Compulsive Behaviors in Youth

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a term that is frequently overused or misused in society to explain one’s desire for organization or to reflect “perfectionism” however there are many characteristics that make up this diagnosis. Those who struggle with OCD often face intrusive thoughts, or obsessive thinking, and experience an intense unwanted recurring need to complete a ritual, or compulsion. There is a sense of having no control over these behaviors, which can cause stress and anxiety and interfere with functioning. 

Early intervention is key in order to identify compulsive behaviors and find the right support and resources for your loved one. This might be difficult sometimes because many who struggle with these behaviors try to hide them or do them in private, but checking in and asking the right questions can help open the conversation.

What do obsessive compulsive behaviors look like in youth?

Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts or images which cause heightened anxiety or distress. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors, rituals or mental acts – these could include, repeatedly checking or counting things, excessive hand washing, excessive worry about real life problems, or avoidance of certain places and things. 

Young children may experience recurring fears and worries that someone they care for will be harmed or fearful that harm may come to them. They may repeatedly check locks, doors, and things around the house to feel more secure. 

Children & Teens may experience similar stressors but are also concerned with getting sick from germs, contamination or contractible illnesses.

These behaviors may start early and be noticeable in the classroom as seen by constantly rewriting things, re-reading the same sections of a book, etc. 

Since many youth may experience shame around these thoughts and behaviors and worry that their mental health is impaired, having a support system and skills in place can be beneficial.

How do I help?

Early intervention is key in order to identify compulsive behaviors and find the right support and resources for your loved one. This might be difficult sometimes because many who struggle with these behaviors try to hide them or do them in private, but checking in and asking the right questions can help open the conversation.

It can be difficult to find balance between supporting your child and setting boundaries. 

Here are some behaviors that are not always helpful:

  • Participating in ritualistic behaviors (saying things over and over, cleaning a certain way).
  • Assisting in avoidance behaviors (won’t say certain things, not drive certain routes, making decisions for them).
  • Facilitating symptomatic behaviors (buying excessive amounts of cleaning products or constantly replacing new items).
  • Modifying family routines and changing the household dynamic to center around one member.

Here are things that can help 

  • Learning more about OCD and talking about symptoms and experiences together is a great place to start when talking to loved ones about mental health. 
  • Validate your child’s experience , celebrate small gains.
  • Practice tolerating and managing your own feelings, try to avoid overreacting.
  • Connect to the emotion not the action, avoid behaviors you do not want.
  • Show empathy towards your child to help them feel heard during the process. 
  • Create realistic expectations and reduce your involvement in rituals when you can.
  • Keep your child focused in the present moment when experiencing fear of unknown future..
  • Be mindful that setbacks are a normal part of the process.

 

You can learn more by watching this free webinar from Mental Health America OCD in Children & the Impact of Covid-19

Additional Resources

Resources for families

Child Mind Institute – Parents Guide to OCD – also available in Spanish 

International OCD Foundation – training, resources, community programs and more 

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry – OCD Resource Center 

 

Resources for educators

Anxiety in the Classroom provides information on anxiety and OCD for educators and school personnel to help them identify signs and symptoms in the classroom, and increase awareness on how OCD may impact school performance. 

Child Mind Institute -Teachers Guide to OCD – also available in Spanish 

Contact Us

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