October 11th is the start of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Awareness Week. We wanted to use this opportunity to get some tips to parents of children who have OCD on how they can best support them. It is important to remember that we are NOT doctors. These are tips coming directly from parents to parents on how to best manage and support a child who is struggling with OCD. Every family, and child is different so take the tips that help you and leave the ones that do not apply to your situation. As always, do not make any changes to your child’s treatment plan without discussing it with their doctor first.
1. Don’t let the OCD run your family
Every parent that we have spoken to that has a child who has OCD mentioned that before treatment it was very easy for them to “let OCD run the family.” OCD is an anxiety disorder and parents of a child who is struggling with anxiety often feel the need to take on the role of “safety” for their child. You want to ease their mind and take away anything that is causing them anxiety. While of course you never want to be an unsafe person for your child - it may be doing more harm than good if you are always accommodating to their OCD.
You may have stopped taking family vacations because your child with OCD is now uncomfortable flying or even going to an airport. You may have taken doing the dishes off of their chore list because they are fearful of the germs on the dirty dishes. Perhaps you rearranged your entire work day because they are fearful that the bus is filthy so now you drive them to school. These changes feel like you being a “good parent” and prioritizing your child’s mental health. However when it comes to OCD, being over accommodating to your child’s anxieties can sometimes make them worse, and can grow some serious resentment in your household.
We spoke with a mom who explained that sibling resentment is one of the most difficult aspects of having a child who struggles with OCD. “My daughter just did not understand why her brother had “different rules” than her. In the beginning of my journey I think I accommodated too much and bent over backwards to make sure my son wasn’t anxious. Now in retrospect I see where that didn’t help him, but it also helped to grow resentment between my children. That’s a regret of mine.” she explained.
If you have not already discussed this with your child's provider discuss how you can do your part in "not feeding your child's OCD." They can give you some insight on how to best avoid over accommodating.
2. How much reassurance is too much?
People who have OCD often seek reassurance from the ones in their lives. Someone who has been diagnosed with OCD hates any uncertainty. They want to know exactly what is going on at all times so that they do not have to struggle with the anxiety of the unknown.
If your child struggles with OCD perhaps you have recognized the amount of questions they ask you. In an attempt to eliminate all uncertainty from their life they may turn to you for the answers. “What time are we going?”, “Will I like the food they have?”, ”Who is cooking it and will it be cooked correctly?”, “Will my favorite cousin be there?”, “What time will we leave?”, etc. could be just a few of questions that you hear from your child when you try to attend any family event. We know you hate to admit it but this can get really exhausting for any parent, especially because the child is often never fully satisfied with the information because they want to know more. This constant stream of questioning may make even you second guess attending the event because you don’t have the bandwidth to deal with it all.
Obviously you don’t want to leave your child in the dark, however answering these questions is a never ending cycle and you will never satisfy them with the amount of explanation you give. Your child asks - you answer - they want to know more - you answer more - they want to know even more.
Show your child that being uncertain about something isn't always a bad thing- in fact it's what life is all about. When you sense that your child is seeking never-ending reassurance from you, don't get angry but try to divert the conversation (trust us, we know this is easier said than done). Show them that life does not come crashing down when things are uncertain. Show them that they are capable of tolerating it.
3. Think of progress as a big picture
It is so important to recognize that every child and every treatment plan is different. Don’t compare your child’s success to blogs, or other parents talking about their own child’s success. This will only discourage you and your child who have put a lot of work into getting them the support and help they need. Similarly; don’t compare your child’s “good days” to their “bad days.” Everyone in the world has off days, many people have particularly anxious days. Think of progress in terms of overall - not day to day. If you notice that your child is seeking assurance out of nowhere but they haven’t in a month or so do not write off that month of hard work. Do not minimize the work that has been done.
Instead what can be so helpful to your child is to recognize and validate their feelings while letting them know that this feeling is temporary. Say something like; “Wow! There is so much going on in your life right now. No wonder you are feeling anxious today. I am so proud of you and I am here to support you while you navigate your anxiety today.” shows your child that you notice that things are a lot for them, and that you know it will pass.
4. Name your child’s OCD
This tip in particular is my favorite! This simple idea of naming your child’s OCD can do a lot of good for your family. Firstly, it helps your child to recognize that they are not their OCD. A child who is struggling with their mental health may feel like something is “wrong with them.” By giving their OCD a name it helps to show them that this isn’t who they are, this is something they are struggling with.
We got this excellent idea from this Child Mind Institute Blog. The mom in this blog shares that naming her son’s OCD has been a game changer for them. “Divorcing the OCD from my son has been huge. Now the family has a common enemy, everyone is in on the battle. Before it was an unnamed invader. Now we know who we’re fighting,” said the mom. We absolutely love this sentiment and think it could not only help your child but could be beneficial if you are dealing with sibling resentment as well.
5. Let’s talk about something else
As mentioned in almost every tip - you want to remind your child that they are SO much more than the OCD they struggle with. We know that with insurance, wait lists, melt downs, therapy appointments and the 800 million other things that come with raising a child who is struggling it can be hard to think about anything else. However, do your best to not let OCD seep into every conversation you have with your child. Things can get really overwhelming for a child who is struggling with OCD so it is so helpful to keep things light, and silly sometimes.
Are you having trouble helping your child manage their OCD? Click here to learn more about how our Family Support Partners can help!
All information used came from the parents we work with, The Child Mind Institute, and The International OCD Foundation. These two resources are perfect for any parent looking to learn more about supporting a child who has OCD.