OCD, Children and Teenagers

Early signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD can often develop at a very young age, and in our experience it can be very important to ‘catch the symptoms’ early. Children may be experiencing OCD without even knowing it. A common problem regarding children and emotional distress is that the child may not be able to articulate how they feel clearly. Watch out for signs of abnormal routines, or things taking longer than they should do. Depending on the child’s age, many children suffer in silence due to peer pressure, bullying and the stigma that comes with having some form of emotional disorder.
If you'd like to book a session, or talk to a therapist to understand more about OCD in Children and Teenagers.

Here are a few early signs that your child may be suffering from OCD:

  • Distress when a routine is interrupted or stopped
  • Repeated behaviours which can appear to be unusual
  • Difficulty explaining why they feel like they ‘have’ to do their behaviours
  • Children can be very good at hiding their OCD symptoms due to embarrassment or feeling ashamed
  • Reassurance just isn’t enough, and the child may display an anxiety if they are not given enough reassurance
  • Children, depending on age can begin to understand that they may be thinking or behaving differently to other children around them. This can lead to low self-esteem and even depression.


As children are still developing, they often have much less insight into their obsessions than adults. This, along with the fact that many children’s speech and language is still developing can make it difficult to know when your child may have OCD. Furthermore, this may also make the task of gaining a formal diagnosis more difficult. The types of OCD that develop are largely different between children and adults. For children, a common symptom can relate to prevention of harm coming to parents. Many children that experience OCD feel overly responsible for their loved ones wellbeing, whereby they start to have intrusive thoughts about harm coming to their loved ones. They then feel the need to perform some ritual to protect their loved ones’ or prevent something bad from happening. This is just one example of how OCD can affect children. There is also evidence to suggest that children with OCD are less likely to have intrusive thoughts about sex, whereas adolescents and young adults are more likely to have sexual related fears. When seeking treatment for children with OCD, the inclusion of parents can be of utmost importance. In our experience, treatment can benefit from parents being present for at least some of the intensive treatment when working with children.

Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS): A possible link between children and OCD

It seems that relevant research suggests that there could be a link between the development of a child’s OCD and an auto immune system in the brain. A disease known as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections (or “PANDAS”) is thought to be triggered by an infection deriving from the same bacteria that can also cause strep throat and scarlet fever. This is the process that is believed to unfold, which may lead to the onset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:

  • The child’s immune system fights the strep infection
  • The immune system becomes confused, which leads the immune system to start to attack a part of the brain called the basal ganglia
  • The basal ganglia plays a key role in the suffering of OCD
  • Although the development of OCD can often be gradual for some, those children that appear to develop OCD as a result of PANDAS have displayed a much more rapid rate of development


Possible impacts of OCD on school life

There can be vast differences in the way that OCD affects children, depending on the environment. For many children, OCD symptoms are more easily suppressed in school, however, this can be an exhausting and distracting process. Look out for some of the following behaviours when trying to recognize if your child has OCD. Many parents begin researching treatment when their child’s performance at school becomes hindered by their OCD symptoms.

  • Socially isolating themselves from their peers: Avoiding situations where they will come into contact with others, or a break-down of friendships
  • Low self-esteem: Children commonly recognize that their thoughts and behaviours are different to others around them, which can lead to low self-esteem.
  • A mention of bullying: Often if a child’s OCD symptoms are starting to affect their school life, then other children may pick up on these unusual routines, which can lead to bullying
  • An inability to concentrate on relevant school work: Reoccurring intrusive thoughts can make it extremely difficult for children to concentrate when in school. Delays in submitting work, actively taking part in class or being unable to finish homework are all indicators that OCD may be prevalent.


How can our program help children and teenagers with OCD?

We can work with children from a very young age. With a program specifically tailored for children, our 5 and 10 day one to one intensive program , as well as our group options have effectively helped many young people out there who were previously suffering in silence. Often children can be extremely receptive to new information, and are very capable of putting newly learnt skills into action. We are particularly proud of our child friendly program, which is simple, clear, easy to understand and uses abstract ways to communicate information to children. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can appear to be vast and complex, even for adults, yet in our experience it is indeed very treatable regardless of the age of the person. Using clear diagrams, simple language and scenarios that children can relate with, we feel that we have created something which is not only unique, but incredibly effective in relieving OCD symptoms in children.

If you'd like to book a session, or talk to a therapist to understand more about OCD in Children and Teenagers.