What are the Signs of OCD in Children?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing
Compulsive hand washing may be a sign of OCD.
Compulsive hand washing may be a sign of OCD.

Obsessive compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is a psychiatric anxiety disorder that is characterized by obsessions that are continuous and repeated and are often rooted in disturbing thoughts about fears and anxieties. The obsessive thoughts lead to compulsions, which are attempts to relieve the anxiety by performing an action or ritual repeatedly. Some signs of OCD in children can include behavior issues such as tantrums, difficulty concentrating, and spending an extremely long time on simple tasks such as dressing.

Difficulty concentrating may be a sign of OCD in children.
Difficulty concentrating may be a sign of OCD in children.

The signs of OCD in children will vary depending on the severity of the disorder and the child's particular obsessions. Some of the most common obsessions shown by children with OCD are fear of germs and contamination, need for perfection, fear of danger or harm, fixation on a particular object, or a need for order. Other obsessions may include intrusive thoughts, words or phrases, fear of loss, and doubts about things being done the right way. These obsessions and the compulsions that result from them usually interfere with the child's daily life and ability to function in a normal, healthy way.

Kids who spend too long on homework may be obsessed with perfection.
Kids who spend too long on homework may be obsessed with perfection.

Many of the compulsive behaviors developed are related to the obsessions the child experiences. These behaviors are often observable as signs of OCD in children who are affected. Some examples of common compulsions include repeated behaviors such as excessive hand washing, doing something over to get it perfect, checking things, hoarding items, saying words, numbers and phrases, asking the same question, and seeking reassurance. Another sign of OCD in children is the development of rituals and routines, for example always getting dressed in the same order, or arranging the possessions in a specific and rigid way.

Children with OCD may throw tantrums when their rituals are interrupted.
Children with OCD may throw tantrums when their rituals are interrupted.

Sometimes the signs of OCD in children may be difficult to spot because some will try hiding the compulsive behavior. In these instances, there are other clues that can also indicate a problem, such as red, irritated hands from excessive washing, or increased laundry from frequent clothing changes due to a fear of contamination. Other signs to watch for include holes erased in homework in the quest for perfection, spending too long on homework, or dropping grades from difficulty concentrating due to intrusive thoughts.

Needing to constantly re-check things or complete specific rituals can make the child chronically late, and can make simple tasks like getting dressed or tooth brushing take a lot longer than usual. Also behavior problems like tantrums can result when the child's rituals are interrupted, or their possessions are disturbed.

If a parent notices any of these signs of OCD in children they should consult a professional immediately. OCD causes distress in sufferers since they have no control over their unwanted obsessions and compulsions. A mental health professional can help to relieve some of the symptoms, often with a combination of medication and therapy.

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    • Compulsive hand washing may be a sign of OCD.
      Compulsive hand washing may be a sign of OCD.
    • Difficulty concentrating may be a sign of OCD in children.
      Difficulty concentrating may be a sign of OCD in children.
    • Kids who spend too long on homework may be obsessed with perfection.
      Kids who spend too long on homework may be obsessed with perfection.
    • Children with OCD may throw tantrums when their rituals are interrupted.
      Children with OCD may throw tantrums when their rituals are interrupted.