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April 8th, 2011

OCD and Worry In Children and Teens

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.