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OCD in kids


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All children have worries and doubts, but those who can’t stop worrying – even if they want to – may have an anxiety disorder such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

What is OCD in children?

With OCD, worries often compel sufferers to repeatedly behave in particular ways; children with OCD usually become preoccupied with whether something could be bad, harmful, dangerous or dirty – or with thoughts that something bad might happen. Scary thoughts or images, referred to as ‘obsessions’ pop into their mind and are hard to get rid of and children may also be worried about things not being in order or ‘just right’.

They could worry about losing things and may be compelled to collect them. They could feel strong urges to do certain things repeatedly – known as ‘rituals’ or ‘compulsions’ – under the belief that this will banish the scary thoughts or prevent something terrible from happening.

These rituals are an attempt to relieve the incredibly high levels of worry and anxiety that may be present and can interfere with everyday behaviour,but in reality, the rituals will only reduce the anxiety temporarily and could be counterproductive in the long run.

Causes of OCD in children

ocd in kidsIt is not known what exactly causes OCD, but it is believed to be linked to levels of a neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin. When the flow of serotonin is blocked, the brain’s ‘alarm system’ overreacts and misinterprets information. These false alarms trigger danger signals which cause people to experience unnecessary fear. It is also thought to run in families and many people with OCD have one or more relatives who also have the same, or a similar, anxiety-related disorder.

The behaviours exhibited by children with OCD is not something they can control by trying harder and it can make their daily life very difficult, as well as that of their family members.

Common obsessions among children include:

  • Fear of dirt or germs
  • Fear of contamination
  • A need for symmetry and order
  • Preoccupation with bodily wastes
  • Lucky and unlucky numbers
  • Sexual or aggressive thoughts
  • Fear of illness or harm for oneself and relatives

Common compulsions or rituals include:

  • Hand washing, showering and teeth brushing
  • Repeating rituals such as going in and out of doorways, needing to move in a certain way, erasing and rewriting.
  • ‘Checking’ rituals – such as making sure an appliance is off or a door locked.
  • Touching rituals
  • Ordering or arranging rituals
  • Counting rituals
  • Hoarding and collecting items of no value.

Children with OCD often feel pressured because they don’t have time to do everything and may miss out on activities or stay up late in order to complete their rituals.

Spotting the signs of OCD in children

It can be difficult to spot OCD as children may try to hide the behaviours out of shame or embarrassment. Often it’s the resulting tantrums and difficult behaviours which get the alarm bells ringing and can lead to OCD being diagnosed. To spot the signs, parents are advised to look out for things like raw, chapped hands from constant washing, high rate of soap or paper towel usage, hours spent doing homework with nothing achieved, persistent fear of illness, an exceptionally long amount of time spent getting ready for bed and constant checks of the health of family members.


OCD is difficult to diagnose but usually becomes more apparent between the ages of seven and 12 when children get more concerned about fitting in with their peers. If you have any concerns you should talk to a doctor or health professional in the first instance. If it is diagnosed, OCD is commonly treated with behavioural therapy and medication.





About Linda Ram

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