How the Family Can Help the Child With OCD
Recognizing OCD Behaviors
How can family help with OCD? Recognizing a family member's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behaviors is the first step. When a person has OCD, he or she experiences anxiety and worries that compel him to perform repetitive behaviors. A child may not be able to explain why he does these things or may feel ashamed and not want to share his feelings. It is important for family members to be cognizant, then, of the individual's OCD behaviors.
Family members should not intervene in rituals as this can upset the person with OCD and may be too much for him too soon. Also, compulsive behaviors should not be acknowledged as this can make the rituals seem more important than they are and contribute to the compulsive behavior. However, it is important to recognize your relative's OCD behaviors so that you are able to know when his OCD is becoming problematic for him and impacting his daily life.
A person with OCD needs support, and oftentimes this support comes from the family. Remember that OCD is a neurobiological illness; this illness is not the fault of the individual or her family. It is also not a personality characteristic, so try to focus on the person's positive personality traits.
Many people with OCD feel embarrassed about their behaviors and feelings and needlessly suffer in silence. This is even more true when OCD affects a child. Showing your love and using light humor can make a world of difference in her recovery. Remember to recognize every achievement, no matter how small it may seem. Each of the child's accomplishment could mean going against her body's urges, which is no small feat. Be sure to also communicate clearly and be specific, so there are no misunderstandings.
Dealing with Rituals
Rituals are a daily part of a struggle with OCD, and can thus have a large impact on the individual and his family. As mentioned above, do not try to stop the rituals.To the best of your ability, try not to let these rituals impact daily life. For example, if your child has a routine he needs to get through before leaving the house, give him the time to do so and do not allow this to make you miss out on activities. Seek the advice of a medical professional for treatment and how to support your child in his treatment.
If someone in your family has OCD, avoiding a discussion of the topic can bring tension and add stress to an already stressful situation. Most children are intuitive and can sense when something within the family dynamic is off. How you explain OCD to other family members really depends on their age. Younger children can usually only cope with a sentence or two, whereas high school-aged children may want more information.
No matter whom you are explaining the condition to, there are a few important things to stress. First of all, explain that OCD is an illness or sickness. This helps the person to understand that OCD is not just someone's personality. Also make sure that the person understands that this is nobody's fault. Other family members, especially young children, may worry that they did something wrong to cause this. Finally, explain that the individual is getting help to get better. It is natural to feel concerned when a loved one is unwell, and just knowing that a doctor is helping can make someone feel much better.
Supporting anyone, especially someone with a mental illness, can be draining and stressful. Helping a person with OCD means that you need to have control over your own emotions in order to be a successful caretaker.
It is important to make sure that parents and other family members have a break from the OCD behavior and take time to do things for themselves. It is easy to become isolated, so having a regular activity to rely on for getting out of the house and interacting with different people is always a great thing. Taking a little time for yourself - even 10 minutes - adds up quickly and helps to ease stress. Parents and siblings of individuals with OCD may also benefit from support groups. In these groups, practical tips can be shared to help support the family member with OCD and can also be a place to share common feelings.
American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Revised 4th ed.), American Psychiatric Association, 2000.