Decoding the Early Symptoms of OCD in Youth

Decoding the Early Symptoms of OCD in Youth

Decoding the Early Symptoms of OCD in Youth

Introduction to OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterised by intrusive thoughts, obsessions, and repetitive behaviours or compulsions. It affects individuals of all ages, including children and young people. As I delve into the world of OCD, it’s crucial to understand its manifestations and how it can impact the lives of those affected, particularly during the formative years.

OCD is a complex disorder that can present itself in various forms, ranging from mild to severe. While the exact causes are not fully understood, researchers believe that a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors contribute to its development. Recognising the early signs of OCD in young people is essential for timely intervention and support.

In this article, I aim to shed light on the experiences of young individuals with OCD, exploring the common obsessions, compulsions, and the impact this condition can have on their daily lives. By raising awareness and promoting understanding, I hope to empower parents, caregivers, and professionals to better support and guide these young individuals on their journey towards managing OCD.

Understanding OCD in young people

OCD can manifest in children and young people in unique ways, often presenting differently from adults. It’s essential to recognise that OCD is not a phase or a mere quirk; it’s a legitimate mental health condition that requires proper attention and care.

Young individuals with OCD may experience a range of intrusive thoughts, obsessions, and compulsions that can interfere with their daily activities, social interactions, and overall well-being. These obsessions and compulsions can be time-consuming and distressing and can significantly impact their quality of life.

It’s essential to approach OCD in young people with empathy, understanding, and a non-judgmental attitude. By creating a supportive environment, we can help them navigate the challenges associated with this condition and foster their resilience and self-esteem.

Early signs of OCD in children aged 4-10 years

Recognising the early signs of OCD in children aged 4-10 years can be challenging, as some behaviours may initially appear as typical childhood quirks or habits. However, it’s crucial to be aware of the potential indicators to seek timely intervention and support.

Common early signs of OCD in this age group may include:

  1. Excessive hand-washing or cleaning rituals: Children may become preoccupied with cleanliness and engage in excessive hand-washing or cleaning routines.
  2. Repetitive behaviours or rituals: They may develop specific routines or rituals they feel compelled to follow, such as arranging objects in a particular order, counting, or repeating specific actions or phrases.
  3. Persistent fears or worries: Children with OCD may experience persistent and irrational fears or worries, such as fear of contamination, harm, or specific situations or objects.
  4. Hoarding or difficulty discarding items: They may have difficulty letting go of items, even those that seem insignificant and may hoard or collect objects excessively.
  5. Seeking reassurance: Children with OCD may frequently seek reassurance from parents, caregivers, or others about their worries or doubts.

It’s important to note that these signs may vary in severity and frequency, and some children may exhibit only a few of these behaviours. Early intervention and professional evaluation can help determine if these behaviours are indicative of OCD or other underlying conditions.

Common obsessions and compulsions in young people with OCD

Obsessions and compulsions are the hallmarks of OCD, and they can manifest in various forms in young individuals. While the specific obsessions and compulsions may differ from person to person, some common themes and patterns can be observed.


Obsessions are intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that cause significant distress and anxiety. Common obsessions in young people with OCD may include:

  • Fear of contamination or germs
  • Excessive concern about harm or danger
  • Intrusive thoughts related to religion, morality, or sexuality
  • Preoccupation with symmetry, order, or perfectionism
  • Disturbing or unwanted thoughts about harming oneself or others


Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that individuals feel driven to perform in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety caused by their obsessions. Common compulsions in young people with OCD may include:

  • Excessive cleaning or washing rituals
  • Checking behaviours (e.g., repeatedly checking locks, switches, or appliances)
  • Arranging or ordering objects in a specific way
  • Counting or repeating words or phrases
  • Seeking reassurance from others
  • Mental rituals (e.g., praying, counting, or repeating phrases silently)

It’s important to note that while these obsessions and compulsions may provide temporary relief, they ultimately reinforce the cycle of OCD and can become increasingly time-consuming and disruptive to daily life.

The impact of OCD on young people’s lives

OCD can have a profound impact on the lives of young individuals, affecting various aspects of their development and well-being. Some of the potential effects include:

  1. Academic performance: Obsessions and compulsions can be time-consuming and distracting, making it challenging for young people to concentrate on schoolwork or participate effectively in educational activities.
  2. Social interactions: OCD can lead to social isolation, as young individuals may avoid certain situations or activities due to their obsessions or compulsions. This can hinder their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships with peers.
  3. Emotional well-being: The constant presence of intrusive thoughts and the need to engage in compulsions can be emotionally draining and lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem.
  4. Family dynamics: OCD can affect family relationships, as parents or caregivers may struggle to understand and support their child’s condition, leading to potential conflicts or misunderstandings.
  5. Daily functioning: Severe cases of OCD can significantly impair a young person’s ability to perform daily tasks, such as personal hygiene, dressing, or participating in recreational activities.

It’s crucial to recognise and address the impact of OCD on young people’s lives to ensure their overall well-being and healthy development.

How to recognise and address OCD symptoms in young people

Recognising and addressing OCD symptoms in young people requires a collaborative effort involving parents, caregivers, educators, and mental health professionals. Here are some steps that can be taken:

  1. Educate yourself: Learn about the signs and symptoms of OCD in young people, as well as the available treatment options. Understanding the condition can help you provide better support and guidance.
  2. Observe and document: Record the specific obsessions, compulsions, and behaviours you observe in the young person. This information can be valuable for professionals during the evaluation and treatment process.
  3. Communicate openly: Encourage open and non-judgmental communication with the young person. Listening to their concerns and validating their experiences can help build trust and a supportive environment.
  4. Seek professional help: If you suspect that a young person may be experiencing OCD, it’s essential to seek professional evaluation and guidance from a mental health professional specialising in childhood OCD, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist.
  5. Provide support and accommodations: Work with professionals to develop strategies and accommodations to help the young person manage their OCD symptoms in various settings, such as school, home, or social situations.
  6. Practice patience and understanding: OCD can be challenging to manage, and progress may be gradual. Remain patient, understanding, and supportive throughout the treatment process.

By recognising and addressing OCD symptoms early, young individuals can receive the appropriate support and interventions, allowing them to manage their condition better and improve their overall quality of life.

Seeking professional help for young people with OCD

If you suspect that a young person in your life may be struggling with OCD, it’s crucial to seek professional help. Early intervention and proper treatment can significantly improve their quality of life and prevent worsening conditions.

When seeking professional help, consider the following steps:

  1. Consult with a mental health professional: Start by consulting with a mental health professional specialising in treating OCD in children and young people, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counsellor. They can conduct a comprehensive evaluation and provide an accurate diagnosis.
  2. Explore treatment options: Based on the evaluation, the mental health professional will recommend appropriate treatment options, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure and response prevention (ERP), medication, or a combination of these approaches.
  3. Involve the young person: It’s essential to involve them in the treatment process and ensure they understand the purpose and benefits of the recommended interventions. Their active participation and buy-in can significantly enhance the effectiveness of the treatment.
  4. Collaborate with a treatment team: Depending on the severity of the OCD and the young person’s specific needs, a multidisciplinary treatment team may be involved. This team could include mental health professionals, school counsellors, occupational therapists, and other specialists.
  5. Seek support resources: Inquire about support groups, educational materials, and online resources for young people with OCD and their families. These resources can provide valuable information, coping strategies, and a sense of community.

Remember, seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a proactive step towards ensuring the well-being and healthy development of the young person. With the proper support and treatment, many individuals with OCD can learn to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

Treatment options for young people with OCD

Effective treatment for OCD in young people typically involves a combination of evidence-based therapies and, in some cases, medication. The specific treatment approach will depend on the severity of the OCD, the individual’s age, and their unique circumstances.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a widely recognised and effective treatment for OCD in young people. It focuses on identifying and modifying the thought patterns and behaviours contributing to obsessions and compulsions.

During CBT sessions, the therapist works with the young person to:

  • Understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours
  • Challenge and restructure irrational or distorted thoughts
  • Develop coping strategies to manage obsessions and resist compulsions
  • Practice exposure and response prevention (ERP) techniques

ERP is a specific component of CBT that involves gradually exposing the young person to situations or stimuli that trigger their obsessions while simultaneously encouraging them to resist engaging in compulsions. This process helps them learn to tolerate the anxiety and discomfort associated with their obsessions, ultimately reducing their reliance on compulsions.


In some cases, medication may be recommended in conjunction with therapy, particularly for young people with severe or persistent OCD symptoms. The most commonly prescribed medications for OCD in young people are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can help regulate serotonin levels in the brain and reduce obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

It’s important to note that medication should always be prescribed and monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist or paediatrician, who can carefully consider the potential benefits and risks for each individual.

Family-based Interventions

Family involvement and support can play a crucial role in the treatment of OCD in young people. Family-based interventions may include:

  • Psychoeducation for parents and caregivers to better understand OCD and its treatment
  • Family therapy to address communication patterns, stress management, and problem-solving skills
  • Parent training to learn effective strategies for responding to the young person’s OCD symptoms and supporting their treatment

By involving the family in the treatment process, young people can receive consistent support and reinforcement, which can enhance the effectiveness of the interventions and promote long-term management of OCD.

It’s important to remember that every individual’s journey with OCD is unique, and treatment approaches may need to be tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. Regular monitoring and adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary to ensure optimal outcomes.

Supporting young people with OCD: Tips for parents and caregivers

As parents and caregivers, you play a crucial role in supporting young people with OCD. Here are some tips to help you navigate this journey:

  1. Educate yourself: Learn as much as possible about OCD, its symptoms, and practical treatment approaches. Understanding the condition can help you provide better support and make informed decisions.
  2. Create a supportive environment: Foster an acceptance, understanding, and open communication atmosphere. Avoid criticising or minimising the young person’s experiences, as this can exacerbate their anxiety and distress.
  3. Encourage participation in treatment: Actively support and encourage the young person’s involvement in their treatment plan. Attend therapy sessions when appropriate and reinforce the strategies learned during treatment at home.
  4. Set boundaries: While being supportive, it’s essential to set healthy boundaries and avoid accommodating or enabling compulsive behaviours. This can inadvertently reinforce the OCD cycle.
  5. Practice patience and self-care: Managing OCD can be a long and challenging process. Be patient and celebrate small victories along the way. Additionally, prioritise self-care to maintain your emotional and physical well-being.
  6. Build a support network: Connect with other parents or caregivers navigating similar experiences. Support groups, online forums, or local organisations can provide a sense of community and valuable resources.
  7. Advocate for accommodations: Work collaboratively with schools, extracurricular activities, and other settings to ensure appropriate accommodations and support are in place for the young person’s needs.
  8. Celebrate strengths and interests: While addressing OCD is essential, it’s equally crucial to celebrate the young person’s strengths, interests, and accomplishments outside of their condition. This can foster a sense of self-worth and resilience.

Remember, supporting a young person with OCD requires patience, empathy, and a commitment to their overall well-being. By working closely with mental health professionals and providing a nurturing environment, you can play a vital role in helping the young person manage their OCD and thrive.

Conclusion: Promoting awareness and understanding of OCD in young people

OCD is a complex and challenging condition that can significantly impact the lives of young individuals and their families. However, by promoting awareness and understanding, we can take steps towards destigmatising this condition and providing the necessary support and resources.

It’s crucial to recognise the early signs of OCD in young people and seek professional help promptly. Early intervention and effective treatment can make a significant difference in managing symptoms and minimising the impact of OCD on their development and well-being.

As a society, we have a collective responsibility to create a supportive and inclusive environment for young people with OCD. By fostering open conversations, educating ourselves, and advocating for better access to mental health services, we can empower these individuals to overcome their challenges and reach their full potential.

Remember, OCD is a treatable condition, and with the proper support and interventions, young people can learn to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. Let us embrace their resilience, celebrate their strengths, and work together to create a world where OCD is understood, accepted, and adequately addressed.

If you or someone you know is struggling with OCD symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. My name is Federico Ferrarese, and I am a Chartered Psychologist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist specialising in treating OCD. Contact me today to schedule an appointment or learn more about my approach. Together, we can overcome the challenges of OCD and help you or your loved one thrive. Call +44 (0) 7419 982295 or visit to take the first step.

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Federico Ferrarese Federico Ferrarese - Chartered Psychologist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist
I am deeply committed to my role as a cognitive behavioural therapist, aiding clients in their journey towards recovery and sustainable, positive changes in their lives. This involves strategising to maintain long-term mental well-being and identifying and mitigating the risks of relapse or the return of issues. My approach is empathetic, warm, inquisitive, and collaborative, creating a secure and comfortable environment for clients to delve into their difficulties. I am proficient in delivering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) online and hold accreditation from the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). I provide CBT sessions in both English and Italian. With several years of experience in the NHS and my private practice, I am a qualified CBT Therapist treating individuals with moderate to severe depression and anxiety disorders. My expertise includes the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Phobia, Health Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Low Self-Esteem, and Stress Management. I am currently pursuing an MSc programme in Applied Neuroscience at King's College London. Prior to obtaining my postgraduate diploma in cognitive behavioural therapy from Queen Margaret University, I earned a three-year degree in neurocognitive rehabilitation and a five-year degree in psychology from the University of Padua. I am a Chartered Psychologist and a British Psychological Society (BPS) member.