Your Child Can Get Better With Effective Treatment
Information for Parents

Helping A Child Who Has OCD

Don’t blame yourself for your child’s OCD.  Even the worst parenting doesn’t cause this disorder.

If your child has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or is exhibiting symptoms that could be OCD, he or she is not alone. Current estimates are that one in 100 school-aged children has OCD, which means that over one million children in the U.S. are suffering with this disorder. The total number of people impacted by OCD multiplies to many millions more when you include parents and the other family members of children who have OCD.

OCD is not a “phase” your child is going through and is not deliberate misbehaving or a cry for attention.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s not your fault that your child has OCD—and your child is not to blame either.  OCD is a neurobiological anxiety disorder, which means that the brain of a child with OCD functions differently than the brain of child who does not have OCD.

OCD Chicago wants to help you get the information you need to help. You and your child deserve to get relief from behavior that is affecting the pleasures of childhood, normal family life, friendships and schoolwork.  Fortunately, effective treatment is available, and you can look forward to the future with optimism. With proper treatment, your child can learn to manage the symptoms of OCD.

As a parent, you are in a powerful position to help your child by:

  • understanding OCD—what it is, what it is not, causes and myths
  • finding the right therapist to provide treatment
  • learning how to recognize and respond to symptoms at home

Just for Teens

Special information for teenagers about OCD

What Is OCD?

OCD is a neurobiological anxiety disorder.  This brain condition affects how children (and adults) think.  It is characterized by obsessions and compulsions that take up a considerable amount of time.  Obsessions are involuntary intrusive thoughts, images or impulses that cause unbearable worry and fear. To cope with the obsessions, the OCD sufferer devises processes or actions (mental or physical) called compulsions.  Compulsions are repetitive ritualistic acts that make a child feel better, but the relief is only temporary.  Those compulsions, the ritualistic behaviors, are the visible symptoms of OCD.  Currently, there is no cure for OCD; it is a chronic condition.  However, similar to how a child with asthma, allergies or diabetes learns how to manage his or her condition, a child with OCD can learn how to manage obsessions and compulsions with the right treatment.

Learn to Recognize OCD Symptoms

Children sometimes describe their obsessions as “bad thoughts” or fears or worries—and sometimes they have a very hard time putting into words what it is that is bothering them.  In all cases of OCD, a child is unable to suppress either the bad thought or the compulsion that makes the bad thought go away (temporarily) and makes them feel better (for a while).

As an example, a child may have an intense fear of someone breaking into the house and harming someone in the family.  This fear is the obsession.  The child may insist on repeatedly checking that the doors and windows are locked at bedtime, or ask the parents to check other areas over and over again.  Those repetitive acts are compulsions.  Another obsession may be a fear of germs, and the compulsion may be hand washing over and over again, until the child’s skin is raw.

While safety fears are not uncommon in children, persistent and escalating fears about these matters are disruptive and the child can be in great distress. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of OCD as a first step toward gaining relief.

Learn more about the varied symptoms of OCD in children and teens

What Causes OCD?

It’s natural for parents to look for the cause of OCD when they see their child suffering from this disorder.  Parents often blame themselves, or wonder what they did “wrong” to cause this heartbreaking problem.  Sometimes family members, neighbors or friends reinforce this concern.  But parenting is not to blame.

Learn more about what causes OCD

Who Is Affected By OCD?

Millions of people around the world have OCD.  In the U.S., current estimates are one in 40 adults and one in 100 school-aged children suffer with this debilitating disorder.  This is between two and three percent of the U.S. population.

Learn more about who is affected by OCD

How Is OCD Diagnosed?

No laboratory test can identify OCD, but a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about this disorder can conduct a specific type of interview to determine whether a child has OCD.

Learn more about OCD diagnosis

What Other Conditions Might Co-Exist with My Child’s OCD?

Some conditions that may coexist with OCD are thought to be biologically linked to the disorder, as part of an obsessive compulsive “spectrum”.  Those conditions are:

  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder
  • Trichotillomania (hair pulling)
  • Skin-picking
  • Nail-biting

There are also other mental health conditions that may accompany OCD in a child or teen.  These conditions may present symptoms that seem similar to OCD, and should also be treated.

Learn more about OCD Spectrum disorders and related conditions

What Treatment is Effective for OCD?

Getting relief from OCD is possible, with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).  While there is no cure for OCD, CBT is the most effective and scientifically supported treatment, and is recommended by nationally recognized institutions such as the National Institutes of Mental Health, the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School.

Learn more about Cognitive Behavior Therapy

How Can I Find the Right Therapist?

It’s important to talk with your doctor if you believe your child has OCD.  Ask for a referral to a cognitive behavioral therapist who is experienced in treating children or teens with OCD.  Regular “talk therapy” is not effective in treating OCD and medication alone is usually not as effective as Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

Learn more about choosing a therapist

OCD Medication for Children

Medication can play an important role in treating children who have OCD.  It’s not recommended by experts as the first line of defense against OCD, but in some cases, your child may need to have both cognitive behavior therapy and medication in order to gain relief.  The medical decision to prescribe drugs as a tool in the treatment of childhood or adolescent OCD depends on many factors including:

  • your child’s age, anxiety level, and specific obsessions and compulsions
  • your child’s personality and willingness to undergo treatment and perform homework ERP assignments
  • the presence of other anxiety disorders, such as depression, attention deficit disorder or any of the related disorders and OCD spectrum disorders often seen in children and young adults

Parents should learn as much as possible about medications so, if drugs are prescribed, you understand the benefits and cautions of this kind of treatment.

Learn more about OCD Medications

Treatment Challenges and Resistance

Learning to overcome obsessions and their accompanying compulsions is hard work for children and teens (and even adults, for that matter!).  Sometimes even with the best intentions, therapy doesn’t work and OCD symptoms do not lessen or they return when therapy is stopped.

Find out more about treatment challenges and resistance

The Parents’ Role in OCD Treatment and Recovery

Parents play a crucial role in helping their children get relief from OCD.  From initially noticing that something is wrong with a child’s behavior, all the way through treatment and continued support, parents can help—or hinder—a child’s progress in gaining relief from OCD.

Learn more about how parents can help their children who suffer with OCD

OCD At School

Symptoms of OCD may be obvious at school.  But even if your child hides his or her OCD during school hours, the disorder may be negatively affecting school performance or social capabilities.

Teachers may or may not be informed about OCD or how they can help your child during his or her struggle to gain control over OCD.  The decision about whether to tell your child’s teachers about OCD is a personal one.  You’ll need to weigh the benefits of openness against privacy and other concerns.

Your child may also be entitled to special educational assistance under the law that helps children with disabilities.

Learn more about OCD at school

Help Your Teen Child Overcome OCD

Teens are young adults who exist somewhere between the little child you raised and the adult they will one day become.  Teens can be active participants in recovery from OCD—IF they accept CBT therapy and don’t see it as just one more thing their parents are telling them to do!

They may test your patience as they struggle with this disorder and the conflict they will likely feel over giving in to the symptoms versus admitting they need help.

We’ve created a special section that you can provide to your teen, to help them learn about OCD, its treatment, and their power to help themselves.

Preview the section before you show it to your teen


It can sometimes be financially challenging to cope with the expense of OCD treatment.  If you are concerned about being able to afford treatment, you may need to tighten your budget and be a little creative about finances.  However, treatment is not a long-term expense, and with a commitment to CBT therapy and ERP homework between in-person treatment sessions, significant improvement can generally occur in a matter of months.

The benefits of treating OCD far outweigh short-term financial challenges.  Doing without treatment for your child really isn’t an option.  Without treatment, your child will not get better on his or her own; the disorder simply doesn’t work that way.

Learn more about ways to help pay for OCD treatment.

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