Childhood Fears: Normal or OCD Behavior
Every child has fears, and this is normal. A child is constantly learning new things about the world that they previously didn’t know, and their imagination can elevate the sense of random possibilities to scary new heights. Occasionally, though, things go too far, and a child’s fears go far beyond what is normal.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), makes a child unable to stop worrying – no matter how hard they try. It can cause them to develop behaviors that they cannot stop. Most children will want to repeat something they like doing. A child with OCD, however, takes this beyond the usual amount. A child with OCD will be afraid of things they feel are harmful, unclean, or wrong in some way.
They will feel like they must do particular things often to negate these fears. These are called compulsions or rituals, and the child will likely not understand or be able to explain why they are doing these things. By completing these rituals, it eases their minds for a short time. Unfortunately, this feeling doesn’t last long and the child feels they must continue repeating the behavior. Here are some common fears and how to know when those fears may be a sign of OCD.
Fear of Germs
It is normal for children to want to stay clean. Depending on their parents, a child may have had the concept of cleanliness drilled into them from the time they were very young. What crosses the line into OCD is when a child becomes paranoid to the point where he (or she) engages in rituals like washing his hands to the point of causing rawness and pain.
Fear of Harm
A child may have worries about harm coming to themselves or their family. To a small degree, this is a part of growing up and realizing that the world isn’t the perfectly safe place you once imagined. However, OCD can cause a child to fear harm to the point of obsessively checking to make sure, for example, that appliances are off so a fire won’t start, or that doors are locked so no one can break in.
Fear of Illness
Many children become interested in taking care of their body as they get older and learn the importance of it. Even a good thing can be taken to the extreme, though. Some children feel the need to continuously inquire about health matters of their family, and may obsess over nutrition or exercise. If your child is taking a healthy interest to an unhealthy extreme, take a closer look at what is going on in their life.
Fear of Disorder
Some children are naturally more organized with their belongings and schedules. When a child has OCD, this can go beyond what a normal trait of organization usually entails. A child may require things to be perfectly symmetrical, and may arrange and order their belongings constantly. If you notice your child going far beyond what is necessary for tasks such as cleaning and organization, this may be an issue.
Most of these fears are somewhat normal, but the problem lies in the obsession with the fear, and the need for strict adherence to a protocol in order to try to remove the fear. If any of these extremes sounds familiar to you, sit down with your child and talk about it. If you feel they may be dealing with OCD, a mental health professional can assist you in helping your child take the power away from fear, and put the power back into their own hands.