The school bus is about to arrive at the doorstep but your child has yet again taken out everything from the school bag to rearrange. They have done it, at least, three times since they woke up. Any attempt from your side to help or to dismiss the activity is met with resistance and tears.
This behaviour is not confined to the school bag alone. They have a need to keep the things in their room in a particular order and are upset when they find something out of place. Even at play, you notice that order and alignment are important to them and they seem to spend more time on those than actual play.
The compulsive urge to keep things in order and aligned is just one of the symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Some of the other common symptoms are:
- Repeated hand washing.
- Worrying excessively about handwriting and neatness of school work.
- Refusing to discard old items.
- Collecting seemingly useless items.
- Feeling the need to count whilst they perform tasks.
These are just a few of the symptoms a five to six-year-old could exhibit. Basically, any repetitive behaviour which seems of no consequence, almost bordering on being ritualistic could be OCD. The behaviour arises from an anxiety within. Your child indulges in the ritual to assuage this anxiety. As the anxiety persists, the behaviour becomes compulsive.
For example keeping things in order is their way of feeling secure about their possessions. Same is true about discarding old possessions. Their loss may induce a feeling of insecurity and panic. Fear of dirt or germs could incite repeated hand washing.
- When questioned about the behaviour, they have difficulty in explaining it.
- They seem extremely distressed if the ritual is interrupted.
As your child grows older this behaviour could take other forms. Also, they learn to disguise and hide these tendencies as it becomes embarrassing for them in front of their peers. Therefore, it is vital to identify these patterns. Any ritualistic behaviour which is induced by anxiety should not be dismissed as a phase.
Some of the consequences of such behaviour are:
- Difficulty in concentration: The anxieties prevent them from focusing on the current task.
- Low self-esteem: They look at themselves as different from others and their anxieties make them less confident in social and academic activities.
- Social isolation: They have difficulty in getting along with peer and others. Their anxieties create misunderstandings and fights. Your child becomes withdrawn.
Here are a few things you could do to help your child in case you believe they are indulging in obsessive behaviour:
- Seek professional help. A doctor is the best person to address the cause and the remedies- medication, therapy- required thereafter. These therapies can be adapted into child-friendly activities.
- Make sure you tell your child that it is not their fault. Once the treatment begins to be supportive.
- Modify your expectations to meet his behaviour. Children suffering from OCD will take more time to complete tasks and have to be reassured gently. Avoid criticism.
- Recognise and praise any progress made by your child. The rate of progress may vary from one day to another. Do be patient.
- Do not give in to OCD. Keep the family routines normal. The family as a whole should come together to help overcome OCD.
Facing up to OCD can be scary for both you and your child. The key is to treat OCD as any other medical condition which can be overcome with professional help and support from family.