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Dealing With OCD: How Do I Explain OCD to a Kid?

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/1/2010

Has your child recently been diagnosed with OCD? Does your child have a friend or family member who has been diagnosed? If so, you might be wondering "How do I explain OCD to a kid?" Most importantly, make sure to describe the disorder clearly and to clear up any misconceptions they might have.

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    How to Describe It

    Whether you know a child who has just been diagnosed with OCD, or a child who knows someone who has just received the diagnosis, it can be scary and confusing for them. Describing the disease in a way that they can relate to can take away some of the fear they might feel, and can also help to clarify any misconceptions they might have. But you might wonder, "How do I explain OCD to a kid?" Metaphorical descriptions can help.

    If someone else has OCD, you can compare the disease to hiccups, in that it can't be controlled, and can come without warning. Make sure that kids understand that the person isn't truly trying to be difficult, and that OCD is not the person's identity. It's just an issue that the person has that must be dealt with.

    Externalizing the concept of OCD is important. If a child has been diagnosed with OCD, try to give the disorder an identity. You might want to ask the child to draw a picture of it, to give it a name, and to even talk in a different voice to personify it. For example, the kid might draw a picture of a scary monster, or of a "mean guy." This can help the child with OCD recognize that the OCD is the enemy, but that they are not the enemy. In this way, when you discuss different tactics the child can use to "defeat" OCD, he or she can view it as a battle against an enemy rather than trying to change an intrinsic part of themselves.

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    Clarifying Misconceptions

    In addition to making sure that the child understands that OCD is not the identity of the person you can clear up common misconceptions:

    • OCD is an illness, just like asthma or diabetes, and that there are ways to help control it. It is not a "bad" personality. (Make sure that they do not think that they have a physical illness that can be lethal, however.)
    • OCD is not their fault, and not the result of anything they did "wrong."
    • They are not the only person in the world who has OCD. In fact, one in a hundred people are diagnosed with OCD, which means that if there are 500 kids in the child's school, there are likely around five kids with OCD.
    • OCD does not mean that you are crazy or weak.
    • People with OCD don't just have worries or "superstitions." Their obsessions and compulsions go far beyond those normal things.
    • People with OCD can be successful. There are many famous people who have or have had OCD.

    If you're still wondering, "How do I explain OCD to a kid?" make sure that you understand the symptoms and treatments of OCD. Understanding the disorder yourself can help you explain it to a kid more easily.

    • A person with OCD is truly unhappy with the symptoms of the disorder and wants to change, but just finds it hard to do so.
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    References

    http://www.camh.net/About_Addiction_Mental_Health/Mental_Health_Information/OCD/ocd_help.html

    http://www.ocdkids.org/

    http://www.ocdhope.com/ocd-family-kids.php

Children and OCD

Has your child been diagnosed with OCD? Do you suspect your child may have OCD? Or does a parent of a child you know have OCD? These questions and more will be answered in this series of articles about children and OCD.
  1. Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Children
  2. What Causes OCD in Children?
  3. Dealing With OCD: How Do I Explain OCD to a Kid?
  4. The Connection Between Childhood Perfectionism and OCD