Dealing with a Child with OCD
There are things you should avoid when interacting with a child with OCD or even an adult for that matter. What they are going through is unique and it needs to be addressed with care.
Dealing with a child with obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a sensitive issue. It can also be very trying and it can make your parent-child relationship a very tense one.
Like most parents, you love your child. This goes without saying. But as we all know, it's one thing to say that you love and care for your child, it's another to show that love even in the most trying times day after day.
If you're like most parents, you won't have any problems showing affection to your child at any one time. But every single day, behind the scenes, there's a lot going on. It can be hard on your patience. It can try you.
If you think you're having a tough time with OCD, just think about what your kid is going through. It's no cake walk for them either. And as much as you'd like to look at things in adult terms where everything falls into neat little boxes of what you can and can't do, it's a completely different picture when it comes to people with OCD.
They don't have the ability to reason through what they're doing. They know that it's wrong, but they can't help but do it. They're trapped in these recurring thoughts, sensations, patterns, and tendencies. It all starts as thoughts in their heads and then it manifests in repeated action.
They are caught up in this process and they feel helpless. So no amount of external reasoning just by itself can calm your child. So to help handle the situation, here are some things that you should avoid when dealing with a child with OCD.
Don't impose your reasoning
The first thing that you need to understand is that your child is caught in an unreasonable pattern of behavior. They repeat the same pattern without regard to reason. They understand this. So it doesn't really make sense for you to impose on them what is reasonable and not reasonable because that's not going to help make their lives any better.
They know that there's something wrong, but they can't help but repeat the same process as soon as they get triggered. They're facing all sorts of complex and “unreasonable” reasoning processes. They can't explain it.
They don't want it. If given a choice, they would not engage in this behavior. But it doesn't really help things when you stand out there trying to “logically reason with them” because this is no place for logic.
This is a biochemical neurological issue that they're having a tough time escaping from. As long as they're triggered, they get thrown into this automatic process and they end up acting the way they do. When you stand outside of all of this and impose your cold logic on what's going on, you're not really helping.
It's much better to work with them to either change the trigger that produces the behavior or talk with them regarding what they're interpreting and see if they have other options that they're aware of. In other words, you work with them based on what they're experiencing and thinking.
You're not imposing something external on them. This way, you help them come up with certain decisions regarding cognition so they can change their behavior. It has to come from them instead of you just imposing what you think should and shouldn't be because deep down inside, they already know that.
But they're trapped in this obsessive-compulsive pattern. OCD acts as a trap that's very hard to escape.
Don't give false hopes
When you're working with a child as they grapple with OCD, don't give them false hopes that the harmful thoughts and feelings will just go away. Don't give them the impression that what they're going through is the best situation.
None of that is helpful. Instead, allow them to prepare for triggers. This is probably the best thing you can do. Before they get triggered, remind them that there are these things that trigger you. And if you get agreement and they sign on to that, coach them regarding how to better prepare themselves.
So if your child has the obsessive-compulsive need to do certain things at a certain time of day, tell them “This is what happens when 8 am rolls around.” And if they agree with you, work with them to say “Okay, this is what you normally do. Are there any other things that you could do that would make you happier?”
And then they would volunteer some information. The key is to make them as engaged as possible. As much as possible, the answer must come from them. This is how you come up with an “organic solution” instead of imposing what you think is right or optimal into their lives because not only is it intrusive, it's probably not going to last all that long.
At the end of the day, it's still somebody else's solution and not theirs. It has to come from them.
Make it clear to your child that their problem is not self-made
Let's face it, if you have certain habits and you can't help but repeat them as soon as you are triggered, it's only a matter of time until you start kicking yourself. You keep saying to yourself “What's wrong with me?”
Before you know it, you feel lousy and your self-esteem takes a hit. Can you imagine what's going on with your child who's struggling with OCD? It's probably 1 million times worse. So the key here as a loving supportive parent is to make it clear that you did not cause your problem. You did not deserve this. You didn't bring this about. You are not cursed. You're not a bad person. This happens to other people and this is a problem, but it can be solved.
This is one key to OCD recovery. The moment they internalize OCD, it can take many different directions. On the one end, your kid might feel that they're just trapped and there's really nothing they can do, so why even try?
On the other end, kids can say “This is who I am. This is my personality. I'm capable of anything more. So you either accept the bad things that I do and the negative effects of my OCD or you don't really love me.”
There is a happy middle ground here and it has to be explored once you make an opening. That opening can only happen when you make it clear to your child that your behavior is not who you are. It is not a curse. It is not something you intended or willed. It's just a reaction that other people share.
Once you get that opening going, the solution is possible.
Hold back from punishing
It's very tempting to penalize a child because she just doesn't seem to want to learn. You already told her many times not to do something, but because of OCD, she keeps repeating it over and over. The key here is to not put yourself in this position because what she's doing is not her fault.
When you follow the previous 3 pieces of advice, you wouldn't end up here. You wouldn't end up in a place where you feel that you need to punish your child because she's not at fault. This is why it's really important to get the previous 3 points in place so you don't reach this piece of advice. You should not punish.
Punishment for OCD behavior is the wrong solution. Please understand that we're talking about more than just physical punishment. You shouldn't be hitting your child anyway. You can punish your child by withdrawing affection or through some sort of verbal reprimand.
None of these help. So the key is to go through all these steps so you can work with your child in such a way that the solution comes from them.
The final word
OCD is not a death sentence. A lot of people have overcome OCD. It really is all about being prepared for certain triggers that bring about certain “uncontrollable” behaviors and emotional responses. The best thing you can do as a parent is to avoid the traps outlined above so you can better prepare your child to respond to the triggers.
Please understand that the triggers will come. But it doesn't necessarily mean that your child has to react to them the exact same way she or he has been reacting all along. Help your child deal with stress in a healthy way. There is a better way.