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Talking To Your Child About OCD


Sometimes parents hesitate telling their children that they have OCD. Their reasons may vary, but the most common reasons are the following:

  1. They worry about the stigma that surrounds OCD, and the possible negative effects on their child.
  2. They don’t want their child to be labeled, treated, or looked at differently.
  3. They wish to avoid hurt feelings for their child. They worry their child may feel broken or that something is wrong with them.
  4. They don’t want their child’s confidence to suffer.

On the other hand, consider why talking about it may be a better option:

  1. When children don’t understand what is happening to them, they figure out their own solution. The danger is that their solution may not be correct.
  2. When you talk about OCD for what it is, and you are genuine, your children will feel supported and more confident.
  3. Life is about struggles and adversity. All children need to learn that. Reality is that children who struggle become more empathetic and patient with others.
  4. When children understand the illness and you normalize it for them, they won’t feel different and alone. Remember that in the United States one in 100 children struggle with OCD. Children can learn that this is what happens to some people, and that they can learn how to manage it.
  5. Hiding their illness and not talking about it will inadvertently hurt their confidence and self-esteem. When you accept it, your children will too.

Here are some ideas that may help you explain OCD to your child:

  1. Talk about allergies. Talk about how people sneeze a lot around springtime and have runny noses in the fall. Review how sometimes people are allergic to flowers and grasses and other things like animals, or even dust. Explain that having allergies can be a family thing. When people have allergies, chances are that a parent or close relatives also have them. Tell them that OCD is like that also.
  2. Inform them that we all inherit our eye or hair color from our parents or grandparents. Talk about families who wear eyeglasses. When parents wore eyeglasses when they were kids, some of their children may also wear eyeglasses. Then explain that often when kids have OCD, someone in the family also has OCD.
  3. Remind them that just like we all eat, walk, sleep, sing, jump, etc., we also feel and think. Point out that we actually feel and think more than we do other activities. Teach them that feelings and thoughts are like clouds. They come and go all the time. For example, remind them about the last time they were excited, and how that feeling didn’t last forever because other feelings showed up. Unpleasant feelings also come and go like pleasant ones do.

Teach them what OCD stands for:

Explain that O is for obsessions. Obsessions are thoughts that seem to have glue and want to stick around longer than usual. Then ask them, what are the thoughts that seem sticky for them.

Tell them the C stands for Compulsions. Compulsions are things that people want to do to feel better. Sometimes they want to repeat the compulsions many times. Talk about the behaviors or thoughts they like to repeat.

Inform them that the D is for disorder, which is a difficulty, a challenge, or an illness. If your child knows someone that has asthma, briefly review the illness. Then mention how people with asthma still go to school, have jobs, and do fun things. Point out that some people with asthma actually love to run, bike and swim even though it makes it difficult for them to breathe. However, they do it because they know those activities make their lungs stronger.

Your children can feel empowered by your support. Understanding OCD and learning how to manage it will make a difference in their progress. Above all, don’t lose hope.

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