It is normal for children to worry a lot and feel afraid about a number of things. Some kids worry that something bad will happen to their parents. Some worry about getting lost in school. Others are afraid of getting sick. What is not normal is when the worry becomes really intense and it starts to bother the kid over and over again. If your child experiences that, it’s your turn to worry. Your child may be suffering from a psychiatric anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Children with OCD experience repeated worry thoughts called obsessions. To control these obsessions, children respond with a ritual or behavior called compulsions. For example if a kid with OCD is obsessed with germs, he will wash her hands over and over again to the point that it has become a normal habit for him. What is worse is that most children with OCD are not aware they have it and they do not know that their obsessions and compulsions are actually not normal. Most of them think that other kids experience the same.
In the United States alone, about 1 million kids and teens suffer from OCD. That’s one in every 200 children and adolescents. Most of the time, the compulsive response seems to be normal so people around the patient do not easily notice it. It is possible that you may actually know someone with OCD but you just don’t realize it. Most parents would think that a compulsion is just a bad habit.
It can be very difficult to live with OCD. This condition takes so much energy, time and attention. For example, using the example above, a kid obsessed with germs will avoid holding items that he thinks is dirty. When he does, he will wash his hands repeatedly that it might be hard for him to find time to do his homework or play with friends. He might feel like hearing a nagging voice in his head telling him that he doesn’t wash his hands thoroughly, he would catch a terrible disease. This makes the kid respond compulsively. This can affect the child’s academic and social life.
If you think your child has OCD, it is best to consult a doctor. If your pediatrician finds his behaviors troubling, he will refer a psychiatrist who will be able to deal with the condition more appropriately. OCD is usually treated with medication and cognitive-behavior therapy. Medicines, usually antidepressants, help in balancing the levels of chemicals in the brain. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a very effective kind of “talk therapy” which involves helping the kid learn to deal with his worries and anxiety, get rid of his obsessive thoughts, resist compulsion and eventually conquer OCD.
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