OCD Chicago

Your Child Can Get Better With Effective Treatment
Information for Parents

Proactive Steps to Take If Your Child Has OCD (or May Have OCD)

If ever there was a time to be proactive, it’s when your child exhibits symptoms that may be OCD.  If you think your child may have OCD—or you’re not sure if the behavior is OCD, some other mental disorder or is “normal” (but frustrating) developmental behavior—don’t wait.  Here are some steps you can take to get started and, if your child or teen is diagnosed with OCD, how you can make the most of treatment:

  • Talk with your child’s doctor.  If you notice unusual behavior symptoms that might be OCD, tell your child’s doctor or pediatrician.  You can ask for a referral to a psychologist or qualified mental health professional who can evaluate your child or teen’s symptoms.  The most-used assessment tool is called Y-BOCS, or the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (CY-BOS is the version designed for children).
  • Insist on CBT therapy.  If your child is diagnosed with OCD, don’t agree to traditional “talk therapy” or other “alternative” treatment for OCD.  CBT therapy, with exposure and response prevention (ERP) exercises, is recommended by nationally-recognized medical authorities such as the National Institutes of Mental Health, the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School.  OCD Chicago can help you find a therapist in the Chicago area, and can direct you to resources to help you find a therapist in other parts of the U.S.
  • Be involved in your child’s recovery process.  Your child or teen will work hard during CBT sessions with the therapist, and will be assigned ERP “homework” to complete daily between sessions with the therapist.  In most cases, they can’t succeed alone.  You will need to be involved in the schedule of assignments, and in making sure your child completes the assignments.  Establish good communication with the therapist, so he or she can help you understand how to help your child.
  • Encourage your child.  Motivation and encouragement will help your child or teen be successful in gaining control of their obsessions and compulsions.  Whether working out a schedule for completing ERP homework, juggling ERP assignments with school work, or letting up a bit on your child’s normal household chores, you make a significant difference in your child’s attitude toward recovery.  Sometimes your child may get frustrated, tired or discouraged.  Your understanding and faith in their ability to succeed will help them get through the difficult times.  Talk with your child’s therapist about how to balance empathy and discipline during the treatment program.
  • Bargain if you have to.  Some children or teens balk at therapy or their ERP homework assignments.  If your child or teen has a tantrum, you find yourself in a yelling match or a teen just refuses to get in the car to go to therapy, you may have to resort to “bargaining”.  It’s more like an incentive or reward.  Some parents have reported success with this approach.  Consider rewarding a child with something they particularly like—IF they go to therapy and do all their homework.  You could try it week by week.  A new article of clothing, a new music CD, a gift card, or even making a special dessert.  Be creative.  And remember, YOUR reward will be your child or teen’s success in therapy and overcoming OCD.
  • Avoid accommodating OCD behavior.  You or other family members may have become involved in your child or teen’s compulsive rituals.  Parents often just “give in” to keep peace in the home.  This won’t help your child overcome the obsessions, because reinforcing compulsive behavior is just the opposite of ERP treatment—reinforcing compulsions can make OCD worse.  Talk with your child’s therapist about how to stop (or gradually stop) participating in rituals, providing constant reassurances or answering the repetitive questions that plague family relationships when a child has OCD.

Learn more about the family’s role in recovery

Back to Parents Role

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