Department of Psychiatry

Penn Behavioral Health

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Estimated prevalence rates of OCD in children range from 1 to 4 percent. Children with OCD experience persistent, recurrent, and intrusive thoughts or images that are often accompanied by an overwhelming need to perform repetitive behaviors or rituals to prevent some dreaded event or uncomfortable feeling. These children may obsess about germs, illness, getting things "just right," and they may spend an excessive amount of time washing, checking, or seeking reassurance from parents. OCD can start very young and cause profound interference with academic, social, and family functioning and worsens over time. Fortunately, with appropriate treatment, OCD is highly treatable.

Common obsessions:

  • Fears of contamination by germs, disease, or chemicals
  • Discomfort until it feels "just right"
  • Doubting
  • Fears of causing harm to loved ones or to themselves
  • Intrusive scary images, words, or songs
  • A need to do things a certain way, or to arrange things just so

Common compulsions:

  • Repeated washing or cleaning
  • Repeated checking things
  • Seeking reassurance from parents
  • Rereading or rewriting words
  • Repeating words or phrases in a certain way
  • Bedtime rituals that take a long time and cause distress
  • Arranging things until it "feels right"
  • Touching or tapping things a certain way or repeatedly

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