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April 21st, 2011

Checking and OCD in Children and Teens

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®.