Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Children

Does your child have an extreme obsession with dirt and germs?  Did your child spend a lot of time counting, organising, or touching things? Does your child extremely focus on one thing for a long time? Does your kid have the urge of washing his/her hands frequently? These are some of the strong signs of obsessive compulsive disorder. According to a study, 0.25-4% of children are dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder. Keep reading to understand more about the causes, symptoms, treatments and tips to cope with obsessive compulsive disorder.

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What is obsessive compulsive disorder?

Every child has worries and questions. However, despite their best efforts, children with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) frequently cannot stop worrying. Those concerns usually push them to repeat the same behaviours. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is typically categorised as an anxiety disorder since this condition leads to obsessive thinking that can produce extremely stressful situations. These habits or compulsive behaviours are usually an approach to alleviate stress.

Boys are more likely to experience childhood OCD and are more susceptible to motor tics. The obsessions are uncomfortable for a kid and frequently lead to a considerable level of fear, stress, and also discomfort. Compulsions are activities that a child feels they “must perform” in order to cope with the distressing emotions and anxieties brought on by their obsessions. Also, OCD symptoms can consume a lot of effort and interfere with essential activities like schooling, family responsibilities, extracurricular activities, making friends, and taking care of oneself.

Also check, Types of Autism spectrum disorder

Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive disorder

Here are some typical obsession behaviours:

  • Worry about dirt or microbes
  • Spend more time for organising, counting or getting accuracy
  • Fear of getting sick or doing something bad to oneself or loved ones
  • They have a feeling that something must be “exactly right”
  • Excessive anxiety of negative events occuring, making mistakes, or lying

Here are some typical compulsive behaviours:

  • Counting everything repeatedly
  • Placing or moving things in a specific order
  • Constantly asking family and friends for reassurance
  • Spending more time for bathing, tooth brushing, washing hands or dressing up
  • They follow a routine in the same manner.

Also check, Common behavioural disorders in kids

Causes of Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Children are more likely to deal with OCD when they have personally experienced childhood trauma or stressful incidents or when any of their family members have a history of anxiety. Rarely, signs may occur overnight with a sudden shift in attitude and behaviour. Maybe an illness, like strep throat, can also trigger the kid’s immune system to target the brain rather than the infection, leading to this condition.

Also check,Asperger’s syndrome

Link between OCD and Autism

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can coexist with autism. According to surveys, 17% of autistic individuals also deal with OCD. According to researchers, the caudate nuclei (CN) is a part of the brain associated with OCD and autism which have more grey matter than others. The CN is linked to restrictive and repetitive actions. Despite having certain similarities, autism and OCD are two very different disorders. But they do have some things in common. Here are some similarities of OCD and autism:

1.Repetitive actions

OCD and autism both exhibit repetitive actions. While repetitive activities in autistic people are most frequently associated with stimming, it can also be seen in children with OCD.

Common stimming behaviours may involve:

  • Tapping of pencil on the bench
  • Breaking of knuckles
  • Hair twirling around the fingers
  • Whistling
  • Biting the nails
  • Drumming your fingers

Also check, Vocal stimming in kids

2. Obsessions

Kids with both OCD and autism engage in obsessions in addition to repetitive actions. Children and adults with autism are highly focused in activities and become experts in their field of interest. This specialised skill may aid in academic and career development. But this is not favourable all the time. It may take over their mind, disturb their relationships, and also cause problems at work or school. In the case of OCD, unpleasant and disturbing thoughts can take over one’s mind. These thoughts can make them uncontrollable and push them to act in socially unacceptable ways. Although the form of obsessions in OCD and autism differs, both conditions can cause problems with concentration, thinking and overall well being.

Also check, Pica in kids


Anxiety is also a feature shared by many kids and adults with OCD and autism. The mental and emotional health of both children and adults can be harmed by such severe worry, which can also damage their self-esteem and confidence.

Anxiety in Autism may cause:

  • Sensory issues
  • Frequently get irritated
  • Crying often and clingy nature
  • Wake up many times during night
  • Horrible or bad dreams
  • Poor eating habits 
  • Negativity of mind
  • Decreased confidence
  • Less socialisation
  • Tantrums /angry outbursts.

Anxiety in OCD may cause:

  • Undesirable and disturbing thoughts
  • Always worry about bad events
  • Not following the routine

Also check, Tips for personality development

Treatments and therapies

Certain medications that raise the serotonin levels can be used for OCD treatment. It enhances the mood, memory and other physiological processes. Also, therapies can help to cope up with OCD.


DBT is a kind of cognitive-behavioural therapy that seeks to alter behaviour by helping people acknowledge and embrace their emotions. It seeks to alter their behaviour by acknowledging and accepting their current emotions and providing tools that can help with regulating their emotions and improving tolerance and mindfulness. This cognitive behavioural therapy has been adapted to accommodate the unique needs of children. Its main goals are teaching coping mechanisms, identifying problematic thought patterns, and regulating intense emotions.

Also check, Benefits of behavioural therapies


Family counselling includes mom, dad, siblings and other family members to take part in the therapy session. It can aid in improving family communication and teaching parents some tactics for resolving conflicts with their children to make it safer in the family. In some cases, strengthening the bond between parents and children can enhance family dynamics.

Also check, Tips for personality development

Tips that help to cope Obsessive compulsive disorder in Children

Although raising children with OCD can be difficult, there are several techniques to manage it. Here are some coping strategies that can help your kid to reduce their anxiety levels:

1.Talk with them:

Talk nicely, pay attention, and express your love. Tell your child about OCD and make them understand that it might cause stress. Tell your child that a doctor’s examination is necessary to determine whether this is the case. Also, remind your child that things will improve and you are there to support them.

Also check, Fun and Engaging activities for kids

2.Maintain a journal

Find the triggers first and note it down in a journal. Keep the journal with you all the time and write down what happens when your kid finishes that compulsive action.

Also check, Sensory activities for kids

3.Set limits

Even though it hurts to see your kid in agony, but if you don’t create boundaries, it will be more challenging for them to overcome their OCD. When you begin to set boundaries  regularly, your child may have a meltdown or tantrums, but they will also get adjusted to your constancy. Setting boundaries can eventually aid in your child’s anxiety reduction.

Also check, Focus and attention building activities

4. Rewards

Obsessive compulsive disorder in children is difficult to manage. Rewards can encourage kids to resist some of their OCD tendencies. It’s important to reward your youngster for their attempts and dedication to overcome OCD. Appreciate them in the form of a short, sweet, and straightforward sentence like, “I’m incredibly proud of what you did. You did a fantastic job dealing with your OCD”.

Also check, How to manage tantrums in Kids? 


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