What if you and your child have OCD
Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has many challenges, but when you and your child have OCD, life can become hugely complicated and fraught with daily dilemmas because of the compulsions.
As an adult you may work hard every day to live with this mental illness. However, when you have children with OCD it is really important to try and distinguish the ‘disorder from the self’ in both you and your child. This is one of the most important things to focus on so you can protect your relationship with them and it does not become ‘all about the OCD’.
If you and your child have OCD there is an upside, you’re acutely aware of what they are going through. You’ve seen first-hand the effects OCD can have on family and personal lives and will be aware that some of the ways to treat OCD appear to go against maternal and paternal instincts.
For example, watching your child tolerate the anxiety that comes from resisting a compulsion. This knowledge you have is both a blessing and curse and yet another obstacle to parenting with OCD.
Parenting a child with OCD while having OCD
Ben Faulk, who writes for Fatherly.com, sums the situation up perfectly when he says: “OCD is like trying to be in control times a million. And as we all know, that simply doesn’t jibe with being a parent, not really.
“Sure, we can manage things and we can be vigilant and we can be caring, but the world is the world – capricious, big, and, ultimately, unknowable. As someone who literally likes to quantify stuff, that’s difficult to take.”
He then talks about the tiredness of being a parent, especially because sleep exacerbates his OCD, and how that now he’s a parent all of the things he was able to keep on the periphery of his mind have now moved to the centre – “the size of grapes and how chewable they are, where the bleach is kept, fuel emissions, paedophiles”.
Helpful strategies to parent a child with OCD
According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, the below strategies can be helpful for parents to use to help support their children with OCD.
- Avoid accommodating their needs
A lot easier said than done when you’re battling your own compulsions, but you’ll be aware that OCD feeds on attention and accommodation so try to avoid feeding the OCD. For example, if your child asks you to open a door to avoid coming in contact with germs, you inadvertently strengthen their OCD each time you open it for them.
As you’ll be aware your child’s brain will then learn that the door handle is something to fear and cannot be handled by them. Try to resist participating in rituals, even if it feels awful to refrain. You know yourself that giving OCD an inch only encourages it to demand a mile.
Keep in mind this tactic may make symptoms worse before they get better, but try to think of OCD as a bully to your child who demands lunch money. A bully usually will not accept ‘no’ as an initial answer.
Instead, he or she will try to up the ante until they get the money. However, the bully will learn over time that it is not worth the effort to get no attention and no money. The situation can improve if you remain consistent.
- Remind yourself your child is not defying you on purpose
As a parent with OCD, you know their opposition is not to be taken personally, but during day-to-day battles it can be hard to keep this at the front of your mind when it is cluttered with so much other ‘stuff’.
Explain to them you know what they are going through, without reinforcing their behaviour, and reassure them that you know OCD is the bully and the one trying to disrupt the family, and that it’s the condition itself you are upset with, not them.
- Seek extra support for yourself
Now is the time when you may need extra support to deal with your own OCD, so make sure your own self-care is a priority! Seek help if you need from a therapist or search for support groups made up of parents with OCD who are trying to navigate their own children through the process.
You’re not alone in this, even though at times it might feel like you are. There are many resources on the OCD Clinic website with book recommendations and links. This article does not and should not replace medical advice.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – the gold standard treatment for OCD
Maybe this worked for you, maybe it didn’t, but as a specialised psychotherapy tool it can help your child learn the links between thoughts, feelings and behaviours and then allow them to develop tools to address unhelpful patterns.
A special type of CBT that focuses on exposure and response prevention (ERP) is considered the gold standard treatment for OCD. This evidence-based treatment helps a child gradually resist engaging in compulsions while learning that the outcome is not as bad as expected — or, at least, can be tolerated.
If your child’s symptoms are consuming more than an hour daily, creating extra distress for your child or family, and interfering with activities, your child may benefit from CBT with ERP.
We’re here to support you through your parenting journey.
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