their head. Others may focus on repetitive sequences of numbers or patterns of lines or shapes.
The good news is that OCD is a very treatable condition. Children need to learn how to resist the OCD urge. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, commonly known as CBT is the treatment of choice and teaches kids how to say NO to OCD. Children learn thinking and behavior tools which help them manage the worry and the icky feeling they get when they don’t do what OCD wants them to do. Although it may not be possible to erase OCD, children can learn to manage the OCD symptoms so they are no longer troubled by them.
How does a child get OCD? Most research indicates a genetic predisposition…It’s likely that your child is not the first person in your family history to show signs or symptoms of OCD. As with many physical or psychological conditions, there is a range of OCD behaviors…children’s symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe. There are several different types of OCD, such as checking, contamination fears, symmetry, and more. Check back with us and we will explain different OCD types in future articles.