Identifying OCD in Children

01 Parents that believe their child is struggling should reach out to him/her and start a dialogue.

02 Around age 9 is when parents should start paying serious attention to any signs or symptoms of OCD.

03 Early detection is crucial in ensuring your child will not suffer in silence.

OCD3, Ep8: Identifying OCD in Children

A child’s imagination knows no boundaries. As children grow and their minds develop, they begin to create the rules of their own world. It’s especially critical for a parent or parents that have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to monitor their child’s behavior and not jump to conclusions.

OCD is a genetic disorder. If one parent has OCD, there’s a 15-20% chance that his/her child will also have OCD. If both parents have OCD, there’s a 50% chance that their child will also have OCD.

Children may start to show behaviors that resemble OCD between the ages of 3 and 7. Expert clinical psychologist Dr. Steven Phillipson says that at such a young age, it’s nearly impossible to diagnose a child with OCD. If a diagnosis is made, it’s very likely the child will grow out of it. That said, at age 9 or older, parents should start an open dialogue about OCD.

He suggests asking the following questions to start the conversation:

  • Are you having any intrusive thoughts that bother you? Don’t forget to explain what an intrusive thought is to your child. Need a definition? Watch the video here.

  • Do you have a fear that mom and dad are never coming home?

  • Is there anything you experience that gives you anxiety?

  • Has anything happened at school that may have made you feel shame or embarrassment?

Early detection is critical to set your child up for future success. It’s the difference between someone living silently with OCD or intrusive thoughts and feeling empowered to talk openly about his/her experiences. If your child has OCD, make a commitment to ensure s/he receives the proper treatment. To learn more about modifications in the classroom, watch “Creating a Safe Classroom" here.

If you believe intrusive thoughts could be affecting your child’s ability to lead a normal life, contact a local psychologist to start their personal path toward healing.

Read full video transcript below: 

Aaron Harvey (AH): There's a lot of search around OCD in children, OCD in adults. Can you speak to what you think those searchers might be looking for?

Dr. Steven Phillipson (SP): If a person has OCD and they’ve done research, they’re going to become informed that there is a genetic component to OCD. If one parent has OCD the statistical chances of a child having OCD is between 15-20% so I’ll tell patients, who speak to me about their concerns in their children having OCD, that at around age 9, they can ask children whether they're having intrusive thoughts. The reason I say age 9 is because children basically from age 3 to age 7 often exhibit a lot of behavior that looks like OCD. But actually it’s just quirky childhood efforts to keep their world organized and secure. They can talk about what anxiety feels like and keep an open dialogue for the child to bring an of these concerns to their parent. For most children, they have more of a Pure O form of OCD than an observable ritualizing subset. A child might ask "Is it OK if I have thoughts that you might not come home when you go to work?"

AH: What would yo say to the industry at whole, the practitioners, the media with respect to where you’d like to see the conversation about OCD in 5 or 10 years?

SP: I’d like people to be aware that OCD is just an anxiety disorder. I’d like people to be aware that it’s a very treatable condition. And I’d like people to stop confusing it with perfectionism. I’d like people to be aware that the treatment for OCD is ERP, it’s not cognitive therapy, it’s not deep analysis. And I’d like people to be aware that our brain, the machine, is a very separate entity from our own unique identify. And our brain is capable of regulating acid supply when we digest food, capable of regulating our body temperature and it's capable of sending us thoughts that are not about our autonomous independent volitional choice.

AH: If there are any viewers out there watching this video who, maybe they're young, live with their parents. How do they go about telling their parents that the therapy they're getting is not actually right?

SP: I think for a teenager to inform their parents that their therapist is spending time looking into the thoughts, or just talking about week-to-week activities that have taken place, we call that talk therapy, it’s important to bring that information to one’s parents to let them know that the active component of exposure therapy is not being engaged in.

AH: So even when, as a sufferer, you might withdraw and take a lot of that internally, you should invest in community.

SP: I would suggest that. I would suggest joining an OCD group, which there are many of now, to have support in the treatment to kind of not keep it to yourself. And to share with others the information that's available in terms of defining the condition as something that's very natural. It's not deviant. It's not something to be afraid of.