The Parent-Teacher-Child Connection: Children and OCD

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Children and OCD

If you've ever seen the movie As Good as it Gets, you understand how OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) manifests in adults with extreme compulsions and rigid routine.  With children, the lines between worry and OCD are a bit less defined. 

Many years ago, I had a four-year-old in my program who showed early signs of OCD.  His felt his hand-drawn pictures were never good enough.  Even the pictures that my students drew for him were never perfect enough; he crumbled and tossed a student's drawing in the trash because it did not meet his expectations.  I helped him to understand that art is more about the expression of the medium than the finished product (in terms a child can understand, of course), but that did little to help him overcome his feelings of inadequacy. In other areas of his young life, he had to make sure all of his coat buttons were buttoned before he left the room and made sure all of his things were perfect inside of his backpack. Naturally, every time we did a messy art project, he had to wash his hands several times during the session. I'm sure this type of extreme neatness and cleanliness was pleasing to his parents, but it was very scary for me as a teacher and parent to witness this behavior in a child so young.  I can only image the discipline he encountered at home.

Psychologists agree that we have little control over our fears, however irrational they may be.  However, what we CAN control is our reaction to those fears.  When a child is afraid that his drawing is not good enough, help him to understand that simply because he created it makes it good enough for anyone to see.  He can put a mental blue ribbon on his paper when it's finished, saying to himself that his picture is the best in the room, even if it happens to be the only drawn picture in the room!  Make sure you recognize small successes so he sees his life as successful rather than a series of constant failures.  Don't set the bar so high for your children that they can never reach your level of expectations. 

Redirecting thoughts from obsessive actions to positive actions is a powerful cure for people of any age, but when the OCD person is a child, the habit becomes particularly effective in possibly preventing the manifestation of the disorder in adulthood.  If you suspect your child has OCD, get professional help immediately.  For more information. go to

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