How can I help my child in ERP therapy?
Watching a child struggle with OCD can be be one of the most painful things a parent can experience. OCD will take everything it can and parents are often left feeling powerless to help. There are two situations where parents can generally help their children: if the child is refusing treatment, and if the child is in treatment. Let's explore both below.
If your child is refusing treatment:
Exposure therapy for OCD is hard and scary for anyone. It can be especially hard for younger children who have trouble identifying their thoughts and fears from reality. If your child is struggling to the point that you would like them to engage in treatment they are likely spending considerable time with their OCD and pulling you into it as well! To have someone engage in ERP for OCD at any age a full understanding of how much OCD affects them is important. If a parent or loved one is performing rituals with them they may not understand the impact the OCD is having.
I suggest that parents pull away OCD accommodations and provide support to the person living with OCD without providing support to the OCD. For instance, if your child wants you to open a door for them so they do not have to touch a doorknob, you can reply with "I love you too much to help your OCD, I will be here to support you but I can't open that door for you", or "I love you and I hate that OCD is trying to get in your way here. I know you can handle this, but I don't want to keep you from beating OCD here" and then allow them to handle the door as they are able. They will likely get frustrated and that is fine! Remind them that you are on their team against OCD. If they really struggle it is okay to say "I know we need help here, but I do not know what to do. Let's fine an OCD therapist that can help here". The child is then in a position of agreeing to treatment or challenging their OCD on their own and both are better than a parent feeding the OCD for them!
If your child is in treatment
The first piece of advice is to listen to the provider! Following the treatment plan as specifically as possible will be helpful! Second, developing language to help your child understand that you love and support them and will help them however you can without feeding the OCD will also be helpful. I often give parents only a few things to say to keep them out of OCD's reach as much as possible. OCD treatment can challenge any relationship, but parents and children can come out of the battle stronger!
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