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OCD in children 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Warning Signs


To remember

  • Warning signs of OCD: resistance to change, too much time spent on routine tasks, refusal to touch objects with bare hands, or outburst of anger when unable to do things a certain way manner.

  • Symptoms of an obsession include experiencing excessive fears and doubts, and feeling taboo thoughts. Symptoms of compulsions include repeatedly checking or counting things or needing to do things in a certain order or number of times.

  • Less obvious signs may include a lack of hot water in the home, wet floors, constant changing of clothes, or behaviors that result in your child being isolated.

  • OCD is diagnosed during an interview with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

OCD is often called the "secret evil" because symptoms often go unnoticed or go unrecognized by parents or others.

When we observe unusual behaviors, many children either justify them or react so strongly that frustrated parents often tolerate or even allow the behavior in order to avoid conflict. But without follow-up and treatment, OCD can get worse.

Signs and symptoms

Warning signs of OCD

In general, children and adolescents with OCD experience the same signs of worry as other children and adolescents, but they show them in different ways.

Some of the main warning signs of OCD include:

  • the excessive need for reassurance,

  • resistance to change,

  • spending too much time doing things, dressing or eating a meal (longer than normal for a child of the same age),

  • redo the same tasks,

  • refuse to touch objects with bare hands,

  • washing hands, body excessively, etc.

  • hands with red, parched or cracked skin from repeated washing or scratching the skin,

  • be too interested in models with numbers,

  • outbursts of anger when unable to do things a certain way.

Symptoms of obsessive disorder common in children and adolescents

Some of the most common obsessive symptoms in children and adolescents are:

  • fear of contamination or illness,

  • fear of hurting yourself or someone else

  • a need for order and symmetry,

  • excessive doubts,

  • religious fears (concerning guilt or moral values and divine punishment),

  • taboo thoughts (such as thoughts of a sexual nature or considered immoral).

Compulsive symptoms common in children and adolescents

Some of the most common compulsive symptoms in children and teens include:

  • prolonged and repeated washing of hands or parts of the body,

  • refusal to touch objects,

  • checking or recounting things,

  • the need to do things in a specific order or in a particular way,

  • the need to redo things several times,

  • an excessive interest in routines, rituals or models,

  • a frequent and unusual need to pray, far beyond what one would expect.


The less obvious signs of OCD:

Children and teens tend to have OCD symptoms first, but not all of these symptoms are obvious. As a parent, it is important to recognize the less obvious signs of OCD, as they can also affect the quality of life of the child but also of their family.

Some indirect signs to watch for include:

  • excessive use of hot water, soap, shower gel or toilet paper,

  • frequent clogging of toilets,

  • excessive amounts of "dirty clothes" to be washed,

  • damp floors in the house (if a child or teenager does not want to dry off with a towel),

  • towels left on the bathroom floor,

  • constant changes of clothing (e.g. having indoor and outdoor clothing)

  • insistence on storing objects used in school in a particular place in the house

  • the use of a specific toilet in a public space, for example at school

  • behavior that isolates your child from other children, such as avoiding going to friends' houses, not sharing pencils or pens, not sharing food, having friends repeat things and asking them repeated questions that don't make sense.


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