What are the Risks for Children with Parents who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
written by: Keren Perles
• edited by: Paul Arnold
• updated: 11/5/2010
Children with parents with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have a tough job to do. They must encourage their parents to seek help, while protecting themselves against the stress and acknowledging their increased chances of developing the disorder themselves.
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Risk of Developing OCD
Research has shown that children with parents with obsessive compulsive disorder are more likely to be later diagnosed with the disorder themselves. In addition, they are more likely than a typical child to develop lifetime overanxious disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and other anxiety disorders.
Even children with parents with OCD who do not develop any disorder can be affected. Certain personality traits that mirror OCD can be passed on to children. These traits include perfectionism, which can cause OCPD in extreme cases. (OCD and OCPD are entirely different; the first is an actual mental disorder and the second is a personality disorder).
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Other Effects and Risks
Whether children with parents with obsessive compulsive disorder develop any disorders or not, they will all be affected in some way by their parent's disorder. Children naturally make a mess, destroy attempts at strict scheduling, disobey any rules that the parents may make (including those related to obsessions), and create additional stress. Any of these may lead to a backlash from the parent, who feels threatened and stressed due to any deviation from the normal obsession-compulsion cycle.
In addition, if children are the focus of some of the rituals or obsessions of their OCD parent, they can actually be at risk of parental harm. For example, a parent who has hand washing rituals and obsessions about cleanliness may scrub the child so often or with caustic substances (e.g., bleach) that this could be harmful, or even fatal to the child. These instances are rare, but they can still be of concern.
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Tips for Parents With OCD
If you are a parent with the disorder, it is important to get treatment for your OCD for your children's sake. Perhaps the best investment you can make in your child's future is as a parent whose top priority is them, rather than obsessive thoughts and rituals. While you are attempting to control the disorder, try some of the following tips as well:
Try not to involve your kid in any rituals or share your obsessive thoughts with them.
Explain to children that you have OCD and that you are trying to fix it. Children realize something is up anyway, and keeping it under wraps can only increase their levels of stress and confusion about the situation.
Try to meet needs in other ways. For example, if you find yourself unable to cuddle your child because of cleanliness obsessions, try to show your child your love in any way you can to compensate.
Give your child a safe space, such as a bedroom, in which he or she can make a mess, make loud noises, or escape when you find yourself sliding back into OCD mode.
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Tips for Children With Parents With OCD
Children with parents with obsessive compulsive disorder can find themselves falling into the trap of taking part in a parent's obsessions and rituals. If your parent has OCD, these tips can help:
Do not "accommodate" your parent's OCD tendencies. Accommodating often begins with giving in on small matters relating to your parent's obsessions or compulsions. Instead, resist the urge to help your parent obey obsessive thoughts, and refuse to participate in any rituals.
Learn about OCD so that you can better understand what your parent is going through. Encourage your parent to seek treatment, including CBT and medications, as needed.
Communicate with your parent clearly and positively about issues that come up. Do not criticize your parent for past misdeeds, keep calm, and applaud any small steps you see your parent take.
Take care of yourself. Develop outside interests, keep stress levels low, build support networks outside of your family unit, and consider taking advantage of professional support if you need it.