How to Stop Obsessions and Compulsions in Children

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Professional Help

Children can display the symptoms of OCD from a young age and it is important for parents to seek help as soon as they realize something is amiss. Here are some useful tips on how to stop obsessions and compulsions in children:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is recognized as being one of the most effective treatments for OCD. Once a child has been diagnosed, parents should work with health professionals to find a therapist for their child. CBT for OCD generally involves exposure and response prevention, and cognitive therapy. The exercises introduced by the therapist should be reinforced at home to be effective.
  • Exposure and response prevention involves exposing the child to their obsession which may be counting, checking, hoarding, contamination or others. Therapists and parents can work together to set up situations where the child is exposed to dirty surfaces, throwing away items or whatever their fear may be.
  • Cognitive therapy deals with the obsessive thoughts. The therapist helps the child to understand that their brain is sending them incorrect information. As they are exposed to their fears and obsessions, they are encouraged to refrain from their normal behaviors so that they will see that their rituals are not accomplishing anything.
  • Play therapy can be useful for very young children. Toys and games are used to capture the child’s attention and teach them correct behavior patterns and responses.

Advice for Families

Parents and other family members are generally very concerned about a child with OCD. Without realizing what they are doing, they may actually be allowing the child to continue their obsessive compulsive behavior. Here are some thoughts on how families can help a child with OCD:

  • It is extremely important that parents have a good understanding of OCD. They can learn by speaking to those who are treating the child, joining support groups and reading about the condition.
  • Some family members enable the OCD child by allowing or helping them with their rituals and compulsions. While this may offer temporary relief, it is damaging long term. The same situations can arise at school and it is important that teachers and staff are made aware of the child’s OCD and how to handle it without enabling the child.
  • Recovery from OCD is often a process that takes months or even years. Patience and consistency are important at all times. The child needs to know that their parents are not going to negotiate on certain things or allow them to perform rituals one day and not the next.

Learning how to stop obsessions and compulsions in children is important for parents and family members. While seeking professional help is the first step to helping the child, their advice needs to be followed up at home and therapies must be reinforced to be effective.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Help for Children and Adolescents by Mitzi Waltz, O’Reilly & Associates, 2000

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