Advice for helping your teenager overcome OCD

Frank Healy Licensed Professional Counselor, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory Associates For Life Enhancement

This article can assist parents with tools to use to help your teenager cope with OCD. It gives you interventions that are helpful, and interventions that are not so helpful. The main thing you should keep in mind is to be patient and seek help from a mental health professional such as a therapist or psychologist. Here is some advice to keep in mind.


Do let your teenager know that they are not defective

It is good for your teenager to know that they aren’t defective. They just have a problem that can be helped. Being a teenager with OCD can be very hard on the self image. Since teenagers are at the peak age where they want to be accepted and fit in with their peers, having the quirks that accompany OCD can make them feel that they are not normal. It is hard for a teenager who is always touching door knobs or washing their hands to feel that they are like their peers. Help your teenager realize that OCD can simply be a disease like the flu that can be cured. It just takes longer.

Do encourage the child to talk about what they might be anxious about

OCD is a form of anxiety. The rituals might be an anxious attempt to avoid thinking about something else that is bothering them. It helps indirectly to talk to them in a non-judgmental way about their anxiety.

Do work closely with the behavior specialist and keep the therapy going in the home

An hour of therapy a week in an office is not sufficient to be effective. Commit to doing the therapy program in the home. When counseling teenagers with OCD, the whole family should be involved in the helping process. One of the interventions is to have the family (including the patient) agree on a silly word that will be said whenever the child is caught doing their OCD ritual. The word could be bikini, waffles, clown, etc., which causes a pattern interruption from the tension of the ritual, and has been shown to be effective in decreasing the frequency of the obsessive ritual.

Do use the pain/pleasure principle to get leverage on the child

Behavior does not change by words. People change what they are doing by how they associate pain and pleasure to their actions. For example, if your child says, “I get so tired of washing my hands, but I just can’t stop.” However, if he or she is still doing the ritual, they feel more pain in stopping than they do continuing. Talk to them about the pleasure they will get from stopping and the pain they must feel from continuing. A reward system works well for many teenagers. If you promise them a new game or a weekend away if they stop the ritual, this can work well.

Do be patient with the child if progress is slow or uneven

Be patient with your child no matter how slow or fast the process is taking, since your child is trying to undo a behavior that is much stronger than a bad habit. Progress may be slow. Were you a smoker that quit? Remember how hard it was, and imagine if it were ten times harder. Sometimes the child may make progress and slip back. Be patient with him/her and encourage them to get back on track.


Do not ridicule them

You may be tempted to ridicule the child for their behavior, and think that will make them see how ridiculous they look. This may work in the military, but it will only make a child with OCD resent you and do their ritual more frequently. Avoid using adjectives that describe their behavior such as peculiar, weird, stupid. Don’t ever ridicule them in public.

Do not take away their ipad - it does not help

Never take away something that is important to them as a punishment for continuing the ritual. Save those punishments for when they misbehave. Grounding them for the weekend should never be used either.

Do not take their progress for granted

When your teenager is making progress in overcoming OCD, give them genuine praise the same way you would for a good report card. Don’t act like it is not an accomplishment or say something like, “So what? Now you are normal.” When you give them praise, don’t make it all about you. It is okay to say, “I am proud of you,” but it is better to say, “You should be proud of yourself.”

Do not give excessive attention to the problem - this doesn’t help

Although you need to address the OCD and work with the therapist to help them, don’t give excessive attention to what they are doing wrong. It is more effective to focus on the solution than the problem.

Do not expect the therapist to enact a miracle cure

Overcoming OCD can be challenging and take a long time. You need to work with the therapist, give them feedback and do your part to help your child. The investment in their treatment is as important to your child as investing in their education and showing interest in other aspects of their lives. Your teenager needs to know that you consider them important and worth their time.

Jumping cartoon

Helping your teenager with OCD can be challenging. Your child needs your support and encouragement. Working with the therapist, encouraging them to improve, and being patient are the best interventions you can give a child with OCD. Overcoming OCD needs to be treated with as much care and investment as helping with homework, supporting their activities and social life, and all aspects of parenting.

More expert advice about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Frank HealyLicensed Professional Counselor, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory

Frank Healy is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of New Jersey. He counsels people with depression and anxiety. He has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. He remembers every day of his life since he was six years old. This incl...

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