A fun and friendly resource for parents and children with OCD

Cinnamon’s 10 Strategies for Coping with OCD


Several factors impact the relief and intensity of symptoms in children diagnosed with OCD. Parents of children with OCD will find comfort in helping their child to glean helpful pointers from each of the following strategies designed to assist kids with OCD.

1. Sports.
Parents of children with OCD may encourage their child to engage in 30 to 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 to 5 times aweek. This will help to control physiological stress that seems to worsen OCD symptoms. The most superior exercise would be one with both varying levels of intensity and a variety of workout components. “BootCamps” offered at many YMCA’s and fitness clubs are a great information source to use to design your own routine. Other options include jogging, running, swimming, elliptical machine use and bicycling. Each of these activities can be designed into an interval workout. Soccer, basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics, and dance are among great sports that also meet both the criteria of varying levels of intensity and variety of workout components.

2. Sleep
It is highly recommended that children who have been diagnosed with OCD get adequate sleep and when proper rest is not achieved, supplemental sleep through napping and silent rest periods may be indicated. Parents of children with OCD may be able to help their child significantly by following this guideline. Children who have OCD may need more sleep than other children of the same age. This is because obsessions and compulsions can be very draining of energy and thus be exhausting. 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night for a 7-year-old who has OCD would be adequate.

Parents of children with OCD must ensure that sleep schedules stay the same on weekends. If it is absolutely necessary to change a sleep pattern, it should not be altered by more than one hour, and sleep needs should be supplemented with naps and quiet rest periods. This may occur during a family holiday or while visiting grandparents or other relatives. School breaks including summer, Christmas Break, Spring Break and 3 day weekends should follow the same perimeters of consistency as does the regular schedule.

Childhood slumber parties, daylight savings time changes and back to school morning wakening are some of the most common trouble spots for children with OCD. Following these guidelines will help to control the temporary increase of symptoms.

A little wise saying will help here. It may be especially true of a child with OCD. If your child sleeps from eight to seven, your life will be heaven, but let her stay up late, and you will seal your fate. Consider a party that goes till midnight Saturday and there will be few words said that she considers right on Monday. Sleep deprivation will catch up 36 hours to follow, and there may be consequences you don’t wish to swallow. Ten hours of sleep and few will weep, eleven hours of sleep, good days you will reap, twelve hours of sleep, you shall not hear a whine or peep.

3. Schedules
Keeping the household schedule the same is very important for children who have OCD. It is essential for parents of children with OCD to organize and plan the child’s time when a 3-day weekend, family vacation, summer break or other major schedule change occurs. A calendar for even very young children, who can draw pictures of events, may be purchased and utilized. Most patients in treatment for OCD will have these changes prepared with their therapist, especially for schedule changes of two or more weeks.

At the onset of last minute days off of school including snow days, hurricane days, school utility problems, etc, parents of children with OCD will need to devise an “order of the day”. This will be complete with times for meals and snacks, errands, outdoor time, exercise and play. After compiling this agenda, it is important to present it to the child. Remember, a child with OCD gets “Stuck” many times a day, especially when it does not go as planned. So, she needs you to make this chronological list of tasks that she can cross off, to keep her moving well through the day.

4. Sugar Free
There is now mounting research that suggests that white sugar and white flour based foods can increase anxiety chemicals in the brain. Cereals that are not whole grain based, cookies, cake, brownies, cupcakes, candy, sugar gum, suckers and white bread are all food items that should be reduced or eliminated from the diet of a child with OCD.

Keep in mind, there are still ways to fit in at a children’s birthday party or other social event, where eating cake is a main activity. It is still possible to follow good nutritional guidelines and still follow the customs at these festivities. Many of my patients will eat a protein and vegetable- based meal prior to the party and then enjoy a reduced amount of party foods. Thus, careful meal and snack planning is required of parents of children with OCD, both at home and prior to social functions.

5. Sunshine
There is something very satisfying and relaxing for children who have OCD when they have time outdoors in appropriate weather with the sun shining. Of course, adequate sunscreen, as mandated by the child’s pediatrician, is still necessary for skin protection. Twenty to forty minutes of sunshine is enough for most children to appreciate its relaxing effects.

6. Shower
Parents of children with OCD may find that having the child take a long, warm shower improves OCD episodes. Taking a 15 to 25 minute warm to hot shower 15 or less minutes before going to bed is a powerful tool in reducing current anxiety feelings and in aiding the body to efficiently reach levels 3 and 4 restorative sleep. The slight body temperature drop/adjustment experienced upon exiting the shower aids in the desired effects.

In some of my patients with the most severe symptoms, parents may use this shower technique to end a particularly intense and resistant OCD episode that the child is having. In this case, the child has been educated by the counselor that the shower will change her “state” of mind from anxious (before) to “relaxed” (after). Thus, when the parent intervenes and directs the child to the shower, the child will usually head toward the shower while continuing her compulsions. This is OK. However, if a child isn’t willing, many parents will check back again in 10 minutes.

7. Solitude
Peacefully reading, playing, watching TV, listening to music or writing in quiet is valuable for a child or teen with OCD. Because household sounds, siblings, drive-by traffic, verbal interruptions or other disruptions may cause a child to become frustrated and stuck, a stimulus-free environment for a designated amount of time such as 30 to 60 minutes a day is recommended. Parents of children with OCD are encouraged to plan this solitude session at the same time each day.

8. Sameness of Surroundings
Children who have OCD have a “perfect bedroom” picture in their mind. This may not look so perfect to the parents of children with OCD, but it is the “sameness” that is “perfect” to the child who has OCD. This sameness may keep the child with OCD a little less irritable and less stressed. Often, children with OCD do not want anyone to move their toys, borrow their clothes, close their drawers, change their sheets or in some cases to “step foot” in their bedroom.

Some children with OCD need sameness of personal space so much that they may leave crumpled paper, food wrappers, dirty clothes and disorderly belongings lying around. They are very resistant to being told to “clean it up”. Many may not even “notice” that it is a mess.

I often recommend to the parents of my patients to consider only safety and hygiene, and not room appearance, and just close the child’s bedroom door. Discarding trash and laundering dirty clothes, pillowcases and sheets may be the compromise.

9. Sensory Sensitive Environment
Parents of children with OCD often find that creating sensory sensitive surroundings for their children with OCD may greatly help to comfort these young OCD sufferers. Because a child with OCD consistently “scans” the environment for things to evaluate and neutralize, she tends to be more sensitive to the way things sound, smell, look, taste and feel.

Some sounds (a whining or begging sibling’s voice), some smells (of certain foods cooking like a chicken dish with garlic), the look of a certain person’s face (who may have a rash) or the taste of a food the child normally loves (your homemade pizza) can suddenly irritate the child who has OCD. Learning what these issues are for your child with OCD, and preemptively planning for them will be a worthwhile strategy. Parents of children with OCD find that taking the time to learn which sensory issues irritate their child, and then discussing with the family ways to reduce or eliminate them will be fruitful in minimizing OCD manifestations.

Some children with OCD and sensory sensitivity concerns do not like the “feel” of clothing tags, jeans, “itchy” clothes, socks or even some shoes. Cutting clothing tags out or buying tag-less items with imprint labels instead, finding 3 to 4 “acceptable” outfits, buying a few pairs of soft socks, and having one dressy and one casual comfortable neutral color pair of shoes will minimize some sensory irritation issues that have the potential to occur daily.

10. SSRI’s and Strategic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Cognitive Behavior Therapy are two treatment options that many parents consider for their child with OCD. A Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist or your child’s Pediatrician are the starting point for accurate diagnosis and determining if medication would be helpful for treating your child’s OCD. A Counselor or Psychologist with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Training and vast experience in using it with OCD is the starting point for counseling-related treatment.