Dealing with a child who has OCD tendencies can be worrying, stressful, exhausting and can leave you feeling like the worst parent in the world.
Our 10-year daughter has always shown signs of obsessive behaviour. Looking back over the years you can see a pattern emerging from the age of 4, which got progressively worse with age. This has included irrational fears of things such as rain, dogs and blood (I still dread teeth coming loose) to the need to repeat actions over and over again. One of the most frightening was a fear of eating after a long bout of Mesenteric Adenitis which resulted in her weight plummeting; it makes me scared of what may happen in the future with the pressures she will face during her teenage years.
Different forms of these OCD/anxiety-based behaviours have nearly ripped our family apart with stress levels going through roof. If you had to describe to an outsider what happens on a single occasion, they think you are over-reacting. But take the same little thing and have it on repeat, repeat, repeat it’s enough to send the sanest person over the edge. I know I lose it when I should be calm and reassuring but I’m far from Mrs. Perfect. Some days I can’t be what I should be. Then I feel guilty. A no win for my daughter. A no win for me.
I did go to our GP a few years ago; she referred our daughter to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), an NHS service that assesses and treat young people with emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties. CAMHS LINK. However, they are under enormous pressure and we didn’t tick enough boxes.
I approached the school several times but because she was not displaying any signs in school of this behaviour, it was a bit of a dead end. She eventually got put on an ELSA program within the school ELSA LINK after I took in a heart breaking letter I found in her bed one morning…
“Oh, my goodness. I am under so much pressure at the moment. I just felt I had to get my feelings down on paper. I’m struggling so hard. Just everything is wrong wrong wrong. I need a break. Literally. Somewhere calm with my family. I need it so BADLY. If this break doesn’t happen soon I think my OCD will get BAD and I will go seriously crazy.”
Over the years, we have figured out what we can do to help her, and us, by trial and error; here are some ideas we would like to share which help us manage her symptoms…
- Make time to sit with your child and talk one-to-one. Try to get them to open up and tell you what they are feeling. What are their triggers? Is there anything worrying them? This needs to be done away from any distractions and will help you find out if there is a root cause that is resulting in their behaviour. You may be able to do something to help solve the issue. Perhaps take your child somewhere special where they feel relaxed rather than in the family home surrounded by others.
- Ask your child to ‘draw’ their fears. When I did this once, my daughter drew a frenzied monster style thing which she said would come and get her if she didn’t do her routines right. It helped me ‘get’ where she was coming from. We sealed the drawing in a jar and threw it away somewhere it couldn’t escape.
- Make sure your child knows you love them – a hug goes such a long way. Sometimes in the middle of a crisis, I stand back, deep breathe to calm down, then go in for the hugs and tell her I love her. It helps to bring the situation under control, so we can start afresh.
- If you have over-stepped the mark when you are dealing with a situation and say things you know you shouldn’t, be the adult and say sorry. It will help your child know it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you own up to them and will build trust. Remember you are learning as you go, and no-one is perfect.
- Set clear boundaries; figure out what behaviour is ok and what is not. Write up a charter together and fix it on the wall listing what is okay and not okay to do. For example, ‘You may only check the end of your bed once’. Work on this with your child so they can have input too and help them understand what you expect.
- Reward charts; my daughter may be 10 but they still work. Whenever I see the signs that she is tipping into crisis mode, out comes her chart and she gets to earn stickers for behaving in a certain way. You will find your child will feel happier if they know what they can and can’t do. “So, if I check my door tonight, I won’t get my sticker?” You can see her visibly relax when she knows the score. Come up with a reward at the end of a period which will really incentivise your child; this could be a day, a week, a month, whatever you feel is realistic and make sure you don’t give stickers when they don’t stick to the deal. We are currently working on a month by month basis starting with a budget of £5; each time a sticker is not earned, 50p comes off the budget. Whatever is left at the end of the month can be used to buy a treat. The use of iPad and kindle for a day are also removed if a sticker is not earned.
- Make sure you, your partner or other carers are working from the same hymn sheet or else the techniques become useless. Communication is so important. And give yourself some time out. Ask a friend or family member to have your child and rest your brain so you can start afresh.
- Finally, https://youngminds.org.uk/ is a must visit website. They are the UK’s leading charity championing the wellbeing and mental health of young people and offer a parent’s helpline, online resources and information. I spoke with one of their counsellors over the phone for 45 minutes and it helped me understand our daughter a lot more.
Above all, one thing we have learned is that everything goes in phases. Yes, we are facing different challenges along the way, some worse than others but they don’t all last forever. I know we are on a journey with our daughter and we are getting stronger all the time but we still have peaks and troughs. Perhaps it will always be like this with her. All I know is that I want to become a better parent for her and be able to support her as she grows into an adult. Please God we can do that for her.
This post was written by Jill one of the founders of Parent Survival. Jill is passionate about helping parents in Dorset and will be sharing her experiences and tips she has picked up along the way,