When Fear Rules !

When Children Show Compulsive Behaviors !

by on Jul.14, 2012, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

When Children Show Compulsive Behaviors

I certainly try to be sensitive to anyone who experiences panic attacks, obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors {OCD}, but can you imagine how even more frightening it is for a child ?
Sadly, I am seeing more an more children suffering from these anxiety symptoms than ever before.  In reality, the sources for their symptoms are pretty much in line with why adults experience them, but since they are children, it is easier to see the cycle from stress, to anxiety, to panic and OCD.
Our children are under so much more social pressure at even younger ages.  The pressure to fit in and be accepted can put the child in such a conflicting state before his or her mind or life experience has prepared that child with any coping strategies.
The pain I see in parents’ eyes is so heart-breaking as they are expressing their concern over their child’s fearful, obsessive thoughts or the need to perform rituals like turning on and off light switches repeatedly before the child can leave a room, or hand-washing until the child’s skin is raw.
But there is almost always an answer if one looks hard enough and listens to the child. With one child I recall, I attempted to calm her fears at the first appointment by saying, ” I know this need or urge to check things or do things over and over must make you really feel like something is wrong, but i promise you that you and I can discover why this is happening and we can make a plan so you will be able to control these behaviors.
Often, the urges to check or repeat things is just a sign that there are other things happening in your life that cause you to feel scared, maybe overwhelmed. Like maybe there are things you are dealing with that make you feel angry or confused as to what is right or wrong. Can you think of any things going on either at home or with kids at school?”
The tears started immediately. She sobbed. She then said she thought she was going crazy because she had to do these things over and over and it made  no sense, but yes, she was angry about some things happening among her friends. Yes, that anger was a bad feeling. She was ashamed of herself for feeling such anger {conflict}. She had befriended a new girl in school, tried to make her feel welcome, but that same girl was spreading lies about her.This new girl was trying  to take my client’s friends away from her.
So this child was experiencing the dark side  of a person whom she had opened her arms to, and she felt such immense conflict over the situation, and guilt over the resulting anger, that she began manifesting bizarre behaviors.That is often how OCD  sometimes works. Her little world was feeling so out of control. So her compulsive rituals were a way to  symbolically create some control in that world
Look at this simple example, and apply it to an adult’s situation, with layers of denial and avoidance and you can see that the same pattern of conflict exists in many such cases. Food for thought ?
Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
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7 Comments for this entry

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  • RogJ

    Great Post! It brings back (some not so good) memories from my childhood (30-ish years ago) when I first started struggling with OCD symptoms. I didn’t start treatment until well into my 20’s, so I’m not sure what sort of treatments were available or if the professionals had the insight into OCD that they do today (or even when I was 20). But I am glad that they do have that insight now and are able to guide children (and us adults) toward dealing with OCD and past and future conflicts in a more healthy and constructive manner. Maybe they could teach people to use OCD as a barometer for their lives. I also hope parents aren’t turning a blind eye to their child’s suffering because of pride (as in, “not my child”) or because they think it is just some “phase”. Why leave a child’s well-being up to chance or pride?

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