Anxiety - Obsessive-Compulsive Difficulties

General Information

Children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are preoccupied by persistent thoughts and are often compelled to act compulsively in response to those thoughts.

General Characteristics To Look For

OCD can manifest itself in forms such as the following:

  • contamination worries, expressing themselves in behaviours such as excessive handwashing or fear of touching certain things (e.g., door handles, shoes)
  • preoccupation with having things in a certain order, or doing things in a certain way or a certain number of times
  • fear of doing wrong or having done wrong, which may lead to asking others for reassurance over and over again
  • excessive checking of such things as doors, lights, locks, windows, and homework
  • perfectionism of an intense and exacting sort that makes it nearly impossible for children to complete anything because of their own impossible standards
  • excessive hoarding or collecting of things (which may or may not be valuable), to the point where it can cause a safety or fire hazard.

Impact On Student Success

Impact of compulsive thoughts and compulsions may:

  • display poor concentration
  • not finish tasks or may be routinely late
  • be distracted by focus on silent compulsions (repeating phrases, counting…)
  • be disruptive due to compulsive behaviours
  • show signs of anxiety/depression
  • practice school avoidance
  • Children struggling with OCD already know that their behaviour does not make sense—avoid efforts to cajole or argue children out of these behaviours.
  • Be patient. The child dealing with OCD is struggling against something that is as real an impediment to school success and social functioning as a broken leg would be to sports success. Both need time and treatment in order to be overcome.
  • As a parent, make sure that praise focuses only on a child’s accomplishments. For example:
    • Good: “Awesome! You managed to sit through lunch break without needing to get up and wash your hands.”
    • Bad: “Awesome! You managed to sit through lunch break without needing to get up and wash your hands. If only you could do that every day…”
  • Make sure to offer praise free from any criticism.
  • As with other forms of anxiety, family doctors or specialists can make decisions about whether medication can play a helpful role, and children’s mental health services can be essential in providing treatments such as cognitive-behavioural therapy for the child, psycho-education for families, and consultation with school teams to help plan for student success.