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What are symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in children?

Few children are without certain worries or fears, and it’s normal for children to develop rituals, such as at bedtime. But for the estimated 1-2% of children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these thoughts and behaviors become so intense, they can be both greatly distressing and disruptive of the child’s ability to function.

The severity and types of symptoms exhibited by children with OCD vary greatly, says R. Lindsey Bergman, PhD. “Though OCD is often portrayed as a fear of contamination or the need for things to be orderly, there is a wide range of symptoms.”

Dr. Bergman explains that most people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are anxiety-producing, difficult-to-control intrusive thoughts and fears, while compulsions are behaviors or rituals typically developed in an attempt to reduce the anxiety associated with the obsessive thoughts. A compulsion can also appear unrelated to an intrusive thought. For example, sometimes a behavior such as counting or touching is done repetitively until it “feels right” rather than because an intrusive thought triggered the behavior. In other cases, the ritual or behavior can be directly related or in response to the obsessive thought. For instance, fear of contamination can lead the child to want to avoid physical contact or public spaces. A child’s concern about having the numbers and letters on schoolwork look just right can lead to constant erasing until there are holes in the paper and the work is never completed. Religious or moral obsessions, termed obsessive scrupulosity, may result in compulsive confessions or praying for forgiveness, even over the smallest incident or behavior that others would not judge as objectionable.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.