Recognizing Signs of OCD in Your Children
Have you ever read Dr. Seuss’s story, The Glunk That Got Thunk? In this lesser known Seuss tale, a young girl, when she’s done with supper, likes to “use her thinker-upper.” One day, however, she thinks up something bigger than she’s ever thought up before: a Glunk. This Glunk is troublesome, because it causes trouble, and no matter how hard she tries, the girl cannot “un-think” her Glunk.
This often happens with children who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They have large, powerful imaginations, and when they use them, they sometimes think up things that are hard to un-think. They linger on particular fears that may not make much sense, but still seem real. As a result, they have compulsions or rituals to help them feel less uncomfortable. These thoughts become a disorder when they refuse to leave, and they become so obtrusive that they interfere with a child’s life.
1-3% of children in the United States are estimated to have OCD, though many of these children are undiagnosed. This often occurs due to parents not recognizing or misinterpreting the signs.
OCD has two parts: obsessions and compulsions. These two things together can make life very difficult, especially for children, who already strive for perfection, and do not understand what seems like abnormal behavior. If you fear that your child may suffer from OCD, here are a few signs and symptoms to be aware of.
Obsessions are preoccupations with something that a person considers to be bad or wrong. Often they are afraid that they are doing or will do something wrong. This anxiety often lasts for a long time, leading the child to be distracted and nervous. Here are a few common obsessions that children who suffer from OCD have:
- Fear of dirt and germs.
- Fear of contamination.
- Need for symmetry and order.
- Religious obsessions.
- Fear of illness or harm for self or relatives
- Preoccupation with household items
- Sexual or aggressive thoughts
Remember, if your child does one of these things, it doesn’t mean that she has OCD. However, if she does it at an abnormal frequency, so that she becomes distracted and other parts of her life suffer, you may want to see her doctor.
Compulsions or rituals are reactions to obsessions. If a child is feeling uneasy and afraid, she will try to do something to relieve herself of the feeling, even if it does not really help. Here are a few common compulsions:
- Grooming rituals (brushing teeth, combing hair, washing hands)
- Repetitive rituals
- Rituals to undo contact with another person or an object.
- Rituals to prevent harm to self or others
- Ordering or arranging things
- Counting repetitively
- Excessively cleaning objects
Again these activities do not necessarily point to OCD, but if your child does them often and for abnormally long amounts of time, this might point to a disorder.
So how do you tell if your child suffers from the early stages of OCD? Often, if your child has obsessions or compulsions, she will try to hide them from you. Check to see if her habits or tendencies take more than an hour. These tendencies will often interfere with other, regular activities, making her life difficult. Here are some examples of signs to look for:
- Raw hands from washing too often.
- A surprisingly high amount of laundry.
- An unexpected drop in test grades.
- Hours of extra, unproductive homework time.
- Constant fear of illness or harm to self or others
- Taking a long time getting ready for bed
If you see some of these signs and suspect your child of having OCD, see your doctor. Together you can come up with the best method for helping your child.
If you recognize symptoms of OCD early enough, treatment may be easier. You can help your child before her obsessions get out of hand. The young girl didn’t get rid of her Glunk alone; she needed her brother’s help. Together they used their “un-thinker-uppers” to make it disappear. You can help your kids in the same way. They will always be thinking up things, but together you can un-think any Glunk she ever thunk.
If you want to read the story for yourself, you can find it in Dr. Seuss' I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today and Other Stories.