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5 tips to spot OCD in children

When you hear the term OCD in children, you may automatically think of traits such as being fussy or being a bit pedantic about things; however real OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is so much more. We have the wonderful author of Hank the Hungry Monster, Julie Derrick, explaining to us a little more about OCD in children today. To both help us understand and cope with it just that little bit more. Go check out her book too. She is speaking from very personal experience….

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When you hear the term OCD in children

How do you spot OCD in children and what are the symptoms?

Well this can be quite tricky as OCD in children is a cunning mental illness, in that it can often start to control a child’s thoughts, and result in both them (and you) carrying out the most bizarre rituals, before you’ve even realised it.

Added to this, many OCD sufferers keep their symptoms private for fear of being labelled “insane” or being ridiculed.

That is why it is so important for parents to be able to spot any early signs of OCD before it takes a hold.

Here are 5 tips of how to spot OCD in children, based on my own experience of dealing with a child with OCD.

1. Repetitive behaviour

Have you noticed your child starting to do something over and over again, otherwise referred to as compulsions? Some examples of common obsessions include washing hands, counting and checking whether appliances are switched off. These compulsions will be a direct result of your child having obsessive thoughts triggered by extreme anxiety. I can remember a health professional once likening OCD in children to a ‘greedy monster’ due to the fact that it never gets full. The more you carry out its demands, the bigger the demands will become; meaning that both you and your child will start increasing the amount of times that you carry out an action and may also result in other compulsions being added to the list too.

OCD in children

2. Tasks taking longer than normal

Has your child started to spend longer doing everyday things like taking a shower, doing homework or even getting dressed? If so, this could indicate that they have introduced some sort of rituals into their daily routine. Compulsions can be extremely time consuming and exhausting, so little wonder that they can start eating into large chunks of time, and make children feel miserable. Imagine having to continually wash and dry hands, or having to adhere to a strict set of routines for showering or changing. Or imagine having to have every file stacked in a particular way or colour order, then having to repeat the process over and over again due to obsessive thoughts telling you that doing these rituals is the only way that you will be safe.

With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that OCD sufferers are often late for appointments, or worse still, that they don’t even turn up at all!

When you hear the term OCD in children

3. Change in eating habits

Sadly, OCD and eating disorders often go hand in hand, meaning that it’s quite common for the OCD to start controlling your child’s eating too. This can prove extremely challenging for a parent, as not only are you trying to tackle the usual OCD traits, but suddenly you’re faced with tackling obsessions relating to eating (or not eating as the case may be) too.

This reminds me of another comparison that was made by a health professional, which was when she likened OCD to a pop up game. Because, like the pop up game where you knock one peg down with a hammer and another one pops up, the same happens with OCD. The minute you successfully tackle one issue, another one pops up its place. Developing an eating disorder is one of the additional obsessions that commonly pops up. Therefore, if your child’s eating habits suddenly change; there is a chance that this could be triggered by OCD, rather than it just being an eating disorder.


4. Needing constant reassurance

Another tell tale sign that your child is developing OCD, is if they suddenly start asking for constant reassurance. OCD feeds off reassurance, which can lead to your child asking for reassurance non-stop. This can also have a big impact on their self- confidence too.

5. Having meltdowns over minor things

When I say meltdowns, I don’t mean a usual teenage strop. The kind of meltdown that I am describing is the type where your once quiet, calm household suddenly develops into a battlefield, with lots of hysterical shouting; not just from the child with OCD, but from other family members attempting to calm the “meltdown” by trying to speak over the “OCD” voice. I refer to it as the “OCD voice as we were advised not to link the meltdown” behaviour to our daughter, but to attribute it to the “OCD” instead. Because the minute that the OCD issue had passed, our daughter would return to the quiet, calm daughter that we knew.

What causes these sorts of meltdowns and how do they differ from the usual teenage strops?

OCD meltdowns will happen as a result of sudden anxiety brought on by an obsessive fear.

Examples include:

  • A family member touching something deemed “contaminated” and then being told to immediately shower,
  • When others refuse to comply with an OCD demand such as avoiding a certain room,
  • Failing to prepare something correctly for a ritual to be carried out,
  • Being rushed to carry out a ritual in order to avoid being late, and
  • Something reminding them of a particular event associated with their fear.

These are just a few of the many examples of potential OCD meltdowns. They differ to a normal tantrum in that they are caused by heightened anxiety and fear that something bad will happen if they do not comply with the ritual.

In order to deter a child from developing full-blown OCD, it is really important to recognise potential early symptoms and to know the difference between OCD and normal anxiety.

This is because the approach needed to tackle OCD is different to the one needed to treat normal anxiety. I have learnt this from my own experience of dealing with child OCD, because not fully recognising OCD signs and approaching them with care, can result in parents, unintentionally, growing their child’s OCD symptoms, rather than curing them.

If you want more information, and need to help children understand OCD a little more. Do check out Julie’s book as well:

Hank the Hungry Monster

Julie is campaigning to increase awareness and understanding for OCD after her daughter developed it within her teens.

Hank the Hungry Monster explains it effectively, and simply to kids. Do take a look.

We hope this post helps you. If you want more parenting tips, check these posts out.

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Helen is a mum to two, social media consultant, and website editor; and this site is (we think) the only Social Enterprise parenting magazine! Since giving up being a business analyst when juggling travel, work and kids proved too complicated, she founded KiddyCharts so she could be with her kids, and use those grey cells at the same time. KiddyCharts has reach of over 1.1million across social and the site. The blog works with big family brands (including travel) to help promote their services, as well as offering free resources to parents of kids under 10. It gives 51%+ profits to Reverence for Life, who fund a number of important initiatives in Africa, including bringing running water and basic equipment to a school in Tanzania. Helen has worked as a digital marketing consultant (IDM qualified) with various organisations, including Channel Mum, Truprint, Talk to Mums, and Micro Scooters. She loves to be creative in the brand campaigns she works on. Get in touch TODAY!

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