Parenting A Child With OCD; Tools & Tips from an Orlando Pediatric OCD Specialist
Parenting a child with OCD can be challenging, and it sometimes feels like you are navigating uncharted territory. When a child has OCD, they can become engrossed in their obsessions / fears and compulsive behaviors, that sometimes involve family members. What adds to the difficulty, is that frequently, we as parents may feel that by providing comforting reassurance to our child, we can calm them down or prevent their obsessive thoughts. However, repeatedly comforting children with reassurance can actually worsen their OCD symptoms and maintain the cycle of obsession-compulsion. This cycle can interfere with everyday life, from academic and social skills to self-esteem and emotional wellbeing.Pa
Understanding Childhood OCD:
OCD, also known as Obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a mental disorder with symptoms that include obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that are unwanted and repetitive. They can create anxiety, fear, or distress. On the other hand, compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that are performed with the intention of neutralizing the anxiety or fear caused by the obsessions. It is important to note that compulsions can be overt or covert, in that they can be a physical act like washing hands, organizing objects, or they can be mental acts like praying or repeating a phrase. Understanding OCD can help to alleviate our perception of our child’s behavior, diminish our frustration, and de-escalate the situation.
Parenting a Child With OCD: Supportive Tools & Tips
- Use Empathy: Watching your child uncomfortably pained by the fear of their obsessive thought can feel excruciating for you. However, try to empathize with their sentiments and emotional state. Listen carefully to your child and communicate that you are there for them. Avoid judging, belittling, or undermining the legitimacy of their anxiety. It is crucial to validate their emotions. Acknowledge how hard it can be to carry the burden of obsessive thought, but also provide reassurance that with time, treatment, and practice, it does get better.
- Encouraging Exposure: Remember that providing reassurance is not equivalent to offering solutions to alleviate your child’s anxiety. Offering reassurance can maintain the obsessive cycle, making the problem worse in the long term. Instead, encourage exposure. Exposure is the process of gradually confronting the things or situations that induce fear and anxiety to break the hold of OCD. The goal is to make your child increasingly comfortable with whatever is causing their anxiety, without performing compulsive behaviors. Encourage your child to work with their therapist to create an exposure hierarchy and work with them to gradually address each identified fear. Empower your child to be in control of their exposure therapy, so they are more equipped to handle the anxiety created by their obsessions.
- Creating Structure: Creating structure is vital for children with OCD. Routines help to anchor their moods, behavior, and alleviate their apprehensions. Keep in mind that the structure must be flexible and not excessively rigid. Create a routine that includes set times for meals, homework, and bedtime, but also gives them time for enjoyable activities like playing outside or doing crafts. Plan activities they enjoy, but also challenge them to incorporate the exposures in a way that feels manageable. Praise their accomplishments both big and small.
- Practicing Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present and aware of one’s emotions and thoughts, without judgment or reaction. Mindful practices like journaling, or meditation can be powerful tools for children with OCD. Focusing on the present moment instead of obsessing about something that may or may not happen in the future helps children to regulate their emotions and recognize their obsessions as transient experiences.
- Seek Therapy from a Trained OCD Therapist: Seeking therapy from a trained OCD therapist can provide both you and your child with the tools and support needed to manage OCD effectively. A trained ERP therapist can work with you and your child to develop tailored ERP plan that aims to effectively treat OCD; not just provide “coping strategies”. When seeking therapy for OCD; we recommend asking your perspective provider these questions.
OCD Therapy in Orlando – We’re Here To Help
At Groundwork in Orlando, we understand that parenting a child with OCD can feel overwhelming and isolating, but you are not alone. Remember that compassion, patience, and support are essential for your child’s recovery. It may be challenging to watch your child in pain, but with the right tools and guidance, you can help them overcome their obsessive thoughts. Avoid offering reassuring phrases as they worsen the symptoms, and instead validate your child’s emotions and encourage exposure to work through their fears. Creating structure and mindfulness practices are other tools you can use to support your child and help them regulate their thoughts. Working with specialized professionals is also important to ensure that your child receives effective treatment for their OCD. With empathy and encouragement, you can help your child navigate the challenges of OCD and lead a more fulfilling life.