Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Children

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Every child follows some rituals, like writing with the same pencil every day or wearing the same piece of cloth to school, and all these behaviors are common. But when certain behaviors start hampering their daily activities and cause distress in life, it is a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is a mental health condition that affects the thought process of a child. It is a form of anxiety that causes obsessive thoughts in children and compels them to engage in irrational behaviors.  

Overview of OCD in Young Individuals 

Children with OCD often can’t stop themselves from worrying about something, and those worries force them to engage in certain behaviors repeatedly. In many cases, OCD begins at the age of five and disrupts their life. Simply put, OCD is a mental health disorder that is characterized by repetitive thoughts or obsessions and behaviors or compulsions that impact a child’s life.  

Childhood OCD Myths vs. Reality 

Nowadays, OCD has become a common term in every household. More than a condition, people use it as slang to describe organized behaviors. Using OCD in a casual conversation dismisses the gravity of the condition. The one commonly understood stereotype of OCD is neat and tidy behaviors, which makes it even harder for parents to spot the actual signs of OCD. While cleanliness can be a part of OCD, not all kids are clean or organized.  

Recognizing OCD Symptoms in Children 

To recognize OCD symptoms in children a parent needs to keep a close look on their kid’s daily activities. OCD symptoms manifest differently in each child.  

Common Obsessions in Pediatric OCD 

Obsessions are the problematic thoughts or intrusive thoughts that control a child’s life. Some common obsessions with pediatric OCD often cause uncontrollable worry and anxiety. 

  • Concerns About Cleanliness and Contamination: The fear of getting dirty or germs on the surface. Children start worrying about getting contaminated with falling sick or even dying. 
  • Compulsions for Orderliness and Exactness: This form of obsession compels the children to keep their surroundings in a symmetrical order or in a certain way. They keep changing them many a time to find the perfect symmetry. 
  • Fixations on Religious Themes: Religious themes like lying can make them worry about the truth getting out. A truthful child may suffer from significant distress if they behave in an immoral way or against religious beliefs.  
  • Obsessions with Bodily Functions: Children with OCD deeply stay aware of their motor functions like the dept of breathing, constantly swallowing, or counting while chewing food, blinking a certain time or not blinking at all, and other muscle movements.  
  • Superstitions Involving Numbers: In some cases, children belief that a certain number brings bad luck, and another number is good fortune for them. They obsess over the meaning of numbers. 
  • Intrusive Thoughts: These are unwanted and disturbing thoughts that frequently occupy the mind of a child. The thoughts then trigger anxiety making them to involve in certain activity to reduce the anxiety. 
  • Anxieties Over Personal or Family Health: OCD can urge someone to constantly be on the lookout for symptoms of various diseases, even minor ones. They often get paranoid if they pick on a minor inconvenience.  
  • Fixation on Domestic Objects: Children might develop an intense fear of germs and contamination associated with everyday objects in their home.  
  • Unwanted Repetitive Noises or Phrases: Intrusive thoughts sometimes take the form of repetitive words and phrases that get stuck in the person’s head.  

Common Compulsions in Pediatric OCD 

Compulsions are the behaviors that urge a child to engage in repetitive behaviors to control or relieve anxiety. Here are some common compulsions found in children with OCD. 

  • Hygiene-Related Compulsions: Washing and Cleaning 
  • Repetitive Actions: Movement and Revision Rituals 
  • Verification Compulsions: Ensuring Safety and Accuracy 
  • Decontamination Rituals: Neutralizing Perceived Contamination 
  • Compulsions Involving Touch 
  • Preventative Rituals: Avoiding Self-Harm or Harm to Others 
  • Organization Compulsions: Arranging Items Precisely 
  • Numerical Rituals: Compulsive Counting 
  • Accumulation Behaviors: Collecting Items Without Clear Value 
  • Extensive Cleaning: Over-Cleaning Spaces and Objects 

Causes of OCD in Toddlers and Children 

OCD in children and toddlers can manifest from different causes. Multiple factors come to play, like imbalances in brain structure, early trauma, genetics, and stress.  

Brain Structure and OCD Connections 

Ongoing research on OCD has indicated a connection between brain structure and OCD. There are some abnormalities in the brain particularly in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures might contribute to the development and symptoms of OCD.  

The Impact of Early-Life Trauma on OCD Symptoms 

Early-life trauma like sexual assault, abuse, or neglect are more likely to develop OCD in comparison to those who haven’t. Trauma can alter brain development and make individuals more susceptible to stress-related disorders like OCD. 

Genetic Factors in OCD Vulnerability 

Scientists have found compelling evidence of certain genes that make an individual more susceptible to OCD. However, there is no single gene that causes OCD. The condition also runs in families, having a close relative with OCD increases the risk. 

Stress as a Trigger for OCD Symptoms in Youngsters 

Childhood stress is not so uncommon. Some children get stressed because of strained family relations, problems at school, or any life-threatening illness. These reasons act as trigger for development of OCD in children.  

PANDAS as a Unique Cause of Childhood OCD 

PANDAS or Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus is caused by an infection that reacts with the immune system and causes sudden onset of OCD. The infection causes strep throat and scarlet fever, and the immune system attacks the brain in confusion. Professionals can distinguish this form of OCD from another because of its distinct features.  

Diagnosis of OCD in children and Toddlers 

Children often depend on a routine and follow a structure in their daily lives. To diagnose OCD in them attention needs to be focused on those rituals and behaviors which take more than an hour and disrupt their daily life. To evaluate an obsession or compulsions behavior needs to be present most of the time. A professional can accurately diagnose the condition by drawing a detailed history of the behaviors and how they’re affecting the child’s life. Any other symptoms that interfere with their life and affect their development.  

OCD Treatment in Children 

While OCD can disrupt the daily life of a child but with treatment the symptoms can be managed, and children can live a fulfilling life. Seeking professional help is an effective solution for OCD treatment.  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Childhood OCD 

With the help of cognitive behavioral therapy, a professional can identify the root cause of the fears. With that they teach the child effective ways to resolve those fears. Making certain changes in behaviors or making rules to limit those behaviors helps significantly.  

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy for Childhood OCD 

In this type of therapy children are exposed to their fears in a controlled environment without getting involved in any compulsive behaviors. A professional having experience in treating OCD can guide through the whole session and teach the children how to manage their compulsions.  


Medication is not usually recommended for treating OCD but in some severe cases of OCD in children, the treatment plan may include medication with therapy. SSRI, (Luvox, Prozac, Zoloft) are prescribed to manage anxiety in children. These drugs need to be taken with utmost caution as it can increase the risk of suicide.  

Family Therapy 

Parents, caretakers, and even siblings play a very crucial part in the treatment process. The unique symptom of OCD generally involves one or all family members and with family therapy an expert can guide through the challenges. Family therapy helps manage strained relationships and provides effecting strategies to support the treatment process.  

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques 

With therapy and medication, children with OCD can greatly benefit from mindfulness and relaxation techniques. These techniques can help manage anxiety, reduce the urge to engage in compulsions. Techniques like deep breathing, mindful listening, coloring, progressive muscle relaxation, etc. help immensely.  

Ongoing Support and Relapse Prevention 

To continue living a healthy life with OCD can be challenging, especially for a child. Ongoing support like regular therapy sessions, family involvement, support groups, psychoeducation helps. To prevent relapse one must identify triggers, develop a relapse plan, and maintain communication.  

Strategies to Manage Childhood OCD 

There are various strategies that a child can adopt to manage OCD and maintain their overall well-being.  

Building Knowledge and Advocacy for Your Child 

This is a crucial part in your child’s journey towards managing the condition. Educating yourself about OCD will equip you to support your child. Communicate with teachers and school staff to develop an individualized education program if needed. Be the voice for your child and educate others about OCD.  

Strengthening Relationships with Healthcare Providers 

Building a strong relationship with the healthcare providers, especially for a condition like OCD, can significantly benefit your child’s care and well-being. Practice open communication, actively participate in the process, build mutual trust and respect with them.  

Incorporating Family Support and Understanding 

Help all family members understand OCD, its symptoms, and how it affects the child. Encourage open communication and create a safe space for your child to talk about their OCD and struggles. Focus on praising your child’s efforts in managing their OCD, avoid criticism.  

Accessing Community Resources and Support Networks 

Conduct thorough research about all the community resources and support networks available to help children with OCD and their families. Communicate with your child’s therapist to recommend other support networks and resources.  

When Should You Seek Professional Help  

  • When a child experiences a significant increase in the frequency or intensity of intrusive thoughts that disrupts their daily life.  
  • If the child feels compelled to engage in repetitive behaviors for a long time.  
  • When OCD begins to negatively impact a child’s ability to attend school, complete tasks, or maintain relationships.  
  • If the child experiences a decline in their overall well-being due to OCD.  

Recognizing these symptoms early and seeking help is crucial for managing OCD effectively. With a treatment plan tailored to the child’s specific needs and provides support and guidance to both the child and their family.  

How Cadabams Can Help Children with OCD 

Children struggling with OCD put the parents in a very difficult position. But with early intervention and treatment your child’s OCD symptoms can be managed and they can live a healthy life. Cadabams understand the gravity of the condition and how sensitive a child with OCD is. Our experienced professionals leverage evidence-treatment for effective recovery and ongoing-support. 

If you are searching for a solution to your problem, Cadabam’s Hospitals can help you with its team of specialized experts. We have been helping thousands of people live healthier and happier lives for 30+ years. We leverage evidence-based approaches and holistic treatment methods to help individuals effectively managing their OCD. Get in touch with us today. You can call us at +91 97414 76476. You can even email us at info@cadabamshospitals.com.


What is OCD in children? 

OCD in children is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors that feel necessary for them to perform. These obsessions and compulsions can be very distressing for the child and can disrupt their daily life.  

How common is childhood OCD? 

Studies suggest that between 0.25% and 4% of children and adolescents experience OCD at some point in time. This translates to roughly 1 in every 200 to 400 children. The onset of OCD in children can happen around 10 years old, while some cases also show 3-5 years.  

Is childhood OCD curable? 

Childhood OCD is highly treatable with the right interventions, children can learn to manage their symptoms effectively and live fulfilling lives. Treatment equips children with skills to manage their obsessions and compulsions.  

How does OCD change from childhood to adulthood? 

The fear or obsession and compulsions might change as children enter adolescence and adulthood. It can become more complex and detailed over time. As children mature, they develop a better understanding of OCD and recognize the intrusive nature of their thoughts.  

What age is OCD for kids? 

OCD in children can develop at any age but there are generally two age ranges when symptoms tend to first appear. First is between the age of 8 and 12, the second is in the late teens and early adulthood. While uncommon OCD can develop in toddlers around 3-4 years old.

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