The most misunderstood issue in my therapy practice is OCD. I have lost count of how many parents I have talked to who completely misinterpret their children’s OCD behaviors. These are caring, well intentioned parents. Parents who have been bombarded with media images of stereotypical, one dimensional characters who distort and simplify OCD.
We can also blame OCD itself for being the master of disguises. OCD can manifest in a large amount of unique ways – all of which look completely different from one another.
It is not surprising then that parents often miss the mark completely when it comes to OCD. Parents have many distorted beliefs about OCD, but there are a few that are consistent among most of them.
You have to be clean, neat and organized to have OCD
Often when I tell parents their child is exhibiting OCD symptoms, I will get a look of bafflement and comments such as, “Oh no. He definitely does not have OCD. If you saw his room you wouldn’t say that!”
I wholeheartedly blame the media for this one. Not everyone who has OCD is a neat freak. In fact, most are not. OCD is about obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. These obsessive thoughts can be an array of themes – most of which have nothing to do with cleanliness. People with OCD might constantly have to tap or touch things. They might have to count their steps. They might have to confess behaviors they have never done. For a comprehensive list of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions click here. You’ll see the list is long.
Kids do rituals for attention
Out of all the misperceptions one can have about OCD – this one saddens me the most. Parents will sometimes argue with me that their children are doing rituals for attention. I will hear comments like, “He just wants our attention, so we punish him” or “We ignore her because we know she is just trying to bother us.” These perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. Children with OCD are tormented by their ritualistic behavior. If anything, they are more likely to try and conceal their behavior than draw attention to it.
OCD rituals are just tics, quirky behavior or habits
Sometimes when I am getting background history from parents they will mention things like, “He has these quirky habits he does sometimes. We just ignore them and they usually go away, but something pops up in its place.” When I explore further – they will often proceed to describe an OCD ritual.
It is understandable that some OCD rituals can be misinterpreted as tics or strange habits. If you don’t know what to look for, these behaviors can look very similar. I have worked with kids that have to move their eyes in a certain pattern, that have to touch their hands to their heart, that have to blow air out of their mouths or have to clear their throats after certain thoughts. All of these behaviors can be easily misinterpreted.
OCD is a phase children will grow out of eventually
The most dangerous assumption is that OCD is just a phase. Parents shouldn’t take a wait and see approach for OCD. OCD doesn’t typically just fade into the sunset. No, it makes itself cozy in your children’s head constantly creating more rules and more rituals. The longer parents wait to get treatment, the harder it will be to help their children overcome their OCD.
If you suspect your children might be exhibiting signs of OCD, have them evaluated by a mental health professional. It is better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to OCD. An evaluation can’t hurt, but holding on to these false assumptions can.
To learn more about how to parent a child with OCD check out these quick parenting video lessons: