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Parenting a Child with OCD While Maintaining Your Sanity

Parenting a child with OCD is challenging. Find tips and strategies for parenting a child with OCD here, on HealthyPlace.

Parenting a child with OCD is a daunting task. Too frequently, it can seem as though OCD has overtaken your child and everyone else in the home—including you. Even though there’s no quick fix, you can parent your child with OCD while maintaining your sanity.

Frustrations of Parenting a Child with OCD

OCD is hard on parents. Some things that are especially difficult:

  • Watching your child become trapped
  • Dealing with the increased anxiety, frustrating, refusal, and hostility that happen if a ritual is disrupted
  • Missing your own activities, appointments, and even work because of your child’s ritualistic behaviors
  • Feeling upset because it seems like life is all about your child’s OCD

There are ways to make parenting a child with OCD easier.

Helping Your Child Understand Helps Both of You

Kids are often scared and confused by the thoughts in their head and the rituals they’re driven to do to try to stop the thoughts. When they don’t understand what they’re experiencing, kids can feel ashamed and worried that they’ll get in trouble for being “bad.” Therefore, many kids withdraw from their parents, keep their obsessions secret, and try to hide their ritualistic behaviors.

To preserve a close, positive relationship with your child talk with them, asking and answering questions. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Educate your child. The more kids know, the better equipped they’ll be to handle and reduce their OCD symptoms.
  • Start with awareness before trying to enact change. Through conversations and asking open-ended questions, you can help your child identify thoughts and recognize when they’re engaging in a ritual.
  • Take time to sit or play with them and simply connect. It makes them feel valued and secure, traits that kids with OCD don’t automatically have.
  • Give their OCD a name (better yet, encourage your child to name it). This externalizes it and helps your child separate their identity from their disorder. You can more easily talk about OCD and what it’s doing. (“Controlling Chris wants you to miss the birthday party. What do you want to say to him?”)
  • Read children’s books about OCD together to help your child learn about their disorder from different perspectives.  

In addition to helping your child understand their illness, there are other things you can do. Try the following tips for parenting a child with OCD. They’re designed to help you maintain your sanity.

Tips for Staying Sane as You Raise Your Child with OCD

Remember that parents can’t “fix” their child’s OCD; getting better is a gradual process that the child must do with the support of parents and others.

To prevent OCD from controlling your household, create goals and limits as a family. When all family members, including the child with OCD, work together to create a plan for handling behaviors, family stress, frustration, and resentment diminish. Include plans for how to handle compulsions when they interfere in family members’ schedules and activities.

Write down limits, too, in order to reduce compulsions. How much time will be spent each day discussing OCD? How will you interact with your child when they’re engaged in their rituals?  Very often, kids pull family members into the ritual so they participate, too. That just reinforces the behaviors, so it’s okay to refuse. Tell them that you won’t let Controlling Chris tell you what to do.

In the goals you’re writing with your family, include opportunities for each family member—parents included—to have some quiet time to themselves every day. Breaks help you maintain your sanity.

There are other tips for parenting a child with OCD or a child with OCD and anxiety (the anxiety that drives obsessions has extra anxieties on top of it, such as generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, or social anxiety.) The tips include:

  • See your child’s behaviors as part of the disorder rather than as character traits, flaws, or something your child is doing on purpose to irritate you.
  • Adjust some expectations. Kids with OCD have difficulty with change and transitions, so you can expect it and plan for extra time. It helps increase patience—yours and your child’s.
  • Know that there will be both good and bad days. It’s normal when your child regresses. Just remind yourself of where they’ve been and that they’ll move forward again.

Above all, when parenting a child with OCD, maintain your sanity by celebrating small victories. Look for something positive in your child every day, no matter how small it is. Pause, and celebrate your child.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, July 18). Parenting a Child with OCD While Maintaining Your Sanity, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/anxiety/parenting-a-child-with-ocd-while-maintaining-your-sanity

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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