Inside: Natasha Daniels is diving into all things OCD – what it really means, how it shows up, and the signs to look out for – and sharing insights on how to support and work with kids dealing with OCD.
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In the Calm the Chaos corner of the internet, we’re talking about raising out-of-the-box kids, the ones who don’t fit the usual mold and sometimes act in ways that make us worry. But there’s one challenge that many parents face, yet it hardly gets talked about.
That’s why I’ve decided to dive into that big three-letter topic in this ep – OCD.
And I’ve got the perfect guest to help us understand it. I’m super pumped to welcome Natasha Daniels, an anxiety and OCD therapist with over two decades of experience.
She’s got the know-how from her professional life and personal insight from raising three kids with anxiety and OCD. Being in the trenches both as a parent and a professional makes her super passionate about this.
Natasha offers in-depth support to thousands of parents raising kids with anxiety or OCD through her books, courses at the AT Parenting Survival Online School, and her online membership in the AT Parenting Community. She’s also the host of the AT Parenting Survival Podcast.
So, if you are concerned or already know that your child (or a child you care about) has OCD, tune in to this episode.
We’ll dive into all things OCD – what it really means, how it shows up, and the signs to look out for. Natasha will also share insights on how to support and work with kids dealing with OCD.
Join us, and let’s crush OCD together!
What Is OCD, and How Does It Work?
How many times have you said that you or your kid have OCD? You know those moments when you’re trying to keep a room perfectly organized or when your kid insists on arranging their toys in the exact same order every time?
Or how about when you’re scrolling through social media – how often do you come across those “Me & my OCD” style posts?
Yeah, you get the picture – we often too easily label a behavior as being caused by OCD.
One thing I learned from this interview with Natasha is that OCD is almost always missed unless it’s the really obvious, stereotypical type (like someone washing their hands all the time).
As she explains, OCD is a cycle of intrusive thoughts or feelings, followed by the need to act or avoid something to get brief relief.
It could be anything – confessing, seeking reassurance, striving for perfection, the intrusive thoughts like ‘I’m a bad person,’ or ‘I might harm others’… These behaviors might look different on the surface, but at their core, they are all expressions of OCD.
So a kid with a super messy room might actually have OCD, while a kid who wants everything perfect might not. OCD isn’t about those things. It’s really about having that intrusive thought or feeling, that compulsion, that hamster wheel that causes OCD.
The Biggest Misconception About OCD
That is actually the biggest reason why parents miss OCD in their kids – because they’re looking for neurotic behavior, the neat freak behavior that they think defines OCD.
What many don’t realize is that trying to help can sometimes make things worse, since actions like confessing or seeking constant reassurance can actually be part of the compulsive behavior of OCD.
But it’s natural for you, as a parent, to want to step in and calm things down when you see your child upset or anxious.
You might offer practical fixes, like handing them gloves if they’re worried about dirt, or reassuring them they’re a good kid if they’re feeling down about themselves. It’s what we do, right? We try to solve the problem and make it better.
But when it comes to OCD, these logical fixes don’t really help. It’s like putting a band-aid on a scratch when there’s something more going on underneath.
You might see your child asking the same questions again and again, needing to hear the same reassurances, or wanting things done just so – and if it’s not perfect, they get stuck and can’t move on.
These patterns can be red flags telling you this might be more than typical kid worries and that your child might be dealing with OCD.
Understanding this can be a game-changer because your usual parenting fixes just feed the neverending OCD cycle. Don’t feel bad about yourself – sometimes, even the experts can do more harm than good if they lack specific education.
So, the first key step is to recognize there’s more going on and to really understand OCD – what helps, what you should(n’t) do, and how to approach it.
What You Should NOT Do
As Natasha explains, one of the things you should not do is try to talk your kid out of OCD behavior. Yes, it’s tough to see your kid struggle, but you can’t talk them out of it. It just doesn’t work that way.
Most kids with OCD know their thoughts or compulsions might not make sense. They get it, but they’re stuck.
When we try to explain why their fears are irrational – like why something isn’t dirty – it doesn’t help. It might even make them feel worse, like they’re being told they’re silly for their worries.
Then there’s this other tricky part. You might feel that not helping your child with their compulsions is like making them suffer. It’s hard when you learn that you’re actually feeding the OCD by giving reassurance – saying their food isn’t poisoned, for example.
It feels almost cruel to stop these reassurances, but the reality is, parenting a child with OCD often means doing the opposite of what seems right. You’re not helping your child by giving in to these compulsions; you’re actually making the OCD stronger.
This shift in thinking is really tough, and it’s something many of us would find challenging. I’m sure all parents can understand how hard it is to watch your child be uncomfortable.
But sometimes, that’s exactly what they need to overcome their OCD.
(Tune in for the full interview on YouTube, as Natasha shares more tips on dealing with OCD.)
Finding the Core Fear
Of course, not trying to help in the way we instinctively want doesn’t mean we should ignore our kids’ OCD. On the contrary – connection with kids and understanding what’s really going on is crucial.
(Here at Calm the Chaos, we talk a lot about the connection and understanding part of the You-CUE framework. And this is yet another proof that our program is science-based and confirmed by experts from various disciplines almost on a daily basis.)
When we’re talking about understanding OCD, Natasha believes that the thing that gets missed a lot is the core fear. Parents of kids with OCD often wonder:
“They’re confessing all their bad behaviors. What do I do?”
“They’re overwashing? What do I do?”
“They’re overwhelming. What do I do?”
But all those behaviors are just the symptom, like the fever. However, what’s causing the fever? That’s different for each kid. So, as Natasha explains, if you’re not sure whether it’s anxiety or OCD, the first step is to try to find the core fear.
It means going down that rabbit hole and diving deep under all the layers that cover the core fear. So, she often asks,
“What would be the worst thing that could happen if you did the thing you’re avoiding?”
If you start exploring from that point, after some time, you’ll get to the core fear. Usually, despite a zillion themes or a zillion fears they have, there’s only one or two core fears. And once you discover them, you can start to create tools around that core fear.
It’s the way to get to the epicenter instead of getting distracted by all these external factors.
Natasha’s Approach to Her Kids’ OCD
Natasha’s approach to helping her kids with OCD is both heartwarming and insightful. She shares examples from her own family that really bring home how you can support a child with OCD without giving in to it.
For example, her son struggles with moral OCD. He often says “I’m sorry” again and again, not really because he’s done anything wrong, but because his OCD compels him to. He needs to hear “It’s okay” to complete the loop.
But she knows that responding that way would only feed his OCD further. So, the two of them worked together to find a response that helped break this cycle. They agreed that when he apologizes unnecessarily, she gently says, “Sorry, not accepted.”
It sounds tough, but it’s a strategy they decided on together. It’s a bit hard for him each time, but he understands it’s for his long-term benefit, and Natasha knows she’s helping him in a way that truly matters.
Then there’s her daughter, who deals with sensorimotor OCD, feeling the need to go to the bathroom constantly. So, instead of just playing along with the OCD, Natasha offers words of understanding and encouragement.
She acknowledges her daughter’s struggle without feeding the OCD, saying things like, “I’m sorry you’re struggling. I know you’re brave and can handle this.”
In doing so, she’s not dismissing her daughter’s feelings; instead, she’s empowering her with the strength and encouragement to face her OCD challenges.
It’s the Kids’ Journey, Not the Parents’
These examples show us that dealing with a child’s OCD is not about managing their behaviors. It’s about connecting with your child on a deep level, understanding their struggles, and finding ways to empower them.
So, it’s crucial to help our kids and teens recognize what OCD is and how it can grow. They must understand that this journey is theirs, not their parents’. As parents, our role is to shift from a “me against you and your OCD” mindset to an “us, together, crushing your OCD.”
Our message should be clear: “I’m here to support you, but ultimately, you’re the one holding the steering wheel.”
Want to dive deeper into what Natasha shared? Listen to the full episode for more of her great insights. And make sure to check out the extra resources she’s got for you at the end of this blog post.
In the meantime, remember that no matter how big your struggles may seem, you’ve got this!
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Calm the Chaos Parenting is a podcast offering parents practical tools and strategies to navigate the challenges of raising strong-willed, highly sensitive, and neurodivergent children.
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