5 Ways to Reduce Shame for Your Child with OCD
By: Shaina Charles
If you have a kiddo in your life who experiences OCD, you’re likely well aware of how deeply the OCD impacts both the child and family system. Routines are interrupted, emotions run high, and there’s the pesky family accommodation business to keep on top of. But, something equally important that we need to draw attention to is the shame that your child may be feeling surrounding the OCD obsessions and compulsions.
Your child is experiencing OCD thoughts throughout the day – at home, at school, with friends. It is easy for a child to begin to feel isolated in their experience, wondering why they have particular “bad” or “weird” thoughts, are doing things differently than their friends, or feeling that they are the “problem child” at home. These experiences are catalysts for shame and can lead to a withdrawn child who feels unsafe or unsure of how to express their emotions and experiences and is even unmotivated in the OCD recovery journey. Shame makes children feel as though they cannot change, and they are unworthy of change.
At OCD North, we know this is not the case! We celebrate with kids and their families every day as they learn to overcome OCD. Our desire is to support kids and parents alike so that the OCD recovery journey can be a positive and transformative experience.
If you want to create an open and understanding environment as your child works towards overcoming OCD, then check out these 5 ways to reduce shame for your child with OCD!
- Normalize the OCD experience.
A big part of why kids feel shame when it comes to OCD is that they think they are alone in their experience. Your child may not realize that other kids around them struggle with intrusive thoughts, feelings, and sensations as well. As a result, your child will likely want to keep their experience top-secret – which is the perfect breeding ground for shame.
When your child opens up about OCD thoughts, validate what they are experiencing, and then remind your child that many other kids go through the same thing! When a child hears that others in their neighbourhood or school have similar thoughts, they will feel less shameful about what they are going through, and more likely to share openly in the future.
If you need some backup to help normalize the OCD experience for your child, visit https://www.ocdkidsmovie.com/. This website has a documentary and shares fantastic resources and stories from other kids about OCD!
- Make fun of the OCD.
When children experience shame about OCD, it is often because they believe that they are the problem. Taking opportunities to make fun of the OCD is a great way to help your child learn that OCD is separate from them and that you both can work together to beat it!
Making fun of the OCD could look like calling it a goofy name, laughing together at some of the things OCD tries to get your kiddo to do, and drawing silly pictures of the OCD as a person or monster. And hey, don’t be afraid to throw in a healthy “shut up, OCD!” to really prove the point.
When your child can make fun of the OCD, they are empowered to take their power back and realize that they have nothing to be ashamed of because they are not the problem – OCD is!
- Stop comparison.
Humans tend to get sucked into comparison quite easily. We look to our past or others around us to gauge how we’re doing in life, and it happens so automatically that we often don’t even realize that we are doing it! In fact, it’s so automatic that you may catch your child or yourself making comparisons about OCD. Perhaps you casually reminded your child of how easy it used to be for them to complete a specific task. Or maybe, you notice your child getting frustrated because yesterday they managed to not engage in a certain compulsion, but today, they just can’t seem to hold back, no matter how hard they try.
Comparison can become a source of shame for your child with OCD. As comparisons are being made, the central message being absorbed by your child is, “I’m not good enough.” These feelings of inadequacy are shame-based and will only make your child’s recovery journey more laborious.
When you notice comparison showing up for your child, try promoting some encouraging self-talk instead (now’s the perfect time to practice some exposure statements from your child’s ERP therapist). Remind your child that even when they “mess up,” they are still learning to tolerate fear and uncertainty, which is ultimately beating OCD! Encourage your child to say some encouraging words to themselves, and direct the bad feelings and negative labels to the OCD.
- Celebrate the little wins.
Shame can easily pop up for your child in OCD because they are looking at the big picture. They may badly want to stop compulsions completely or get back to doing a particular activity without OCD causing them distress. When they still haven’t reached their big goal, they may feel as though they aren’t capable of recovery or feel shame that OCD took something away from them, to begin with.
To combat these feelings, take the time to celebrate the little wins with your child. Whether they kept up with their exposure homework all week, used an exposure statement instead of succumbing to fear, or were able to hold off on a compulsion for a minute longer than yesterday – it all deserves to be celebrated! Celebrating small victories reminds your child that they are succeeding – and that’s a sure way to kick shame to the curb!
- Have open and supportive conversations.
As we’ve already shared, shame manifests in various ways – one of which is secrecy. When a child begins to experience intrusive thoughts about things they believe are “bad” or “weird,” they may become withdrawn – scared to share their experiences because they fear getting in trouble or being ridiculed. One of the best things you can do to help your child and reduce shame is to create intentional space for open and supportive conversations.
If you notice that your child is not quite like themselves or see they are frequently engaging in certain behaviours, ask them about it, and remind them that you are there to listen if they have something to share. Emphasizing that you will not be angry or upset – no matter what they tell you – can help children feel more comfortable sharing their experiences. Additionally, letting your child know that sometimes you have thoughts that you don’t like or that bother you could also help them feel safer sharing intrusive thoughts.
Inquiring about how your child is doing and how specific thoughts make them feel is a great way to help build awareness in your child and demonstrate that it is okay to talk about their thoughts and feelings because you will support them. Having these open and supportive conversations invites trust and validation, which is no space for shame!
P. S. Hey parents and guardians! If you need some extra support as you support your child with OCD, we have the perfect resource for you. Come join our peer-led, virtual support group – we meet on the last Thursday of every month.
Here’s what you need to know:
Who is this for?
This group is for parents and caregivers of children or adolescents with OCD.
When and Where?
The last Thursday of every month from 7-8:30pm. Our next upcoming meetings are July 29th and August 26th, 2021.
For more information or to register, contact us at: