Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety-related condition
It would be quite unusual to diagnose OCD at primary school age. People with OCD experience frequent unwanted and sometimes disturbing thoughts or images (‘obsessions’). They then attempt to relieve the anxiety caused by these thoughts by performing repetitive behaviours or mental rituals (‘compulsions’).
In children, it’s very common for such symptoms to be related to anxiety. For example, it’s common for children with anxiety to experience recurrent worrying thoughts and feel the need to repeat a behaviour (e.g. three head twitches), which they think will stop a bad thing from happening. This does not necessarily mean they have OCD although there is an overlap of symptoms. Have a look at our pages on anxiety for some general resources.
Often, the relief brought by carrying out these compulsive actions is short-lived, and in the longer term reinforces the obsession, which worsens the condition. OCD can take up a lot of time and make it difficult to get on with normal life. (e.g. school, social activities, family life). However, there is lots of help and advice available which can help children learn to cope and there is good advice for parents below.
Typically, OCD falls into one of the following categories:
- Contamination/Mental Contamination,
- Ruminations/Intrusive Thoughts
What is OCD? Dr Isobel Heyman from South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust describes what OCD is, and talks about how common it is and the theories about what causes it
- Find more information on OCD assessment and treatment in this follow-on video
- OCD Action includes an option for peer Skype/Zoom support groups
- OCD-Youth for young people with OCD with blogs and online support
- International OCD Foundation This is a US site so some of the information isn’t relevant for other countries but there are some good sections including how to talk to your child or teenager about OCD.
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidelines for OCD written for patients and carers:
Books for children and families
- What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming OCD by Dawn Huebner. For children aged 8-12 years. Well written and helps you talk to your child about strategies for dealing with unwanted thoughts and behaviours.
- OCD Action booklist for young people and families
- Touch and Go Joe: An Adolescent’s Experience of OCD by Joe Wells
- All the Things that Could go Wrong by Stewart Foster. An award-winning story about a boy with OCD and about bullying which is both moving and funny but above all an honest look at what it’s like to have OCD. Suitable from 9-10yrs
- Can I tell you about OCD? by Arnita Jassi. A short book that is useful for children but also parents and siblings to explain what it’s like to have OCD.
- Talking Back to OCD: The Program That Helps Kids and Teens Say No Way – and Parents Say Way to Goby John March and Christine Benton. Some American terminology.
- Breaking Free from OCD: A CBT Guide for Young People and Their Families by Jo Derisley. Part of the Reading Well “Shelf-Help” scheme of books chosen by young people and professionals: available in your local library.