Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Symptoms in Children

OCD in childrenAll children worry and/or doubt themselves at times – this is “normal” and healthy. Children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) worry and fret as well, but the difference is that they cannot stop worrying, fretting and doubting; regardless of how hard they try. The constant anxiety causes these children to repeat certain behaviors over and over again.

Children who obsess over trivial or insignificant things and repeat certain behaviors unnecessarily may have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes people to fixate on certain beliefs, thoughts, images and issues that they deem unhealthy, dangerous, dirty or “bad.”

Children with this disorder cannot shake their scary and upsetting thoughts, regardless of what they do. Thoughts of losing something can cause children with this disorder to collect and hide items that have little-to-no value to others. These children may also fret over whether something is “right” or “wrong.” They may not feel “good” or satisfied until everything is in order and will work until everything is in its proper place.  In other words, children with this condition will repeat certain behaviors until they feel satisfied.

The repetitive behaviors are called compulsions or rituals. These rituals are needed to remove the negative, scary and intrusive thoughts and images from these children’s minds. In order for these children to function, they have to make sure everything is “right,” “safe” and “clean.” They also have to get rid of their feelings of dread, which are only remedied through the rituals.

Do not be alarmed if these children cannot tell you why they perform the rituals, because in most cases, children with this condition cannot answer that question. In reality, these rituals help reduce anxiety so that they can perform day-to-day activities. In other words, this anxiety disorder mimics an overactive alarm system. These children become so worried that they feel that the only way to make the anxious feelings go away is to perform a task or fret over an issue until they are sure that “everything is as it should be.” These rituals interfere with their ability to have a “normal” and healthy childhood.

These children probably know that they do not have to perform the behaviors repeatedly or dwell on unhealthy thoughts and images to function, but the anxiety is so overwhelming and stressful that they do not know what else to do to improve the situation. The obsessions and compulsions bring order and stability to their lives. Although the repetitive thoughts and behaviors decrease their anxiety, it is only for a short-amount of time. In other words, the anxiety returns, which cause the children to repeat the process. Thankfully, there is help for children with this disorder, but first you must understand how this condition is exhibited in children.


It is important to understand that children with obsessive-compulsive disorder may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their thoughts and behaviors. In addition, they may try to hide these behaviors from you. These children may also develop low self-esteem because they do not react to situations like other children. It may cause them to avoid contact with their classmates and peers. They may also become irritable and moody as a result of the obsessions and compulsions. The most important thing you can do for these children is to be supportive and loving. They need to know that you will be there to help them conquer this disorder.

Listed below are common symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder in children:

Obsessions (Fears)

  • Pollution, corruption and contamination
  • Dirt, germs, uncleanliness and infection
  • Balance, order and accuracy
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Body wastes (i.e. feces, urine, bodily fluids, vomit, etc.)
  • Certain numbers
  • Aggression and sexuality
  • Impending tragedies, death and injuries
  • Household items
  • Loud noises (i.e. words and sounds)

Compulsions (Rituals)

  • Grooming (i.e. showering, hand-washing and teeth-brushing)
  • Repetitive behaviors (i.e. re-reading passages, erasing and re-writing, going in and out of doors repeatedly, etc.)
  • Checking (i.e. making sure the stove is turned off, the door is locked, the dog is in the house, etc.)
  • Avoiding (i.e. deliberately avoiding or getting away from infected or “contaminated” people and/or objects)
  • Touching (i.e. hugging, kissing and/or touching someone or something)
  • Preventing (i.e. going out of your way to prevent others from being harmed, injured or killed)
  • Ordering (i.e. arranging objects in chronological order or by color or shape)
  • Counting (i.e. repeatedly counting numbers, people, objects, etc.).
  • Hoarding (i.e. collecting unnecessary and/or worthless items)
  • Cleaning (i.e. cleaning the bathtub, sink, mirror, stove, etc. repeatedly)



Ben-Joseph, E. P. (2012). Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Kids Health. Retrieved from             http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/OCD.html#

Mayo Clinic. (2013). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Symptoms. Retrieved from             http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ocd/basics/symptoms/CON-20027827

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