Advice for parents whose child is presenting with anxiety and phobias (OCD) Sharing our experiences.

I’m often contacted by parents whose little ones and young ones are developing OCD, anxiety, phobias, difficulties functioning from day to day.

I was just going to respond to a message I received this morning and scanned through my mind preparing for my answer and I thought, wow, there is so much to it, perhaps a post with some initial advice and ideas for those here in NZ. I’m going to use germ OCD in my examples today but of course, the specifics/ triggers can vary greatly. I hope this isn’t too overwhelming in one go. Its taken me many years to get where we are and my hope is that by sharing, others do not have to be years in discovery before they find healing and relief, which I believe is achievable. For anyone reading and new, please break this down and do what instinctively feels Ok. Its a ref that can be dipped into and might offer lifelines and ideas. Each persons journey and situation will be different and I can only speak from our experience.

When the first signs begin to show up they can look like refusal, withdrawal in happy behaviours, excuses to not do things or go places. There may be sleep disturbances, explosive moods, tantrums out of no where, especially if young and still developing vocabulary and emotional understanding. We can notice extreme, obsessive behaviours, excessive questioning or asking for reassurance, which is never enough. These are all anxiety responses to internal turmoil. Hand washing or extra showers, demanding things are done for them as a way of avoiding situations that feel like excruciating fear to them in order to get relief or feel safe.

As a parent, we can respond in several different ways to these behaviour changes. We might accommodate the childs requests for an easier life or from deep love and not wanting to see our child in distress. We can become annoyed by the behaviours if we don’t fully understand them and we can add to the distress if we are doing out best to continue using traditional parenting methods with beliefs like I’m in charge, bad behaviour needs to be punished etc.

Mainstream thinking around parenting a child with OCD pushes on the parent not to feed to OCD and asks for the OCD to be seen as a separate monster or character that isn’t them and mustn’t be fed. The thinking behind this is that fear gains momentum and must be nipped in the bud or faced in order to lesson it. Recognising that OCD thoughts are involuntary and therefore somehow separate to the child or at least the childs ‘normal’ thoughts.

In my opinion, in real life, home situations, where the child is supposed to be loved unconditionally and feel safe, it is very very difficult to not become entangled with the grip of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

I think the most important place to start is to get a deep understanding of anxiety on all levels. I don’t think the anxiety response is something we choose, I think it is a primal response, which can become out of whack due to many factors in our modern environments. In my opinion and experience, If there is a biological problem effecting neurotransmitters, these causes must be found, addressed at root and healed. With the additional stress and fear that has been generated by governments, media and subsequently people in general, those who may have been predisposed to anxiety disorders, are being triggered by the continuous worry of covid and other illnesses. Even if parents can shelter or lesson the fear, children pick up a lot subconsciously and it is my thoughts that we have to be really aware of this when we are noticing behaviour changes in our young ones. Conversations in these areas are essential if we are to protect the vulnerable going forward.

The condition PANDAS and PANS must be investigated as first port of call because OCD can be a symptom of brain inflammation in response to the immune system malfunctioning from infection or environment such as mould and causes the inflammation response which goes overboard. My advice to any parent who is seeing signs of OCD, is to look at the PANS and PANDAS websites and communities and if suspected, seek an expert. I’m sorry to say that these conditions are not well known or accepted in mainstream, but parents must push if this feels like a possibility. The main signs for PANDAS, strep infection, sudden and rapid decline of child, extreme mood swings, frequent urination, issues with urination, OCD and or eating restriction. PANS covers a broader range of root causes and both conditions can be difficult to prove. More and more information is coming out, so its good to keep an eye on the latest information. These conditions can be cured with antibiotics and or homeopathy. A good naturopath or medical herbalist will know more than a GP about this condition and my advice would be to seek help with a recommended, registered specialist. There are people in Australia who can help. The questions I would ask are, was there a sudden trigger/ overnight change in the child? PANS can sneak up slowly, so don’t be put off if the childs symptoms weren’t sudden. Or is OCD a condition that is in the family, if yes, its more likely traditional OCD

Deciding to see a GP about your child is the first step that most of us will take. The pathways here will be a consultation and likely a referral to the mental health system. The wait time will vary depending on severity and can take months. By which time, things may well escalate. It is very sad that to be seen quickly, one has to be very bad. But that’s the way it is. Initially the parents may be given some reading and advice to try at home. Once in the system, an SSRI is often recommended (depending again on severity but these are over prescribed in my opinion) The thinking here is that OCD is a chemical imbalance that requires serotonin to redress, please note this has never been proved and doctors still do not know exactly how they work, but basically, the receptors for serotonin are closed off, thus allowing more serotonin to be held, however, this can then have effects on other neurotransmitters and can often cause many other issues. These meds carry a lot of side effects and can make things worse. (see my other posts regarding meds) The main therapies for OCD that are offered in mainstream are CBT and other talking/ behaviour therapies, mindfulness and awareness based on self control of the intrusive thoughts and forced stopping of rituals, holding off for longer each time the urge to was hands for examples happens. Patients will be set tasks to do at home and move up the ladder accordingly with appointments to record progress etc. If this model sounds right for you and your child, there are plenty of books to help get you started if you do have to wait for help. Some people with mild OCD do find relief in this method, but I cant tell you if they are ever cured. Most say that OCD cant be cured. I disagree, but am still yet to see a full recovery for my girl. I think if its mild and treated early, it is possibly to overcome. Personally, we have never been able to achieve talking therapy or intervention, but my daughter has been able to overcome some rituals at some points in her year journey 11 years with OCD. She has found her own personal methods but it depends on if she is going through a ‘good patch’ or bad patch’

Over the years we have had improvements and we have had very long spells of extreme OCD. I will attempt to share what has worked.

Working with a bio medical naturopath and establishing gene profile. We discovered blips in MTHFR and COMPT genes. Methylation control with supplements to assist her bodies functions helped heaps. Sorry if this is overwhelming to new comers. I am aware not every family can afford private help. We are no means well off, but I have made adjustments in my life to make this a priority. It is heart-breaking that mainstream is not funded for alternative therapies, but hopefully, one day this may change. There are still lots of things to try and home that do not cost money.

Cutting out food colours and processed foods, msg, bad oils, chemicals that her body struggled to process and caused brain inflammation.

Antibiotics following bloods which showed a possible underlying infection that could have been effecting inflammation. Big results after this.

Reducing all demands, creating a nurturing and safe home environment and learning to minimise triggers. I don’t agree with putting the person with OCD into additional stressful situations. If a person is in fight or flight for too long, the body and the adrenals do not have sufficient time to settle and repair, rest and repair. The sympathetic nervous system becomes overwhelmed and additional issues can arise. It is imperative that stress overall is reduced for the body and mind to rest and recover. The patient will likely find their own self soothing methods. Ours are art, music, singing, walking, laughing, seeing friends. If possible, sunlight, grounding, being in nature is essential for healing and re balance. My daughter was housebound for a year and her vitamin D levels were very low.

Essential nutrients are absolutely crucial in the body and brain functioning properly . If these are lacking in a normal diet (don’t forget soil is depleted and veges are sprayed with chemicals) then at the very least a multi vit, zinc, D and C and magnesium must be supplemented.

These are wrap around ideas that can be implemented straight away. I do understand that inability and refusal arounds foods and meds is a massive barrier too and I wont go into methods to help that in this post. But as parents and care givers, these things must be at least considered and plans can be made for a bigger picture on the overall health journey.

Short term, I think that the child should be treated with empathy and understanding, acknowledging the condition and explained to that you are there for them and that they are not alone. Saying don’t do that is the worst and last thing that should be said. However, going back to the mainstream model, we don’t want to encourage the OCD. Its a very tricky balance between ignoring the OCD but not the child. We don’t want to invalidate how they are feeling. OCD is terrifying for the person with it and so hard to fathom as an onlooker because it makes no logical sense at all. It is a blip, a malfunction of the brain that loops and loops.

We have also seen good results with a cranial sacral therapist. She made adjustments over a few session and although I cant tell you how it works, we were amazed at the instant changes. We also see a healing touch therapist, who works with the bodies energies and this has helped settle things.

I am just staring to learn about homeopathy. Homeopathy is a safe, gentle way to assist the body’s own healing. A good homeopath will find the remedy that best suits the symptoms. personally, if it feels right, then follow what feels right. I will write more on homeopathy as I learn more.

If anyone is reading this from Christchurch, I am happy to share the details of the therapists we have used, feel free to get in touch.

My final advice is really just to say that taking each day as they come has helped. Keeping myself sane through it all and adjusting my life and the way I see things and parent my kids has been key. In fact, I don’t see myself as a parent, but a friend and supporter of my wonderful, beautiful daughter and son. It can be so scary in the beginning because we all want to be our best for our kids. But the main main thing above all, is to fiercely love them, empower yourself to speak up, learn yourself and not be afraid to try new things.

All the best. x

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