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What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) In Children?

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) In Children?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can strike anyone… even children. Yes,  obsessive compulsive disorder, often referred to as OCD, knows no age. Though all kids have their personal worries and doubts just like adults, OCD in children makes them worry non-stop even if they do not want to think about these things at all. This constant worrying may often lead them to act differently compared to other children their age.

Though often mistaken as a rare occurrence among children who are habitually misdiagnosed with other mental illnesses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder or depression, OCD occurs in approximately 1% of all children. Also, adults who have been diagnosed with OCD later in life have experienced or exhibited OCD symptoms during their childhood years.

compulsive disorder in children

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) In Children

So what is OCD? OCD is one type of anxiety disorder where children may be preoccupied with something dangerous, harmful, dirty or wrong because there are various thoughts that bad things might happen.

The scary and uncontrolled thoughts or images that the child thinks are known as obsessions. These obsessions are worrisome and are hard not to think about. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in children may also make them perfectionists making them feel uneasy if things are not in order, or do not feel right. They can fear losing things and may need to keep these things even if these are already considered useless, prompting them to hoard trash at times (a form of compulsive behavior).

These individual thoughts and ideas need an outlet to satisfy their obsessive thinking through by something that will ease their worries. These things are repeatedly done which can become a habit or ritual. Such actions to satisfy the obsessive behavior are known as compulsions.

Children with OCD may not be aware of their condition, and they justify their rituals with weird reasons. They just do it simply because they have to or they want to. Once the ritual has been performed, children with OCD are relieved from the anxiety that their obsessive thinking causes. Performing the rituals will make them feel that bad things will not happen anymore because they did what they had to do.

Causes Of OCD In Children

The exact cause of OCD in children is not known even by doctors and experts in the field. However, recent researches and studies show a better understanding of the disorder and its possible causes. Some experts believe that the obsessive-compulsive behavior stems from altered levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the body.

Neurotransmitters are the ones that are responsible for carrying signals to the brain.

Once the flow of serotonin is jammed, the brain will react and misinterpret the information. It will send false alarms which will incorrectly trigger a message of danger. Instead of filtering the wrong message, the brain will dwell on it and push the child to develop unrealistic fears and doubts ab0ut one’s self and the surroundings.

Genetics also play a role in the causes of this particular mental disorder. There is substantial evidence that OCD can run in families. People who have been diagnosed with OCD cases have one or more family members who suffer the same or have any other anxiety disorders related to serotonin levels. Though having a family member with OCD does not necessarily mean that you also should have it, your risk of acquiring the disorder is higher. An illness or some event which may cause you stress can trigger OCD symptoms to those who genetically predisposed to it.

What Are The Symptoms Of OCD In Kids?

There are different symptoms of OCD in children depending on what worries them the most, and how they choose to act on it. The list below only focuses on some behavioral symptoms that your child may manifest, but please take note that OCD behavior is not limited to the ones listed below:


Fear of contamination or germs


  • Frequent hand washing, bathing, showering
  • Regular use of hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes
  • Excessive changing and washing of clothes, and cleaning surfaces. Maybe, children may ask you to clean their clothes more than once to make it really clean.
  • Avoiding to touch dirty surfaces like doorknobs
  • Avoids touching others or not playing with other children including own siblings
  • Refuses to be  kissed or cuddled
  • Avoids contact sports in fear of catching some disease or contaminating another person
  • Avoids public areas and using public washrooms
  • Constant seeking of assurance that they are not sick or dirty


Fear of  numbers


  • Touching objects sometimes
  • Reading words or pages a given number of times
  • Avoids numbers they consider unlucky or unsafe


Fear of harm or danger


  • Lock the doors and windows
  • Repeatedly checking on parents if they are okay
  • Counting, saying, writing, touching things and saying words to keep harm from coming to someone “magically.”
  • Illogical avoidance of normal activities, places, people or animals that they perceive as something that may cause harm or danger


Fear of violating moral and religious rules


  • Praying sometimes to atone for having done something bad
  • Repeated acts of confession of perceived sins or bad manners
  • Follows religious practices meticulously

Also Read: Treatment For OCD

What To Do If The Child Is Diagnosed With OCD?

If you suspect that your child is diagnosed with OCD, the best thing to do is to consult a medical professional specializing in mental behaviors. OCD is normally treatable with medication and behavioral therapy.

Behavioral therapy, which is often referred to as cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, helps your kid control thoughts and feelings by changing their behavior towards it. It involves exposing children gradually to their fears with an agreement that they should not perform their ritual habits when they see those things. This will help the child decrease the anxiety levels and will make him or her realize that nothing bad happened even when the compulsive ritual was not performed.  Probably, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs are prescribed to lessen the impulse of performing such rituals.


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